STR

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix

The Malaysian Grand Prix has always been able to provide an interesting Formula 1 Grand Prix and Sunday’s bout between Mercedes and Ferrari was true to form.

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Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

Unless you’re a Mercedes supporter, most fans of the sport have probably had enough of seeing the Silver Arrows of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg winning every race. A new face on the podium’s top step is exactly what Formula 1 needed on Sunday and ironically Sebastian Vettel, in a Ferrari was the man to do it.

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After a hellacious 2014 season and a complete reorganization of the team, Scuderia Ferrari have come out fighting in 2015 and may be one of the few opponents able to challenge Mercedes’s dominance. It was 2013 the last time a Ferrari won a Formula 1 Grand Prix so a collective sigh of relief was definitely in order for the team on Sunday. Vettel executed a solid drive and harked back to his World Championship Red Bull days by creating a dominant gap ahead of the field. After a safety car early in the race and a botched strategy by Mercedes, Hamilton had little chance of catching the German.

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Vettel managed to win in only his second race for the Scuderia and fulfilled “life long dream.” I doubt it’s the last will we see of Vettel or Ferrari standing at the top of the podium this season.

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Hamilton managed 2nd with Rosberg rounding out the podium in 3rd and interestingly today was the first we saw of a very calculated, clinical Mercedes team becoming slightly unraveled. The trouble started following the safety car in which Hamilton’s strategy resulted in Vettel creating that massive gap. This was followed by a conflict in tire choice between the driver and his team and some mixed radio messages from Paddy Lowe. The message which Hamilton clearly wasn’t supposed to hear suggested a third pitstop before the end of the race. This didn’t happen and left a confused Hamilton frustrated with the team and finishing off the top step in what was shaping to be another easy win for Mercedes.

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Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

Elsewhere on the field Toro Rosso continued to make the Red Bull factory team look very bad. The Red Bull-Renault public feud continued through the week and you can’t help but feel bad for Daniel Ricciardo who had such an excellent finish to last season. Now the team’s clear number one and he’s treated to a front row seat of Christian Horner’s public tantrum. Red Bull are continuing to dig their own grave with the way they’re handling the Renault situation and fans are quickly growing tired of listening. Renault on the other hand called Red Bull racing “liars” and are looking to buy a team of their own, severing ties with Milton Keynes outfit completely. That soap opera will continue throughout the season no doubt.

F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia

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An excellent drive from Kimi Raikkonen who started in 11th after a botched qualifying on Saturday and a tire rupture early in Sunday’s race. He managed 4th overall which further proves just how much Ferrari have their act together this season. Some inter-team battles from Williams and Force India kept the midfield busy and an truly woeful performance from McLaren ensured neither driver was able to finish the Grand Prix.

F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Previews

Fernando Alonso made his season debut Sunday after sitting out in Australia, while recovering from a concussion during testing. During media day there were conflicting reports from Alonso’s version of what happened and team’s. Bizarrely, Alonso blamed the crash on a steering lockup and denied wind had anything to do with it – the reason McLaren stated for the crash. It’s all very strange what’s happening at one of the sport’s winningest teams. On a positive note, everyone involved with McLaren including the drivers are firm in their support of the team. Expectations at the start of this season must have been extremely low.

Jenson Button.

Neither MP4-30 was able to finish Sunday’s main event and you have to wonder what Honda have spent the last 2 years doing? It’s a shock to see such a big name come so ill prepared to motor sport’s biggest stage. Things can only go up at this point and I would expect to see McLaren become more competitive by the start of the European season, but that’s still 6 weeks away.

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Was Rosberg standing off to the side as Hamilton, Vettel and Eddie Jordan sat and chatted during the podium interviews not ridiculously awkward? Rosberg has really taken a lot of heat and continues to. In the eyes of the predominately British F1 media, Hamilton can do no wrong and that leaves Rosberg constantly having to justify every move. Maybe he truly isn’t one for the spotlight but that podium interview was painful. Also, what’s up with Vettel and Hamilton all buddy-buddy now? Is Hamilton suddenly okay being friendly with Vettel now that he himself is a multiple World Champion or is it yet another excuse to make his teammate feel unwelcome?

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It was great to see Ferrari back on form at Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix. Now the teams head to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix in 2 weeks – stay tuned.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2015 Australian Grand Prix

The 2015 Formula 1 season kicked off today at Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix. Sadly with all the hoopla leading up to the opener, just 15 cars were able to start today’s race.

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With such a small grid and continued reliability issues from the power units, many are wondering what the point of it all is. Mercedes dominated pre-season testing and logged significantly more miles than any rival team. The team’s performance and attitude on track has become as clinical as the brushed silver adorning their cars. In many ways they are beginning to emulate the McLaren of old and it’s no coincidence given how many former employees make up Mercedes’s team.

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Lewis Hamilton drove his way to no nonsense win from pole while his teammate Nico Rosberg continued his nice guy act for the cameras after finishing 2nd. It really is a case of same old story, different day at Mercedes.

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Elsewhere on the grid, Ferrari and Williams did their best to take the fight to Mercedes. The mood feels lighter at Ferrari with the arrival of Sebastian Vettel. Expectations are still very high, but there was a calmness about the team’s demeanor all weekend. Even Kimi Raikkonen has been reported to have lightened up since Vettel’s arrival. Ferrari had the best chance of showing up Mercedes in Melbourne but with such a massive performance gap, a 3rd place finish for Vettel was the best the team could do. Raikkonen was one of 4 who didn’t finish after his left rear wheel came off the car.

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Williams were also a man down today with Valtteri Bottas unable to start the race because of an injury suffered during yesterday’s qualifying. It was up to Felipe Massa to carry the team starting from P3. Massa finished 4th overall and complained of a lack of power from his Mercedes engine after the race – Felipe being Felipe.

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Elsewhere on the grid, debuts for a number of rookie drivers including Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and STR’s Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen. All 3 drivers showed well with Nasr surprising everyone with a 5th place finish helping Sauber in scoring 14 points, more than they managed the whole of 2014. Verstappen also looked very strong but was forced to retire after an engine failure.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

Reliability issues are nothing new in Melbourne but the lack of cars able to finish the race was truly disappointing. Of the 15 that started, just 11 managed to reach the checkered flag.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Previews

Red Bull continued their very public feud with Renault throughout the weekend with both Christian Horner and Adrian Newey doing little to hide their frustrations in the media.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

Following a lackluster race in which Daniil Kvyat was unable to start and Daniel Ricciardo finished 6th, Horner downplayed rumors that Dietrich Mateschitz has plans to sell the team – one of the interested parties is reported to be Audi. Red Bull certainly aren’t the team they were 2 seasons ago as they clinched their 4th World Championship.

Jenson Button makes a pit stop.

Lastly, McLaren-Honda. Melbourne was a weekend the whole team would probably like to forget. After a dismal pre-season in testing, the team arrived in Australia without their new star Fernando Alonso and with little idea of how the cars would perform on track. For as ready for the season opener as Mercedes were, McLaren were the complete opposite. Kevin Magnussen took over for Alonso who was at home resting after getting a concussion in testing – he’ll make his McLaren debut in Malaysia. The day was short lived for Magnussen who suffered an engine failure just before the start. After a miserable qualifying on Saturday, it was Jenson Button who had the task of competing for points.

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Button started at the back of the pack in 15th (P17) and managed to keep the car on track to the end. Some lucky breaks because of poor reliability suffered by the other teams allowed Button to finish 11th. Throughout the race however, it became very clear that McLaren and Honda are in for a long road ahead. The next few months will be a massive test for Alonso’s patience and the situation over at Ferrari certainly won’t help matters. Aside from the lack of on track performance and some less than confident ramblings from Ron Dennis, Button stayed true to his class act form and looked for the positives following the race. McLaren were wise to keep their voice of reason around another season.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger was on hand for podium interviews which have become the sport’s signature cringe moment of the weekend. Even the he and his surprising knowledge of the sport couldn’t save a bland opener in Australia. With Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt mucking up the entire power structure of the sport behind the scenes, this could be the show we’ll be seeing for many years to come. Letting teams govern themselves will never work in any sport ever.

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To leave things on a positive note, the 2015 cars look much better than last season’s even despite the lack of creativity in the livery department – hire some better graphic designers F1 teams. The cars also appear to be slightly louder and (somewhat) emulate more of that 80’s turbo sound. The Malaysian Grand Prix is 2 weeks from today.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 Toro Rosso STR9

Testing at Jerez begins this week and Toro Rosso was there to debut the 2014 STR9.

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Some have suggested this is a prelude to what we’ll be seeing from Red Bull later this week. I hope not.

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Yeah… Welcome to Formula 1 2014. Elitists who are above the kind of humor these new cars have spawned are quick to point out that the designs are all in the name of safety. Don’t get me wrong, having lower noses as a precaution to any t-bone related head injuries is crucial, but there must be a better way. Don’t think for a second that the jokes aren’t flooding throughout the paddock either. It’s tough to escape, especially with the STR9. Something tells me that Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat were looking to get this launch over with quickly.

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Things get a little more sane towards the rear of the car.

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At the back, STR begins their new engine partnership with Renault after parting ways with Ferrari. The new single exhausts on the 2014 cars should give us a nice light show come Bahrain and Singapore.

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More from Jerez in the coming days. Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The Equal Opportunity Employer

Infiniti Red Bull Racing RB9 Launch

Formula 1’s Silly Season is far from over and the fates of drivers including Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa remain undecided. In fact, we’re just a few weeks shy of a year since Lewis Hamilton announced he’d be leaving McLaren – has it really been that long? With the F1 rumor mill churning at full speed, Red Bull took it upon themselves to clear the air, with the announcement that Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo, would be taking the place of Mark Webber in 2014. It’s exciting news for both Ricciardo and those exhausted by pay drivers diluting the sport.

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Ricciardo did things the old-fashioned way. After a successful campaign in Formula 3, he worked his way into a drive with Toro Rosso. This season, the Australian had his best finish in China, placing 7th overall. Ricciardo has certainly got the pace and it will be exciting to see him in a truly great car, but given Red Bull’s history, you have to wonder if he’ll  have the full support of his team to challenge for race wins.

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Red Bull is no stranger to controversy. The Multi 21 incident in Malaysia earlier this year is what many consider the final straw in Webber’s decision to leave the team (and the sport). Sebastian Vettel’s success is hard to ignore – 3 Driver’s Championships in 3 years with the potential for a 4th in 2013. With that success rate comes certain liberties within the team – some may even say preferential treatment. The intent isn’t to feed conspiracies, but it’s ironic that a vast majority of the team’s mechanical issues have been on Webber’s cars. There’s also the issue of team orders, which Red Bull like to downplay, only for conversation’s sake. Could Ricciardo be setting himself up for a similar situation within the team?

Earlier today, Christian Horner responded to the hiring of Ricciardo:

“We expect him to challenge Sebastian. He’s employed by the team to do the best job that he can. He’ll get equal opportunity. He’ll get the same chance, the same equipment (as Sebastian) and it will be down to what he does on the circuit that counts at the end of the day.”

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Truth or more comedy from the Red Bull camp? Unless anyone has managed to acquire a copy of Ricciardo’s contract with the team, we won’t know until this thing plays out next season.

Vettel’s contract with Red Bull will expire at the end of 2014. With the potential for a 4th Driver’s Championship this season, Red Bull will be eager to keep Vettel and will in no way want to jeopardize that relationship. That may cause some collateral damage, namely Ricciardo getting stripped of his fair shot to shine on the team.

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Granted, all of this is purely speculation but it’s hard not to consider when we see how things ended with Webber – one of the last true gentlemen racers in Formula 1. It’s a massive opportunity Ricciardo and time will ultimately tell.

Red Bull Confirms Ricciardo As Webber’s Replacement

Earlier today, Red Bull confirmed that Daniel Ricciardo will replace Mark Webber in 2014.

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Who would fill Webber’s seat, has been one of the most discussed topics in F1. Many expected Kimi Raikkonen to make the move from Lotus. However, questions arose as to how well he’d fit in with Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull have made little effort to downplay claims that they favor Vettel as the clear Number 1 at the team. Given Raikkonen’s aggressive style and disinterest in team orders, the pairing seemed like a match made in hell.

While speculation remains over where Raikkonen is headed, it’s a good day for Ricciardo. As F1 grows increasingly heavy with pay drivers, it’s great to see a development program serve its intended purpose. Ricciardo did things the old-fashioned way. It’s going to be very exciting to see what he can do in an Adrian Newey car next season. Until then, let’s enjoy the final races of one of the true good guys of the sport, Mark Webber.

Photo & video courtesy of Red Bull.

The 2013 Toro Rosso STR8

Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso unveiled their 2013 STR8 earlier today.

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STR teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were at Jerez to unveil the car, ahead of the first day of testing beginning tomorrow.

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After finishing 9th overall in 2012, STR Team Principal Franz Tost expects the team to finish 6th in 2013. It’s an optimistic goal, but after last season anything can happen.

All of the cars are looking much better heading into 2013 with their new nose jobs. The season’s first testing doesn’t usually tell us a lot, but it’s still going to be interesting to see how everyone performs tomorrow.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.