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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.

Hamilton: Reliability issues pattern a concerning element

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in the post qualifying press conference during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton believes that the reliability problems he has encountered on his Mercedes car so far this season are developing into a pattern, rather than simple mistakes, after encountering yet another setback in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton arrived in Monaco trailing Mercedes teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg by 43 points, and is without a win since last October’s United States Grand Prix.

After suffering failures on his engine during qualifying in both China and Russia, Hamilton looked set to be sidelined once again when he stopped in the pit lane at the start of Q3 in Monaco.

Mercedes confirmed that Hamilton’s car had a fuel pressure problem, but fixed it in time for him to complete one flying lap run towards the end of the session, qualifying third.

Hamilton was downbeat after qualifying when speaking to NBCSN, hinting that if he continually made errors as Mercedes was doing, it would not be accepted.

“Acceptable? I don’t know whether that’s for me to say,” Hamilton said.

“Of course, if I was messing up my laps every time, perhaps they’d say that’s not acceptable.

“But I really don’t know what to say at the moment. Honestly, it’s not a great feeling right now. I’m just trying to keep myself together.

“We’re getting further and further into the championship with more and more problems.

“This is becoming a norm for me.”

Hamilton was then asked by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton: “At what point does this stop being about mistakes and start being something that’s deeper that you need to as a team get on top of?”

“I think it’s already at that point personally,” Hamilton replied.

“For me, personally, it’s not a good feeling right now.

“The other car just keeps going, and going, and going. And for whatever reasons…

“I was quickest today. The weekend’s gone great. Just when it counts, something seems to happen quite often.

“But I’m sure we will regroup and shoot the s**t and try and figure it out.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Castroneves still chasing fourth Indianapolis 500 victory

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Helio Castroneves #3 of Brazil watches alongside owner Roger Penske during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Trying to persuade Helio Castroneves to rank his three Indianapolis 500 victories is tantamount to asking an adoring mother or father to rank their children in order of affection.

Ask him what it would be like to win a record-tying fourth – at the 100th running of the iconic race Sunday and on the 50th anniversary of Penske Racing – it is impossible for Castroneves to deny: It would mean more than any other victory in an open-wheel career spanning nearly two decades.

“It’s a special number,” he said. “It’s something bigger.”

The road to immortality began in 2001, when as a rookie he weathered a lengthy rain delay and a battle with Gil de Ferran to first get his face engraved on the Borg-Warner Trophy. He took a victory lap and then parked on the yard of bricks, climbing up the catch-fence with several crew members in a wild celebration.

He made the same climb the following year, when a crash just before Paul Tracy passed Castroneves on the 199th lap gave him the victory. There were protests and appeals hearings, and many still believe Tracy deserved to win the race, even though Castroneves had the victory officially upheld that July.

There was no such controversy seven years later.

Two months after he was acquitted of federal charges of tax evasion and conspiracy, he won the race from the pole position in dominant fashion, never allowing Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick to make a run.

Three victories in less than a decade.

It’s almost hard to fathom he’s been chasing No. 4 for so long.

“The good news is we’re here. We’re pushing,” said Castroneves, who will start outside on the third row Sunday. “We’re finding every inch in the track to make sure that we can make it happen.”

For all his wins, there have been just as many near-misses.

Castroneves was leading the 2003 race with about 30 laps to go when de Ferran passed him, the two of them eventually giving Team Penske another 1-2 finish. He finished third behind Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon four years later, and was fourth in 2008, when Dixon drove to victory after a late restart.

None of those was as painful as two years ago.

After a late wreck had brought out a red flag, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti joined Castroneves in a high-speed game of musical chairs. Castroneves took the lead with two laps to go as Andretti began to fade, only for Hunter-Reay to overcome him on the final lap. Castroneves made one more move, coming out of the last corner, but wound up second by 0.0600 seconds – the second-closest finish in race history.

“Listen, every time we don’t win, that’s part of the sport, but you remember it for a long time,” Castroneves said with a brave smile. “The team does not have a short memory. They always remember the success. But I remember the ones that I didn’t get. They hurt more.”

The fact that he could smile about a defeat, even if it was merely a facade, is one of the reasons he’s been so successful. The Brazilian’s effervescent personality permeates Gasoline Alley, and the perpetual optimism that he carries onto the speedway has allowed him to overcome plenty of misfortune.

“He’s got this spark when he drives. You see it sometimes,” said Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud. “He has that something special, for sure. His spirit makes him so he doesn’t give up. He believes he can.”

That personality may rub some the wrong way, but it’s also made Castroneves plenty of fans.

“He behaves like a 22-year-old. He’s such a good spirit,” Pagenaud said. “It’s inspiring.”

Castroneves is back this weekend in Roger Penske’s renowned “Yellow Submarine” car that he nearly won in two years ago, and that Rick Mears made famous in the 1980s. And if he can guide it to victory lane Sunday, he will join Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser in the exclusive club of four-time winners.

That mere thought made Castroneves reminisce about his first trip to Indianapolis.

“I came here to do something, an appearance, and I came to the track but I went to the museum – that’s as far as I went,” he said. “I remember touching the trophy and said, `One day, my face will be on here.”‘

Three times and counting.

Horner lauds Ricciardo for ‘dynamite’ Monaco pole lap

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates his pole position in parc ferme during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner heaped praise upon Daniel Ricciardo following his charge to pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday.

Ricciardo claimed Red Bull’s first pole position since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix with a stunning final lap in Q3, beating the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

“Amazing. That first lap? Mighty!” Horner is quoted as saying by the official F1 website.

“The first two laps in Q3 were just dynamite. He has been driving sensationally all weekend – just so clean, and the lap times just rolled together for him.

“It’s a great moment for him with his first pole – and for us, with our first pole since 2013. A great way to start the weekend.”

The result also marked Ricciardo’s first pole position in F1, although he has claimed three grand prix victories across the course of his career.

However, it was far from being a perfect qualifying for Red Bull as Spanish Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen crashed out in Q1, leaving him 21st on the grid for tomorrow’s race.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

CK crew, trio of Brabham cars highlight PIRTEK Team Murray’s week

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Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray
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Following extensive training and preparation, the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation CK Crew made their debut in Friday’s TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge. The result wasn’t the end goal on the day, and having been stuck in the troublesome right lane of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway pit lane that almost no one won from didn’t make it any easier.

Still though, rookie Matthew Brabham and the No. 61 PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet team led by Brett “Crusher” Murray fully enjoyed the experience.

The pit stop competition was not the first cool thing the team did this week.

Brabham with all 3 cars. Photo: IndyCar
Brabham with all 3 cars. Photo: IndyCar

Earlier, three cars from three generations of Brabhams – the Brabhams are the third third generation family to compete at Indianapolis along with Andrettis and Vukoviches – were assembled on the yard of bricks. A video about that is below:

Meanwhile, the team release and an assortment of photos from Friday are below:

Matt Brabham has completed final preparations for the 100th Indianapolis 500 Friday afternoon, whilst PIRTEK Team Murray’s rookie pit crew of military and first responders brought the crowd to its feet when it entered pitlane flying the American flag.

Brabham got through the one hour practice without drama despite the only major incident in the session – a spin from Pippa Mann – happening directly in front of him.

He was able to work through race simulations and build upon his racecraft among traffic ahead of Sunday’s race, whilst also working on heavy fuel loads.

The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation CK Crew were crowd favorites as they walked to the #61 PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet. The team – who have trained for the last week in Indianapolis at Pitfit Training with Jim Leo – came together from military and first responder backgrounds around America.

They drew the American flag from their fire suits and proudly waved it in front of the huge Miller Lite Carb Day crowd. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment in association with the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation drew the CK Crew together to highlight the work of the Foundation and promote the American Sniper – Chris Kyle Commemorative Edition Blu-Ray that went on sale this May.

Up against Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport, they put in one of their best stops of the practice week, however Hunter-Reay got away slightly better than Brabham and crossed the line first.

The team were valiant in their efforts and walked away proud of what they had achieved during the week and created lifelong friendships – while also bringing awareness to the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and the work it is doing to enhance military and first responder marriages.

Saturday, Brabham continues the round of rookie media presentations, a special photograph of the 33 drivers with Indianapolis 500 veterans. He will then transfer downtown for the annual parade.

Then on Sunday, he will take the start in the 100th Indianapolis 500.

“Carb Day final practice was great, I was just getting comfortable in the car and trying a few things and avoiding crashes basically! It was a tight one out there with Pippa she was right in front of me when she went off, so that was a bit interesting,” Brabham said.

“I was comfortable out there and getting used to everything. Everyone was checking up, I was getting used to how it was – speeding up and working on racecraft ahead of Sunday. It was enjoyable.

The weather should be similar. We got a really good good read on everything. So I will go back with the PIRTEK Team Murray crew, work through the data and everything else and have it sorted out for the race.”


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CKCrew_2

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Preparation process. All photos; PIRTEK Team Murray

“I’m so proud of the efforts of all the CK Crew team that came together for the Pit Stop Challenge,” said Taya Kyle, executive director, Chris Kyle Frog Foundation.

“To bring all of them together from such different backgrounds, but all having done so much for our country and develop them into the teamthey became was amazing.

“The Challenge didn’t go our way, but they’ve all had an awesome time, worked their butts off, learnt some new skills and along the way created some new friendships.

“The thing that stood out for Chris above all else when attending the races was the pit crew – their strength, precision and teamwork. He likened it to his SEAL training, which is how the idea for the pit crew came together.

“I can’t thank all of them enough, along with PIRTEK Team Murray, Warner Bros Home Entertainment, Bell Helmets, Kryptek Outdoor Group, Jim Leo at PitFit, their pit stop trainer – Chris McFadden – himself a hero that has served for our country – and everyone else that contributed to this terrific program.”

Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray
Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray