Like Massa, Vergne is sitting in a shop window


After an association with Ferrari that has lasted over a decade, Felipe Massa is now entering his final four races for the Italian team. Having enjoyed the majority of his success in Formula One at Maranello – including his agonizing loss of the 2008 world championship to Lewis Hamilton – he is now facing a race against time to secure himself a place on the grid in 2014. Although seats remain at many of the teams lower down the grid, the Brazilian driver has remained defiant that he will only drive for a competitive team next season: so, Lotus. His refusal to follow team orders in Japan will have earned him some respect from potential suitors (even if Ferrari may not have been so receptive), but all the while to clock is ticking. However, he is not the only driver to be in this position.

Jean-Eric Vergne is, much like Massa, scratching his head and asking “where do I go from here?”. The Frenchman has gone through the majority of his motorsport career alongside current stablemate Daniel Ricciardo, but the Australian will fly the Toro Rosso nest at the end of a year as he steps up to parent team Red Bull to partner soon-to-be four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. His replacement is set to be the next protégé from the drinks giant’s junior programme: Antonio Felix da Costa. Despite losing out in the race to move to Red Bull in 2014, Vergne has been assured of his future at Faenza. However, the partnership is a puzzling one.

Vergne’s F1 career so far has been good in places, but far from spectacular. His run to sixth place at this year’s Canadian Grand Prix epitomised his time in the sport: a great drive, but largely unnoticed. Whilst the Frenchman has quietly gone about his business, Ricciardo’s results have stood out more, with the Australian driver coming out the victor of some great battles in this year’s Chinese and Italian Grands Prix. His friendly demeanor in the paddock has  also made him a favorite with the fans, whilst Vergne has been more reserved. All of these factors came to the fore in Red Bull’s decision to rebuff the Frenchman and take on his teammate, leaving him in limbo.

For Toro Rosso, the main reason for keeping Vergne is loyalty. After all, he hasn’t done a bad job during his time with the team, not warranting a fate that has befallen so many of his predecessors; Scott Speed, Sebastian Bourdais, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari have all fallen by the wayside in recent years. Then again, in cases of Buemi and Alguersuari, it is hard to find great flaws in their performances. Continuity can be crucial to the success of a team, as Jenson Button and Brawn proved in 2009 when the Briton finally won his first world title. Although Vergne’s presence may not have as much of an impact, he will be able to guide his new teammate and the team entering a new era in 2014.

However, the very purpose of Toro Rosso – to nurture drivers that will race for Red Bull – means that Vergne is at threat. The arrival of da Costa in 2014 is an assumption, but he is widely regarded as being the ‘next in line’ to step up. Below him, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat are making a great deal of noise in an attempt to please Red Bull, and both are doing an excellent job in their junior categories. Fernando Alonso has inferred that he believes Sainz (a fellow Spaniard) is ready for F1, but a more likely debut season is 2015. However, with both youngsters champing at the bit and looking to follow in the footsteps of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, Vergne’s seat is far from safe.

In fact, it’s merely a question of how long it takes Sainz and Kvyat to mature and be ready for F1. Should Sainz be in a position to be promoted at the end of next season, it is likely that Vergne would make way for him to partner da Costa. Theoretically, Vergne has a twenty-six race window (by no means a paltry number of grands prix) in which to say to the other teams on the grid “here is why you should hire me.”

However, there is something of a saturation in the sport at the moment. There are more drivers capable, willing or simply rich enough to get a seat than places available, meaning that even talented drivers such as Nico Hulkenberg appear to be at risk of not finding a spot on the 2014 grid. Having not done enough to make the jump to Red Bull and currently amid a point-less streak that stretches back to his sixth-place finish in Canada, is Vergne really a better option than the likes of Hulkenberg, Massa and Gutierrez?

For the Frenchman, the clock is ticking. Although he has a longer period than Massa in which to prove his worth, he also has a couple of young and well-funded drivers snapping at his heels. Now is the time for Vergne to establish himself as a mainstay in Formula One and secure a spot on the grid for years to come.

Optimism abounds with new INDYCAR media partnership

Photo: IndyCar
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Wednesday morning’s announcement that NBC Sports Group will become the exclusive home to the Verizon IndyCar Series via TV, digital, streaming, and direct-to-consumer rights was the conclusion of a long and thorough process to finalize a media partnership that can build on the recent growth of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

And CEO of Hulman & Company Mark Miles believes the final outcome is one everyone can be happy about.

“We’re delighted by every aspect of this announcement today and these arrangements,” Miles asserted in a media teleconference on Wednesday, also making note of a number of highlights about the new media package. “The increase in broadcast, the number of races on broadcast, is really important to the continued growth of the series. The continuity with one media partner who is committed to the sport and to INDYCAR, who can help promote from race to race to race to race throughout the season is important. Having our first product, if you will, our first offering to fans in the direct-to-consumer channel is important to us.”

Miles added, “It met our objectives of increasing the exposure of the sport, increasing the promotion of the sport, and getting us into the over-the-top (streaming) market. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

MORE: NBC Sports Group, INDYCAR partner on new TV and digital rights agreement starting in 2019

John Miller, president of programing for NBC Sports and NBCSN, echoed Miles’ enthusiasm and noted that INDYCAR viewership on NBCSN has grown substantially in recent years, and this new and enhanced partnership, which will feature the 103rd Indianapolis 500 broadcast on NBC in 2019, will build upon that.

“From the NBC perspective, we’ve seen the growth of IndyCar on our cable network NBCSN. We’ve had sustained growth each of the past several years. So the opportunity to have the entire series was very important to us. Of course, to be able to do the crown jewel, the Indy 500 on NBC, really puts the icing on the cake for us and makes our championship season portfolio even stronger,” Miller said.

James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, added that this will also help the individual drivers grow their brands and attract more sponsorship opportunities.

“As drivers, we’re out there risking our lives to put on a good show,” Hinchcliffe said. “The more people that get to see it, get entertained by it, the better it is for us. As athletes, we’re all individual brands in and of ourselves. Getting ourselves in front of more people, it raises our value to our current partners and potential partners. From every element, this is a huge win across the board.”

The sponsorship angle is a critical side-piece to the new media contract, especially in light of several new sponorship announcements for a number of IndyCar teams as well as IndyCar’s ongoing effort to find a new title sponsor for the series in 2019.

Miles further emphasized that new media partnership will do a lot to serve the business of the teams, drivers, and the series in regards to sponsorship.

“I think it’s important to the entirety of the IndyCar ecosystem,” Miles noted. “For the series itself, at some point we should talk about our sponsorship effort, how we think they’re going to be benefited with this relationship. James earlier talked about our drivers or athletes, and they are individual brands. They’ll get more exposure. That will be good for them.

“We earlier this morning spoke to our team owners. They’re enthusiastic about it as it gives them more to say in the marketplace, more value. Certainly that will be true for our promoters of the races as well.”

A few highlights of the partnership are below.

  • Eight races will be broadcast on NBC, including the Indianapolis 500. The remaining races will be broadcast on NBCSN.
  • Qualifying and practice for all events will also be available live, either through NBC, NBCSN,, the NBC Sports App, or NBC Sports Gold an over-the-top streaming service offered by NBC.
  • NBC Sports Gold will also feature extra content to further supplement IndyCar coverage such as archived races and full event replays. Further information about that content will be revealed in the coming months.
  • Details about international coverage are pending.
  • NBC Sports Gold will also do a handful of exclusive live broadcasts for practice and qualifying sessions that are not televised.
  • NBC Sports Gold will do live broadcasts for all Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races. More details about coverage for the Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires series will come at a later date.