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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.

Marcus Ericsson excited about Pascal Wehrlein’s arrival at Sauber for 2017

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 02: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track ahead of Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 2, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Marcus Ericsson is relishing the opportunity to work with Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber through the 2017 Formula 1 season, saying he rates the German driver highly.

Wehrlein made his F1 debut in 2016 with Manor, scoring just the second top-10 finish in the team’s history at the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes junior was announced as a Sauber driver for 2017 on Monday, replacing Felipe Nasr after the Brazilian lost his financial backing.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Ericsson spoke warmly of Wehrlein’s arrival, believing that they will forge a strong partnership that will help Sauber to develop.

“I think it’s great news for me and Sauber. Pascal is a very fast and respected driver with a great CV,” Ericsson said.

“I think we can really push each other and the team forward, so I am looking forward to a great season.

“I honestly rate [Wehrlein] highly. He’s won the DTM championship and been part of the Mercedes family for a long time, so they seem to believe a lot in him.

“Of course my aim is to beat him – what else? – and I expect it to be a tough fight. But that’s exactly what I need in order to perform at my best.”

Sauber was at risk of collapsing at midway through the 2016 season, having struggled financially for some time before being taken over by Longbow Finance during the summer.

The team subsequently went on a recruitment drive, bringing in a number of management and engineering staff, with Ericsson noticing a difference.

“It definitely takes time, but I think it’s clear that if you look at the second half of last season we really made some big progress,” Ericsson said.

“And the aim is, of course, to continue that way in 2017. We’ve had some great people decide to join the team in the last couple of months and that also makes a difference.

“So all in all it feels like we’re moving in the right way. And with two young and hungry drivers in the cockpits we should be on a good run.”

VIDEO: Valtteri Bottas’ first day as a Mercedes F1 driver

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Following Valtteri Bottas’ official unveiling as a Mercedes driver on Monday, the team wasted little time in showing the Finn the ropes at its base in Brackley, England.

Bottas was released from his contract by Williams so he could join Mercedes for 2017, replacing world champion Nico Rosberg following the German’s shock decision to retire from F1.

Bottas was announced as Mercedes’ new driver on Monday, completing the puzzle for the 2017 driver market and putting an end to six weeks of speculation.

In the above video released by Mercedes, Bottas gets to grips with life at Brackley after signing his new contract with team chief Toto Wolff and meeting his new team members for the first time.

In related news, Mercedes announced on Friday that it had struck an agreement with the Wihuri Group, a Finnish conglomerate that has previously sponsored Bottas.

Wihuri’s branding will appear on the Mercedes drivers’ racesuits and helmets, as well as on the team’s trackside uniform.

“We are delighted to welcome Wihuri to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport family today,” Wolff said.

“As a respected brand both in Finland and globally, Wihuri will be a valuable addition to our team and we look forward to working with them and helping to expand their Formula One experience.

“This year will be a new challenge for our team, with a new driver line-up, including our new Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas of course, and new regulations.

“I am sure it going to be a very exciting year to be involved with our team and the sport of Formula 1.”

Yamaha, Ducati enjoy launches ahead of new MotoGP season

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© Yamaha MotoGP
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MotoGP heavyweights Yamaha and Ducati geared up for the new season of motorcycle racing’s premier championship with launches this week.

Yamaha and Ducati both enter 2017 with a new line-up following Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to move from the former to the latter, acting as one of a number of shake-ups in the rider market.

Three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo replaces Andrea Iannone at Ducati, who sought refuge at Suzuki after a seat was freed up by Maverick Viñales following his move to Yamaha in replace of – the man who started the merry-go-round all – Lorenzo.

Yamaha was the first to take the covers off its new bike at a launch in Madrid on Thursday, with Viñales being joined by nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi for the unveiling of the YZR-M1.

The new bike features a darker blue as its main livery color, as well as greater presence for title sponsor Movistar.

“I had the first test in Valencia after the race, but particularly after we moved to Sepang and we could have more kilometers and [do] more work on the new bike,” Rossi said.

“We discovered a very good potential. It looks like we can be stronger. For sure now it’s important to work in the three tests before the first race, and try to arrive ready in Qatar. But the first impression is very good.”

Ducati followed suit earlier today by unveiling its new livery for 2017, with Lorenzo making one of his first official appearances in the team’s colors following the expiration of his Yamaha contract on December 31.

The team presented its 2016 bike, the Desmosedici GP16, in ’17 colors, as well as removing the controversial – and now banned – winglets from its model.

The new MotoGP season begins in Qatar on March 26, with pre-season testing set to start at the end of January in Malaysia.

Neuville leads Ogier midway through Monte Carlo Rally

Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
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MONACO (AP) Belgian driver Thierry Neuville took a 45-second lead Friday over defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier midway through the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.

Overnight leader Neuville won three of Friday’s six special stages, while Ogier struggled early on before pegging Neuville back by winning the last two. Ott Tanak of Estonia is third.

Four-time champion Ogier is now driving for Ford M-Sport after switching from Volkswagen last month. The Frenchman was eight seconds behind Neuville’s Hyundai overnight and quickly under pressure.

Tanak, who also drives for M-Sport, won Friday’s first special stage – the third of 17 overall – ahead of Neuville, with Ogier in ninth.

Difficult morning conditions saw snow and sheet ice on the roads. With all the top drivers fitting studded winter tires, Ogier still went off into a ditch.

“It happened at a junction, it was very, very icy. I pulled the handbrake but the car never turned,” Ogier said. “I slipped into the ditch and became stuck.”

Neuville won the next three specials – with Ogier second on 4 and 5 – but Ogier finally found his best form to trim back the deficit from 1:12 to 45 seconds. He also overtook Tanak, who is a fraction of a second behind Ogier.

Conditions were slushy in the afternoon as the icy roads began melting.

“For me this was more tricky than this morning and difficult to know what rhythm to go,” Neuville said.

A spectator was killed on Thursday night after being hit by a car during the first stage.

Organizers said the spectator was struck by a car driven by New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon during the first of two night stages.

That stage was canceled but the second went ahead, with Neuville beating Ogier.

There are six specials Saturday with the race concluding Sunday lunchtime.

Last year, Ogier won by nearly two minutes ahead of then-teammate Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway.

Ogier announced last month that he was going to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season. A fifth title would move him into outright second place on the all-time list behind countryman Sebastien Loeb, who won nine straight titles.

The 33-year-old Ogier, who has won 38 career races, is tied with Finnish drivers Tommi Makinen – who won four straight – and Juha Kankkunen.

The next event in the 13-race season is in Sweden in three weeks.