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MotorSportsTalk’s F1 2013 mid-season review – part two

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Following on from part one of MotorSportsTalk’s mid-season review, in part two the Formula One writers detail and dissect their top three stories from the season so far – be it for the right or wrong reasons.

Tony di Zinno’s top three

Tiregate. Unfortunately the dominant story throughout the first half of the season.

Mercedes’ one-lap pace vs. tire falloff. They’ve been great in qualifying all year but not able to sustain in the races. Still, Rosberg’s been great and Hamilton’s made us all look dumb for deriding his move from McLaren.

Webber retiring. One of the great one-liners in the sport, and the oldest driver on the grid, heads to the WEC with Porsche. Personally, I’ll miss his candor.

Christopher Estrada’s top three

Pirelli’s problems. Formula One’s tire manufacturer was charged with making a tire that could liven up the proceedings on Sundays. That indeed happened, but in a way that nobody expected or wanted. Their issues peaked with multiple failures in the British Grand Prix, which led to a rollout of new tires that married this year’s compounds with last year’s design. One hopes that, as a result, the second half of the F1 calendar will feature more emphasis on where it ought to be: the racing.

Mercedes’ evolution. Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel are still chugging along, but I’d say that what’s been happening for the Silver Arrows in 2013 has made them the most fascinating team to watch. Mercedes came in with high hopes after attaining the services of Lewis Hamilton. But for a good part of the first half, the headlines were instead focused on the ascension of teammate Nico Rosberg. However, Hamilton’s win in Hungary may have proven that the team’s finally neutralized the tire problems which had blunted their qualifying prowess. This story is most definitely, to be continued…

Who will replace Webbo? Mark Webber’s move to sports car racing in 2014 spells the end of a solid F1 career that has seen some considerable triumphs. It also opens up a prized seat at Red Bull alongside the ruthless Vettel, and that’s led to lots of talk as to who will get the call – Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have all found themselves dubbed as potential candidates. Who’s it going to be?

Luke Smith’s top three

The curious case of Pirelli. It’s been quite a year for Pirelli and we’re only half way through the season. Firstly they were deemed guilty of producing a tire that was ‘too bad’ for the drivers. So, to correct this, they held a private test with Mercedes which was eventually deemed illegal. Then, the safety of the drivers was put at risk at Silverstone, prompting another tire revision in Germany before eventually bringing back last year’s constructions. What next?

The demise of McLaren and Williams. The two dominant teams of the late ’80s and early ’90s have both faltered greatly so far this season thanks to two terrible cars. It has certainly spiced up the racing in the midfield, and it gives their drivers extra impetus to impress in the second half of the year. A winless year for McLaren would be bad, but a podium-less year? Unthinkable.

Marussia and Caterham’s battle. If you have read my work on MST, you will know that I’m a big fan of the backmarkers. Caterham and Marussia’s battle is raging on throughout the season, and both Bianchi and Pic have the makings of fine drivers in the future. With nine races to go, Caterham need to work hard if they are to finish tenth in the constructors’, while Marussia need to bounce back as soon as possible.

Keith Collantine’s top three

The team orders row in Malaysia. I thought there was a lot of hypocrisy in some of the coverage of Vettel refusing to heed Red Bull’s instructions for him not to pass Webber in the closing stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix. The fact that two years ago at Silverstone Webber conducted himself in exactly the same way Vettel did (albeit unsuccessfully) was widely ignored. That said, Vettel did himself few favours by first appearing to repent his actions, then insisting Webber didn’t deserve to win the race. He should have stuck to the latter view from the start.

Webber leaving F1. I don’t doubt that Webber’s frustration with life at Red Bull has played some role in his desire to move on to pastures new. But don’t underestimate the sincerity of his misgivings over the direction F1 is heading in with designed-to-degrade tires and, next year, tight restrictions on fuel use. I expect he’ll be more vocal about it once he’s joined Porsche in the World Endurance Championship, which is largely free of the gimmicks F1 has got itself hooked on.

Ecclestone indicted. Bernie Ecclestone himself has admitted Formula One owners CVC Capital Partners may have to replace him if he were found guilty in his bribery case in Germany. With the news of Ecclestone being formally indicted, his four-decade spell in charge of F1 is not yet at an end, but this could be the beginning of the end.

Pla powers to unofficial lap record at Petit Le Mans night practice

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Cooler conditions produced the fastest lap times yet this weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale in night practice, and Olivier Pla kept the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda at the top of the charts.

A 1:13.541 is an unofficial lap record for IMSA (note times were quicker in the American Le Mans Series, but we’re talking post-mergification in 2014 when ALMS and GRAND-AM came under one roof) as Pla dropped the hammer Thursday night in the car he shares with Ozz Negri and John Pew, in Shank’s 250th and last scheduled prototype start. It also gave Shank a Thursday three-practice sweep of the top of the timesheets.

“I’m very happy with the performance today. I love this track, Road Atlanta, and the car has been great from the beginning. We just kept improving the car during each session. All of the changes we made were very positive so thank you to the team for that. I think it’s looking good for the race,” Pla told IMSA Radio.

Other class leaders at night included 2015 IndyCar driver Stefano Coletti, in the third Starworks Motorsport entry in Prototype Challenge, Dirk Mueller in GT Le Mans in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT and Marco Seefried in GT Daytona in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Night practice, like the two day sessions that preceded it, was largely uneventful – a welcome departure from last year’s nightmarish day of crashes and rain on Thursday.

A final pre-qualifying practice occurs on Friday before qualifying later Friday afternoon.

Session three times are linked here.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: Rosberg’s ascendance, Pagenaud’s title

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP speaks with his team-mate Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP as he celebrates his win on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Stefan Johansson’s latest blog entry previews the forthcoming Formula 1 title battle between Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, recaps the IndyCar title just won by Simon Pagenaud, and addresses some other topics from both worlds as well.

Per usual, it’s the latest conversation with Jan Tegler live on Johansson’s website, and continues with what we’ve been chronicling throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

On the Rosberg vs. Hamilton title title, Johansson notes that the narratives around the two keep popping up depending on who’s winning and losing on-track.

“Nico really dominated this one, no doubt,” Johansson wrote of Rosberg’s peerless weekend in Singapore. “He had a flawless weekend throughout qualifying and the race and never put a foot wrong.

“But what’s funny is that again some of the pundits are back saying that Lewis is finished because he’s partying too hard, he’s not focused, etc. I say leave the guy alone. What we’re seeing is the normal, natural dynamics over the course of a 21-race season. You’re going to have good and bad races.

“Rosberg was certainly off-the-boil too for a few races mid-season and the pundits were saying he’s not mentally strong enough and this and that. The changing of momentum back and forth is completely normal but I guess some people just don’t have enough to talk about. Because there is effectively only two of them at the moment with a realistic chance of winning and they are so incredibly closely matched all the time it doesn’t take a lot for the momentum to swing one way or the other.”

Johansson also acutely notes how Sebastian Vettel has taken advantage of 2017 Pirelli tire testing to perhaps gain a leg up on the competition next year.

He writes of Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari’s test runs on the newer 2017 rubber, among other things, “What’s more interesting is that Sebastian Vettel has been doing every test lap for Ferrari that has been available. I guarantee you that this will give him an advantage next year. Every time you run a car you gain some level of knowledge. Racing and F1 in particular is no different than any other business in that it relies on human interaction and relationships to get the best results.

“The fact that Pirelli has Vettel doing testing, making every single run he can make will pay off. I’ve done lots of tire testing in the past and it’s absolutely the best way to move things forward for driver or a team performance.”

On Simon Pagenaud’s IndyCar title, Johansson praised the 32-year-old Frenchman who’s come into his own this year:

“Pagenaud ended the season in a pretty impressive way. There’s no doubt that he went to Sonoma to win the race as well as the championship. He did a superb job all weekend and the Penske team definitely has the momentum now. Ganassi had the momentum for several years but it seems to have swung toward Penske now. They also have four very strong cars with any one of them capable of winning any race under right circumstances, Ganassi doesn’t have that at the moment.”

Johansson still said Scott Dixon, the 2015 and four-time champion, put together a barnstorming 2016 campaign – but it was one undone by horrific luck.

“As I’ve said, it’s weird but Scott had his best year for many years in some ways. If everything had gone his way, he could have won three races where he had mechanical failures which are almost unheard of now in IndyCar. But he had engine problems at Detroit, Road America and St. Petersburg. There were also a few strategic errors all adding up to a Championship finish that was his lowest for quite some time. If all that hadn’t happened he would have almost dominated the season.”

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Rosberg leads Mercedes 1-2 in shorter Malaysian first practice

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Despite a near-20-minute red flag for Kevin Magnussen’s fire in pit lane, the Mercedes AMG Petronas pair needed less time to retain their usual positions on the top of the scoreboard for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg, who regained the championship lead with his third win in a row two weeks ago in Singapore, topped the timesheets at 1:35.227 on Pirelli’s soft tires, which was 0.494 of a second clear of teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The profile of the Sepang International Circuit has changed this year owing to a resurfacing and the angles and lines to some of the corners are different compared to years past. And the race shifts back to October for the first time since 2000.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s race lap record is 1:34.223 set with Williams in 2004 and pole times in the V10 era were in the 1:33s. On harder tires – Pirelli has brought the three hardest compounds on offer with the soft, medium and hard tires this weekend – and times aren’t far off.

In the 90-minute session, Rosberg did have an off with 15 minutes to go; Hamilton had a monster lockup with about 53 minutes to go and Carlos Sainz Jr. went off course just following the session restart.

Magnussen’s pit fire though was the story of the session. The Dane pitted, then scrambled to exit his Renault when smoke and flames emerged from both the airbox in the engine cowling and then from the engine bay. His crew worked wonders to extinguish the flames.

Behind the Mercedes teammates at the top of the charts, Ferrari’s pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were next followed by Fernando Alonso’s McLaren in fifth. Red Bull teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were sixth and seventh, ahead of the Force India teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Perez is hoping a resolution on his F1 future will be revealed sooner rather than later.

Romain Grosjean’s struggles with Haas F1 Team continued as he radioed that “something must not be right” with the car after a late off in the session. He was an unlucky 13th.

Further down the order neither Felipe Massa of Williams or Jolyon Palmer in the second Renault were able to eclipse the two Saubers, and languished in 18th and 19th.

Free practice two runs from 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App, via streaming at f1stream.nbcsports.com for participating providers. Leigh Diffey is back in the booth with David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, with Townsend Bell in the pits. Set your DVRs, or brew some coffee.

Times from FP1 are below:

Renault crew fights, extinguishes Magnussen fire at Malaysia (VIDEO)

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There must be something about the Enstone team and scary pit fires, because Kevin Magnussen had his near-Jos Verstappen at Hockenheim 1994 moment during this morning’s first free practice from the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The young Dane pitted his Renault RS16 just eight minutes into the session because it all went wrong from there. Smoke and flames emanated from out of the roll hoop and in the engine bay, and Magnussen frantically jumped out of the car from there.

He was OK, but in the subsequent minutes that followed, the car lit up several more times as it burned off fuel. The Renault Sport F1 Team crew then took to fighting and fanning the flames with fire extinguishers, and managed to douse it and put it out, in a valiant effort.

The car was wheeled back into the garage and Magnussen, most importantly, was unharmed.

The fire caused a 19-minute delay to the session.

Verstappen’s raging inferno came during a pit stop in the 1994 German Grand Prix, when the team now known as Renault was known as Benetton.

Tweets from the team are below and the video is above. FP2 runs on NBCSN from 2 a.m. ET.