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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.

Busy week of testing ahead for IndyCar teams out West

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 15:  Ccars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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The old saying “Go West, young man” is apropos for the Verizon IndyCar Series this week, ahead of a busy week of testing for teams and drivers at three key tracks on the left coast.

The action starts today with seven drivers from three teams out at Phoenix International Raceway.

Team Penske’s fearless foursome of Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud will join now Ed Carpenter Racing’s Carpenter and Josef Newgarden, and KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais for a Chevrolet manufacturer test.

Others such as Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti have been out in Phoenix already this offseason. “TK” and Rahal tested for Firestone, with “Hinch,” “RHR” and Andretti out there in a Honda test in November.

Here’s some buildup to the test on social media:

On the team plane to Phoenix… First time in car for 16

A photo posted by Will Power (@12willpower) on

The latter post appears to be a teaser of Newgarden’s temporary Fuzzy’s Vodka colors on what will be his No. 21 Chevrolet.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the other four-car powerhouse in the series – Chip Ganassi Racing – will have a four-car test of its own.

New signing Max Chilton is set to join the usual trio of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, with the Englishman set for his first test in an IndyCar at Sonoma Raceway.

Chilton, who’s been in the U.S. for media day and then stayed in the run up to Sonoma as he prepares for his debut, has been taking in the sights and sounds of San Francisco.

Honda won’t be devoid of testing this week as down the road in Fontana, Calif., at Auto Club Speedway, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz will be doing a Honda manufacturer test day on the 2.0-mile oval. While the track won’t see an IndyCar race this year, it remains a good testing location.

Chilton will also have his oval rookie test later this week at the same track, on Saturday. The Englishman failed to start at Indianapolis due to a fuel cell issue, but then promptly won his second oval start at Iowa within the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Sonoma was one of the few tracks Chilton didn’t learn from his training within the Mazda Road to Indy, but he should pick it up pretty easily.

Munoz explored other options before re-signing with Andretti

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Photo: IndyCar
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With Ryan Hunter-Reay still under a multi-year contract and Marco Andretti confirming a one-year extension into 2016, their status of driving with Andretti Autosport for the Verizon IndyCar Series season wasn’t really in question.

Carlos Munoz’s, however, sort of was. But the Colombian has re-signed with the team for at least one more season in its third car.

Munoz captured his first career victory at the first of two races at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, in an admittedly strategy-aided and weather-shortened race. Nonetheless, it was just rewards for a driver who had shown plenty of glimpses of potential in a handful of 2013 starts and his first full season in 2014.

But as the year went on there weren’t really too many other drives that stood out and Munoz tested the free agent waters before re-signing with Andretti Autosport.

As Munoz related during IndyCar media day last week, staying with Andretti was always the goal, but wasn’t guaranteed until his signing was confirmed in November.

“We had the contract for this year, but I had been talking to other teams,” Munoz told NBC Sports during the media day.

“The situation was that my first priority was to stay with Andretti, but they were looking for sponsorships and everything. They found one. (Grupo) Exito signed with them for one year, one extra year, knowing it’s the 100th running, and they want to be competitive in 500. I’m happy to be back for a third year.”

Munoz was a revelation in his first two Indianapolis 500 attempts in 2013 and 2014. He finished second and fourth those two years, and his fearless, low line route through Turn 1 in particular raised eyebrows around the paddock.

But with the deficiencies that affected Honda’s aero kit last year at Indianapolis, a third straight standout drive simply wasn’t on the cards.

Munoz and the late Justin Wilson nearly snatched top-five results on fuel strategy, before late-race splashes for fuel dropped them to 20th and 21st, respectively.

“My race last year was (just) to be the first Honda,” Munoz said. “I was achieving that; I was the quickest Honda the whole race, but my mistake going in the pits cost me a drive-through.

“We knew we didn’t have a chance against the Chevys. We were more than 2 mph slower. You can’t do anything with that. We cannot change much stuff now this year. But we’re fighting there, and we’ll see if we can change the package.”

Munoz debuted a new red and white firesuit at media day, which would seem to indicate a change in livery for his No. 26 Honda when it’s revealed.

Munoz and Hunter-Reay will be testing this week at Auto Club Speedway, on Wednesday, in a Honda manufacturer test day.

The three drivers are the lone three confirmed for the full-season. Team principal Michael Andretti admitted to my colleague Luke Smith over the weekend in Buenos Aires that there is a chance Robin Frijns may run selected races in a fourth car, while Simona de Silvestro told Smith her FIA Formula E commitments may prevent her from an Indianapolis 500 bow.

100th Indy 500, Arrow Electronics make Super Bowl ad list

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The biggest race the Verizon IndyCar Series has on the calendar this year – if not one of the biggest races on the overall motors calendar in 2016 – and one of IndyCar’s leading cutting edge sponsors have made it to the Super Bowl.

Or at least the Super Bowl ad list that came out during the game, Super Bowl 50, in regional areas.

Nonetheless, if you weren’t in certain parts of the country and did not see ads for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, and two spots from Arrow Electronics (sponsor of James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), they’re included in this post.

The IMS ad is above, the two Arrow spots below.

Arrow: Aerospace & Defense – Short

Arrow: I Am a Racecar Driver – Short

Hill expects Rosberg to be ‘more formidable’ in 2016

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez  on November 1, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.
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1996 Formula 1 world champion Damon Hill believes that Nico Rosberg will be “more formidable” in 2016 following his back-to-back title defeats to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg took the title race down to the final race of the year in 2014 before losing to Hamilton, and proved to be the Briton’s closest rival again in 2015, albeit losing the championship with three rounds remaining.

Rosberg endured a five-month winless streak last season that led many to question his ability to battle with Hamilton for a championship, only for the German to answer by winning the final three races of the year.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hill said that Rosberg showed his true strength with this trio of victories, signalling that he could put up a greater fight to Hamilton for the title in 2016.

“I think he is a little bit more formidable now,” Hill said. “I think after the Austin defeat, that day when he lost the championship and Lewis infamously tossed the cap and he tossed it straight back, there was a moment where Nico said ‘OK, I am not going to take this anymore’ and he did go ahead and win all the remaining races.

“He can go on ahead and become the other world champion’s son [Keke Rosberg won the F1 title in 1982] to become a world champion himself.

“He probably knows time is running out and when you get all those ingredients together you maybe get a little bit of a hardening of the determination. Maybe he will be more determined this year and harder to beat.”