State of play: F1’s 2014 driver market

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The summer break may be over, but Formula One’s ‘silly season’ – the time when pretty much every driver is linked to every team – is poised to rumble on for the coming weeks and months until all twenty-two drivers on the grid have been secured for 2014. Interestingly, just six drivers are confirmed for next season, meaning that there is plenty of room for movement at all ends of the grid, making speculation particularly rife this season.

Red Bull Racing

Sebastian Vettel is, unsurprisingly, set to remain with the three-time world champions, and the German driver looks set to add to that figure this year. Much of the movement on the grid is dependent on who Red Bull choose as retiring Mark Webber’s replacement, with Daniel Ricciardo in pole position to move up the grid. However, Kimi Raikkonen, Jean-Eric Vergne and even Fernando Alonso have been linked to the seat.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso is contracted for next season and will most probably remain at Ferrari despite the team’s recent run of form. Felipe Massa’s contract is up at the end of the season, and his results in 2013 have failed to help his cause for a ninth year with the team. Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg and even Jules Bianchi are options for the Scuderia, but Massa’s loyalty to the team could come into play here.

McLaren

Jenson Button and Sergio Perez are both contracted for 2014. Button claimed in Belgium that he was yet to sign an extension, only to later concede concede that he was “winding up” team principal Martin Whitmarsh. No change here.

Lotus

Kimi Raikkonen’s talks with Red Bull have reportedly broken down, but the Finn does appear to be angling for a move away from Enstone – be it due to the worsening financial situation or other factors. Romain Grosjean has expressed his desire to stay at the team, although the Frenchman is on a three-race rolling contract, making his future far from secure. Talks with Hulkenberg had been held and reserve driver Davide Valsecchi could also be an option should either driver leave.

Mercedes

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are set to stay at Mercedes for next season, with the Briton enjoying a successful first year with the German marque.

Sauber

Sauber’s financial woes appear to have been allayed by fresh investment from Russia, but part of the rescue deal is eighteen-year-old Sergey Sirotkin who is poised to become the youngest F1 driver of all time next season, relying he can gain a superlicense. Esteban Gutierrez’s funding from Telmex makes him a valuable driver for Sauber, and Hulkenberg’s ability may not be enough to remain at the team, although the German driver may have loftier aspirations further towards the front of the grid.

Force India

Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil’s futures at Force India appear to be secure, but both drivers would be interested in moving up the grid if possible. However, with neither driver boasting a ‘big’ result (podium or pole position), they may not be the first option for the likes of Ferrari and Lotus.

Williams

Pastor Maldonado’s backing from the Venezuelan government means that his seat at Williams is secure, but he could also be an option for the likes of Lotus for the very same reason. Valtteri Bottas has failed to make a huge impact during his first half-season, yet relative to the pace of the car, he has matched his teammate pound-for-pound.

Toro Rosso

Again, this all hinges on Red Bull’s decision. Should they take on Ricciardo, Antonio Felix da Costa is the obvious choice to step up. Jean-Eric Vergne has been assured of his seat with the team next season, but he too will be pondering his future within the Red Bull set up.

Caterham

Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde have both impressed this year with some strong performances, so they may be set to enjoy another year with the backmarkers. Heikki Kovalainen’s role as test driver could yet see him come into the running, and Alexander Rossi has also put in some impressive performances for the team during his free practice runs this season.

Marussia

With Ferrari set to supply the team with engines next year, Jules Bianchi’s future appears to be secure. Max Chilton’s backing is also a big aid to Marussia, so it would be surprising to see any major changes for the Anglo-Russian outfit for 2014.

F1 Paddock Pass: Azerbaijan Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend with the renamed Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the Baku City Circuit. The track is the second longest on the schedule and the race is renamed after being called the European Grand Prix last year (all times for the weekend via NBCSN or CNBC here).

Here with the latest from the paddock in Baku is the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, with F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton joined by producer Jason Swales.

Swales celebrates his 300th Grand Prix on site this weekend, a major milestone after his 250th was celebrated a couple seasons ago at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas. As you can see below, McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso has joined in the festivities.

There’s plenty of fun to recap and plenty of important angles to preview in this week’s show, which you can see below in three parts.

 

Raikkonen prepared to sacrifice himself to help Vettel

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Kimi Raikkonen is prepared to sacrifice himself in order to help Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel win a fifth Formula One title.

Vettel leads the championship by 12 points ahead of Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton after seven races. Raikkonen is fourth and already trails Vettel by 68 points.

“When I don’t have a chance mathematically to fight for the championship, for sure I will help him. I have no issues with that,” Raikkonen said Thursday. “It’s about the team and the first thing is to try and make sure we are at the top with Ferrari.”

Ferrari is chasing its first drivers’ title since Raikkonen won his only title in 2007 and its first constructors’ title since 2008.

In the constructors’ battle, Ferrari trails Mercedes by eight points heading into this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

“We have a good car everywhere. Hopefully we’ll be at the front again,” Raikkonen said. “It’s been close every race this year.”

Although the Finnish driver looked set for victory at the Monaco Grand Prix last month, his hopes were ended when his team brought him into the pits for a tire change earlier than he wanted. That left Vettel in the clear to race away to victory, with Raikkonen finishing second.

Even though Raikkonen was disappointed in the aftermath of that race, and made his frustration known, he now appears fully committed to helping Vettel when the time comes.

“I think we have very clear rules in the team and what the team wants us to do. It goes by those rules,” Raikkonen said. “Nothing has changed and we know exactly when things will go either way. That’s fine.”

The 37-year-old Raikkonen acknowledged that Vettel’s consistency makes him the obvious choice as the team’s No. 1 driver.

“Seb has done very good races so far and has been strong everywhere,” Raikkonen said. “I was not starting very well the first races. I was not where I wanted to be.”

Kanaan finding IndyCar ‘more competitive than ever’

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan believes that the Verizon IndyCar Series is becoming “more competitive than ever” as the championship’s plans for the future begin to become clear.

INDYCAR bosses have outlined a five-year plan for the series moving forward, with a universal aero kit in 2018 and a push for a third manufacturer to join Chevrolet and Honda in the future on the agenda.

The 2017 season has kicked off in an unpredictable fashion as seven drivers have shared the opening nine race wins, with Will Power and Graham Rahal being the only repeat winners.

Kanaan feels that the series is only becoming more and more competitive, with the introduction of the universal aero kit poised to aid that from next year.

“I think it is going to be more competitive than ever as we still have different aero kits that can make a difference. Next year is going to be even tougher,” Kanaan said.

“At the last race [in Texas] we had 15 cars and two-tenths of a second. I think it is the right direction, and they are also trying to keep the costs down which is the biggest challenge in racing all over the world, to get the teams to afford to be there.

“The way they are doing the kits, trying to get more teams and new teams into the series, and it is working. We had three new teams at Indy 500 and they are looking forward to coming back. We should try to add more teams and not lose cars.”

Kanaan added that a third manufacturer would be “a big help” for IndyCar, saying: “They are in talks with two others but I don’t know who they are but more people, cars, manufacturers, teams will always help.”

Having made his debut in American single-seaters back in 1998, Kanaan has raced through many different eras, but does not believe the series has ever been more competitive.

“It doesn’t get any easier and I don’t get any younger. It goes the opposite way!” Kanaan chuckled.

“It is amazing as you cannot afford to have one little problem or one little hiccup in a race. Before if you did that you would finish third or fourth but now you will finish 15th.

“You have 22 cars and in some races 21 of them on the lead lap and five seconds from one another. It raised the game for the mechanics too with the importance of pit stops.”

Sauber driver Ericsson dismisses talk of favoritism in team

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson has dismissed talk of favoritism within Sauber following the unexpected departure of team principal Monisha Kaltenborn.

Kaltenborn, who was also Sauber’s chief executive officer, left Wednesday by mutual consent. The news came shortly after another team statement denying reports of unfair treatment between the Swedish driver and German teammate Pascal Wehrlein.

“There were a lot of stories in the press about this unfair advantage for one driver. It was upsetting, disrespectful, it’s false and untrue,” Ericsson said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. “For me and Pascal, it’s been very clear that’s not the case. We’ve both been given equal equipment.”

Ericsson has yet to score a point after seven races, while Wehrlein has four points after an eighth-place finish at the Spanish GP in May.

“We’re not going to go on holiday together, but as teammates goes we’ve been working really good together so far,” Ericsson said. “When we try different things across the cars, we discuss things.”

Sauber’s statement said Kaltenborn left “due to diverging views of the future of the company.” Her successor has not been announced.

The 46-year-old Kaltenborn joined Sauber in 2000 as head of its legal department and later became chief executive officer.

“We have to trust the owners that they know what they’re doing, and that they have a good plan for the future,” Ericsson said. “I have a lot to thank Monisha for. She was the one who gave me the chance to come here after my year in Caterham.”

Wehrlein also praised Kaltenborn for standing by him. He missed the first two races of the season after injuring his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, sustaining hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressing some of his intervertebral discs.

“Monisha was very close to me at one of my toughest times in my career so far,” Wehrlein said. “I am very thankful for that, and this is something that I will never forget.”