USGP

2014 United States Grand Prix

The United States Grand Prix just wrapped up in Austin and proved to be one of the more entertaining races of late with Lewis Hamilton taking his 10th win of the season.

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The F1 media tend to view everything with rose tinted glasses and the story that really isn’t being discussed is just what a bad position the sport is actually in. Neither Caterham nor Marussia where able to participate in today’s Grand Prix due to financial issues and their absence brings to light the overwhelming problem of cost control in the sport. Bernie Ecclestone, who at this point appears to be destroying F1 on purpose, has been insistent that not everyone deserves the privilege of racing in the pinnacle of professional motor sport. However, an 18 car grid with ticket prices being as astronomical as they are is a very bad thing. By the start of next season, that number could dwindle to just 16 cars. The idea of 3 car teams has been tossed around, but the debate has been 50/50 and the consensus that it isn’t really much of a solution at all. Ultimately F1’s issues come down to proper governance and the imposition of a cost cap for all teams. The front runners like Mercedes and Ferrari oppose a cost cap, naturally, but it’s what would keep the playing feel more even and allow smaller teams to still compete, which in theory would create better racing. Unfortunately the teams are currently governing themselves, a flawed system where everyone votes for their own best interests. FIA President Jean Todt, who’s arguably nothing more than a figurehead, should be the one to impose stricter standards on the cost of F1. He clearly isn’t the man for the job and what we now have is the most lame duck FIA in the history of the sport.

The media aren’t really discussing this and would have the fans believe otherwise. Ultimately this could be F1’s undoing if major changes aren’t put in place. With costs running through the roof and the show on track causing many longtime fans to bow out, something must be done.

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GP USA F1/2014

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Today’s race was an exercise in wheel to wheel racing and just how good the sport can still be when car, tires and track are all working properly in unison. The Mercedes Silver Arrows have been dominant all season, were quick at the start of the weekend and stayed that way through the race’s conclusion. Nico Rosberg who secured pole on Saturday was eager to get a much needed victory in his World Championship quest. After a solid start, a safety car bunched up the grid and Hamilton was eventually able to get the edge after struggling with his first set of tires. Rosberg blamed the overtake by his teammate on an inability to get in a rhythm. It’s hard not to sympathize just a little with Rosberg and it’s clear the scolding from his team following Spa and the subsequent backlash from fans and the British media have done a number on his self confidence. Unless Mercedes produce one hell of a dominant car again next season, this may be Rosberg’s only chance to win an elusive WDC.

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The way things stand now, Hamilton has the momentum and can just about taste his second WDC. With Hamilton being the fan favorite he is, it would be disastrous for F1 if Rosberg managed a double points win at Abu Dhabi to steal away the Championship. Imagine the backlash that would create, especially given how poorly the rule change was received in the first place.

F1 Grand Prix of USA - Previews

F1 Grand Prix of USA - Practice

Elsewhere on the grid, a house divided at Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo continues to be one of the breakout stars in the sport while Sebastian Vettel’s woes continued. Last year’s USGP victor started today’s race from pit lane and spent a majority of the race floundering at the back of the pack. Ricciardo’s WDC hopes are officially over this season, but a 3rd place finish secured some much needed points for the team. While Ferrari still have yet to officially announce Vettel as their driver in 2015, it’s clear that the German and Red Bull are ready to part ways.

F1 Grand Prix of USA

GP USA F1/2014

GP USA F1/2014

Speaking of Ferrari, Fernando Alonso who also has yet to announce his plans for next season had some excellent battles with Ricciardo and Jenson Button today. The F14 T wasn’t really on the pace but Alonso managed 6th. His teammate Kimi Raikkonen continued to be absent from the points in 13th. The super team that everyone had hoped Ferrari would be in 2014 clearly hasn’t happened. Alonso addressed the media earlier this week and made it known he’s excited about his future plans but didn’t hint at what they may be. There have been all kinds of rumors, the most popular being that he’s heading to McLaren. Photos of Alonso speaking with Audi brass hinted at the German manufacturer possibly being interested in F1. Time will tell.

GP USA F1/2014

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Williams finished strong with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finishing 4th and 5th respectively. Massa will surely be challenging hard for a podium next weekend at his home race in Brazil.

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McLaren were excited to unveil some yellow paint had been added to the SAP logo adorning their cars leading up the the USGP. The team will likely see the entire season through without a title sponsor. The MP4-29 just hasn’t lived up to expectations this season. Many are pegging the new partnership with Honda in 2015 the start of better things to come, however McLaren are currently running the best engine in sport and the car is still a midfield contender at best. Rumors have been floating around that Ron Dennis is set to be sacked at the end of the season and last week it was made public Sam Michael, the team’s Sporting Director would be stepping down in November. Things really aren’t looking great for McLaren as it still remains unknown who will be driving for the team next season.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - United States Grand Prix - Race Day - Austin, USA

When all was said and done, just 15 cars managed to finish today’s race. A silly move from Sergio Perez took himself and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil out of the running in lap 1. Later on, another blow to Force India after Nico Hulkenberg was forced to retire.

F1 Grand Prix of USA

This being the 3rd USGP at Circuit of The Americas, we can conclude a few things by now: the popularity of F1 continues to grow in America, Mario Andretti needs to retire from conducting podium interviews and NBCSN continues to underestimate the intelligence of their audience. It was excellent to see just how many loyal fans turned up at COTA throughout the weekend – the sport’s fan base is alive and well in the United States. American F1 fans are not NASCAR fans which is something broadcasters need to understand. Comparing the two sports is the equivalent of comparing basketball to cricket – completely different. NBCSN needs to stop treating the sport like a novelty. The way the network has embraced English Premier League football is proof they’re capable of properly handling a globally watched sport. In its 2 years on NBCSN, F1 has been relegated to a smaller studio set with none of the upgrades to their broadcast fans had hoped for. While Will Buxton continues to be the broadcast team’s standout, Leigh Diffey has long worn out his welcome as ringleader. Surely their’s a more highly qualified motor racing commentator, with previous F1 experience who’s up for the job? Part of why F1 continues to miss the mark of its full potential with an American audience is because of how it continues to be represented on TV. Every year at the USGP, we’re treated to F1 For Dummies on one of the major networks. Stop underestimating your audience NBCSN!

F1 Grand Prix of USA

All in all a solid win for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton as the teams head to Brazil for the penultimate round of the 2014 season.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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Wake Up F1 On NBC Sports

I suppose it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise that America’s lowest-rated network would be incapable of providing halfway decent coverage of Formula 1, but to botch 1 of 2 nationally broadcast events, not to mention the sport’s only trip to the United States is inexcusable.

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Formula 1 is close to wrapping up one its most boring seasons since the Schumacher era. Sebastian Vettel’s dominance is certainly a factor, but race strategies heavily impacted by Pirelli’s hellacious tires, DRS and fuel conservation have produced a brand of racing most fans would likely forget entirely. The overabundance of street circuits on the calendar have also greatly impacted the sport’s entertainment factor. So without even discussing who’s broadcasting the sport, Formula 1 is a tough sell to an American audience perfectly happy with football.

When it was announced less than a year ago that NBC Sports would take over Formula 1 coverage from the ailing SPEED, the response was optimistic. A major network handling Formula 1 would bring it to a national audience and help to grow the sport domestically, or so we thought…

Today’s nationally broadcasted coverage of the United States Grand Prix was atrocious. With commercial breaks every 5 laps, spanning another 3-5 laps, cutaways from the live action to promote other NBC programming and a 13 minute technical error during the podium ceremony, it’s no wonder American’s have little interest in Formula 1. So much of the sport’s success in America is how it’s branded. Formula 1 is the most expensive and glamorous sport in the world and should be handled as such. To watch today’s broadcast live would tell a different story. NBC underestimates the intelligence of their audience. We all have Internet access and are more than capable of learning the ins and outs of a sport. When’s the last time you watched an NBA game where the announcers spent 10 minutes explaining the rules? It should be the network’s assumption that we’re well aware of how the sport works and if not, we’ll take it upon ourselves to learn. By dumbing down their broadcast, NBC is alienating the core audience to which they should be catering their broadcasts towards, the diehard fans. To be a fan of Formula 1 takes a bit of effort. There are untold numbers of technical regulations, an expansive international cast of players and an inconsistent schedule that sees races happening at all hours of the day. To follow such a sport means that the fans, especially in America, are a passionate breed who want to see their sport shown in a proper light. NBC has missed the mark nearly all season long.

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Commercials are likely to be everyone’s biggest gripe, they’re certainly mine. However if executed properly, the network can have their cake and eat it too. Instead of putting the race feed in a 1/5 PIP window, put the commercials there. Christ, even keep the audio for the commercials running. At the very least it would keep the attention on the racing so that we wouldn’t miss so much in the 3-5 lap span of a commercial break. Secondly, the broadcasters should learn when to speak. Leigh Diffey in particular is a broken record during the race – talking over radio transmissions and over commentating everything we can all see with our own eyes. Enough explaining already. Some of us would prefer to hear the cars and team radio chatter. Lastly, the cutaways for other Formula 1 tidbits and NBC promos during the race! No one cares! If we wanted to watch Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea, we would turn the channel. Why on earth would a network direct people away from the program currently airing? I think I’m right in saying that we’re all fans of Will Buxton, who is easily the strongest member of NBC’s team, but I don’t need to know what Will was up to in Austin on Media Day, save that crap for the post-race show!

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It’s easy to blame the hosts for NBC’s less than ideal broadcast of Formula 1, but this falls in the hands of the people behind the scenes – the programming directors, the producers… Until whoever is handling Formula 1 broadcasting in the United States can wake up and do it properly, it will remain a niche sport for fanatics who like to stay up all night. If you want to win the audience, Tire Talk with Steve Matchett isn’t the answer.

Wake up NBC.

The United States Grand Prix

Hats off to the state of Texas and Circuit of the Americas. They pulled this one off in stunning fashion.

Formula 1 was stateside for the first time since 2007 and what a race it was. If the nearly 115,000 fans at today’s race was any indication of things to come, then Formula 1 has a great future in America.

McLaren finally showed up this weekend with a decent car for Lewis Hamilton and it was a 1-on-1 battle with Sebastian Vettel for most of the race.

With 14 laps to go, Hamilton used his DRS to overtake Vettel and held the lead to the end. In typical fashion, Vettel was quick to throw a temper tantrum and media bash Narain Karthikeyan for getting in his way.

Red Bull were however able to secure their 3rd consecutive Constructor’s Championship, which went virtually unnoticed until being brought up by Vettel during the podium interviews.

Joining Hamilton and Vettel on the podium was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Predictably, Alonso struggled with the F2012 all weekend but managed to make it work on race day. He’s indebted to Hamilton who’s kept his (slim) Driver’s Championship hopes alive for another week. Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa pulled off another stellar drive finishing 4th.

Ferrari made a bold move changing Massa’s gearbox in order to receive a 5 grid spot penalty, that would allow Massa to start on the clean side of the track. The gamble paid off.

Michael Schumacher spent most of the race trying to send drivers off the track, a throwback to his Ferrari days. Neither he or his teammate Nico Rosberg scored points for Mercedes (again). Somewhere Lewis Hamilton is laying in bed wondering if he has indeed made the worst decision of his career to leave McLaren. What’s done is done and it was a bittersweet victory for the driver and his team today in Austin.

Formula 1 has massive potential in the United States and it’s all going to come down to how the sport is marketed to an American audience. A big part of that will lie on the shoulders of NBC Sports, who are in charge broadcasting duties next year. However, today it was the city of Austin who welcomed Formula 1 with open arms and did so in big Texas fashion.

Another season of Formula 1 is almost in the books. The Brazilian finale at Interlagos is next week. Alonso better pray for a miracle because it’s going to be a tough one.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.