Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

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.

Grosjean takes grid penalty, Merhi to start from pit lane in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean will start Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the back of the grid after receiving a penalty for changing the gearbox on his Lotus car.

Grosjean failed to set a time in the second stage of Saturday’s qualifying session after a gearbox issue forced him to park up at the side of the track.

The Frenchman was classified 15th, but will now drop to P20 for the start of the race after taking a new gearbox to resolve the issue.

As a result, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Marcus Ericsson and Will Stevens all move up one place, filling out positions 15-18 on the grid.

Grosjean will start 19th after the stewards found that Manor had changed the suspension setup on Roberto Merhi’s car after qualifying, breaking parc ferme rules. The Spaniard is now required to start from the pit lane.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

WATCH LIVE: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN, Live Extra from 7am ET

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany steers his car during the first free practice at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. The Emirates Formula One Grand Prix will take place on Sunday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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It all ends here – the 2015 Formula 1 season comes to a close under the floodlights of the Yas Marina Circuit today with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

2015 will by no means go down as a classic season – those experiencing the kind of dominance Lewis Hamilton enjoyed rarely do – but it has nevertheless been an entertaining, interesting and intriguing one that has laid plenty of foundations for the future.

Nico Rosberg is one man who is looking firmly ahead to 2016 already, having rediscovered the kind of form that made him a title contender at this point last year. With six poles in a row and two wins on the bounce, the German will be gunning to make it a hat-trick on Sunday.

However, with Hamilton starting alongside him on the front row and an engine that is a little more overworked than most, Rosberg knows he faces a stiff challenge to end the year on a high and gain more momentum ahead of the new campaign.

This fascinating dynamic sets us up for a thrilling duel between Rosberg and Hamilton once again in Abu Dhabi, one year on from their scrap for the championship.

You can watch the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Few eras are ending on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, but it will nevertheless mark an important point for most on the grid. Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Felipe Nasr will all finish their rookie years; Manor will have done what many doubted it could do by finishing a full season; quite whether drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi will return with the team next year remains to be seen.

Alas, the end of the season is always a time for pressure to be released. After a busy year of jetting all over the world, the paddock will be afforded two months of respite before pre-season testing kicks into gear – a much-needed relief for many.

For those at home, make sure you enjoy the final race of the season and get your F1 fix in before the long winter kicks in.

You can watch the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Marko: Red Bull has been “fooled around”

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Red Bull Racing advisor Helmut Marko claims that the team is still yet to formally agree an engine deal for the 2016 Formula 1 season after being “fooled around” by possible partners earlier in the year.

Red Bull expressed a desire to cut ties with current power unit supplier Renault earlier in the year, but looks set to agree a new deal that will see its relationship with the French manufacturer continue into 2016.

Earlier this week, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner claimed that an engine supply had been agreed for next year, but Marko’s most recent comments in an interview with the official F1 website suggest otherwise.

“I tell you: nothing is fixed at this very moment,” Marko said. “A car is nothing without an engine – that is the sad truth, otherwise we would be on the sunny side already!

“But a decision should be made this weekend – either Saturday night or Sunday. That makes still one more day to bargain.

“In this ‘game’, as you call it, we are passengers. We can’t influence what is going on at the moment. With our financial involvement in the sport that is a very dissatisfying situation.”

Marko said that Red Bull’s billionaire owner, Dietrich Mateschitz, had to be very patient because of promises broken by other engine suppliers, hinting at the breakdown in talks with Mercedes.

“He is so patient because we have been fooled around,” Marko said.

“We had deals and promises for engines which in the end didn’t come true.”

Red Bull is known to have thought it had agreed a deal with Mercedes, only for the German marque to reject it on competition grounds.

Ferrari offered Red Bull 2015-spec power units for 2016, and although this was turned down, Toro Rosso is understood to be in line to take these on.

Honda also discussed an engine deal with Red Bull, only for McLaren CEO Ron Dennis to veto any possible supply.

“It was fully supported by Honda that we didn’t have the capacity to engage another team, but someone had to stand up and say ‘this is not going to happen’,” Dennis is quoted as saying by Autosport in Abu Dhabi.

“This wasn’t me countering a desire of Honda, this was me taking responsibility for a decision, which goes with the job.”

Raikkonen: No secret to qualifying charge in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen says that there was no secret behind his late charge to third place in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but remains realistic about his chances in Sunday’s race.

After seeing teammate Sebastian Vettel drop out in Q1, Raikkonen led Ferrari’s charge at the Yas Marina Circuit by finishing third behind the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Raikkonen managed to edge out Force India driver Sergio Perez for P3 with his final lap in Q3, but the Finn said that there was no secret to his late charge.

“No real secret,” Raikkonen said. “Obviously the car has been handling pretty well all weekend.

“The laps haven’t been ideal many times. Even the first run, it was OK the lap, but I knew there was quite a lot of room to improve so I just tried to make one a bit better lap and it was enough.

“Obviously still a bit of a way off from what these guys can do but we did our best today.

“The Mercedes have been very quick today and yesterday, in the lap times they are a bit faster than us, but the race is tomorrow, so let’s see.

“I did my maximum today. Tomorrow is another day, we can only do our best and see where we’ll end up. We’ll try to make a good start and then see how it pans out, going from there and making the right decisions.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.