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.


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.


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.


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.


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’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.


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.


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.


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.

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
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The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

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NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

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The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

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Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski