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MotorSportsTalk’s 2013 F1 season review, Part 1

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Now that we’ve completed our IndyCar and NASCAR season reviews, it’s time for us to focus on everything that went down from Albert Park to Interlagos in the 2013 Formula One World Championship.

If you’ve been following us this off-season, you know the drill by now. We’ll start with our respective Top 5 stories of the season, followed by our respective Top 10 drivers, and then deliver our capsule reviews over the next couple of weeks.

In the words of Murray Walker, let’s Go, Go, Go…

Tony DiZinno’s Top Five Stories

Vettel’s Fourth Title. I’ve never been a huge fan of one driver or team dominating the proceedings in any racing series; it can have the potential to turn fans off. That said, Sebastian Vettel’s achievements in 2013 had the potential to change the minds of even the most ardent “Vettel haters.” Armed with a car that actually, it seems hard to believe now, wasn’t the class of the field in the first half, Vettel still won four of 10 races while no one else won more than two. “Multi 21” was a disappointment, but it showed his ruthless tenacity when he puts the helmet on. In the second half, coupled with the Pirelli tire construction change and its knock-on effect, Vettel and Red Bull obliterated the competition. Nine straight wins, either dominating from pole or strategic excellence like in Japan, represented the height of his powers. Post-victory donuts were merely the cherry on top. No one else really stood a chance after the summer break.

Tiregate and its effects. All too frequently Pirelli’s tires stole the headlines this year, and no one won from that – not even Pirelli. From Mercedes’ secret tire test at Spain, the spate of blowouts at Silverstone, and the variance between its prime and option tires either way too close or much too far, it seemed all of Pirelli’s efforts and decisions had consequences which they probably didn’t want or expect. Perhaps the bigger issue are the stringent regulations against tire testing with current-year chassis; the fact “tiregate” even became an issue arose from the fact that the only testing of 2013 compounds could come with 2011 or earlier chassis. Fixing that and allowing for several in-season tests would go a long way to eradicating the frequency of tire-related stories in 2014.

The Kimi and Lotus saga. Kimi Raikkonen is awesome at not caring. Lotus, in my estimation, is close to awesome with its social media presence. What was not awesome was Lotus apparently shirking its issue as a responsible team and not paying Kimi, who otherwise wouldn’t care except for the fact that along with alcohol and ice cream, getting paid is one of the few things Kimi cares about. You can’t blame him for seeking alternative options in either Red Bull or Ferrari, the latter of which he signed to for 2014. The Kimi/Lotus pairing shouldn’t have ended like this, and sadly the commercial realities dictated that the team has gone for an underperforming replacement in Pastor Maldonado alongside Romain Grosjean, who grew by leaps and bounds in 2013.

Silly, Silly Season. Raikkonen to Ferrari, Mark Webber leaving F1 for the WEC, Felipe Massa’s inevitable departure from Ferrari, Maldonado at Lotus, Nico Hulkenberg once again missing a top flight ride, and Daniel Ricciardo getting promoted to Red Bull all stole the headlines at various stages this year. Hell, even Fernando Alonso was rumored to leave Ferrari after some battles between he and its management team. The driver swapping is frenetic and at the top of the heap, only Mercedes will carry over its 2013 lineup, and perhaps that consistency will give them an edge… except now Ross Brawn is leaving there so who knows. This is why it’s called “silly season.”

New rules for 2014. A late add into the top-five stories of the year because on top of the already looming, massive change from V8s to V6 power units for 2014, among other adjustments, now comes this raft of sweeping changes that seem to create problems that didn’t previously exist. The backlash has already been strong against the double points finale at Abu Dhabi, the permanent driver number system seems a better idea in theory than in execution, and a cost cap for 2015 lacks specifics that could make it work. A lot to shake out in the offseason as the new rules work their way through the paddock.

Chris Estrada’s Top Five Stories

Sebastian the Fourth. A dominant season by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel transported Formula One back to the days when his German countryman, Michael Schumacher, was beating the tar out of everyone for Ferrari. If not for a gearbox failure at Silverstone, Vettel would have broken Schumacher’s single-season record for wins instead of just equaling it in the end at 13. Nine of those triumphs came in succession to close the season. Plus, his haul of 397 points this year would’ve been enough to give Red Bull the constructors’ title on his own. No doubt there’s many followers of Formula One that are hoping the new technical regulations for 2014 will slow him down. But no matter what happens in the year to come, Vettel delivered a season for the ages.

Multi-21, Seb.” There’s no way around it. To succeed in Formula One, you have to be at least somewhat amiable outside of the cockpit but almost completely cold-blooded behind the wheel. Sebastian Vettel was most certainly the latter during the closing stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix, when he defied team orders and passed teammate Mark Webber for the win – bringing down a firestorm of criticism upon him in the process. Vettel initially apologized for his actions but then effectively retracted it going into Shanghai: “I don’t apologize for winning,” he said at the time. A champion’s killer instinct or a jaw-dropping display of ego? Or maybe both?

The “Tiregate” saga. Pirelli had already been under fire for early-season tire failures, but it got exponentially worse when word got out at Monaco that Mercedes had a secret, three-day tire test following the Spanish Grand Prix. With in-season testing banned in F1, the uproar was immense. Both tire supplier and team got away with a slap on the wrist, however; in fact, for Mercedes, their only big loss was being forced to miss out on the Young Driver’s Test at Silverstone in July. But that would not be the end of Pirelli’s issues in 2013…

Pirelli’s problems peak in Britain. Multiple tire failures at high speed during the British Grand Prix – a disaster that Webber afterwards likened to a game of Russian roulette – threatened to throw the sport into chaos and raised the heat on Pirelli to a new high. After revising their tires for Germany by implementing Kevlar belts, the supplier then rolled out an entirely new specification of tires for Hungary that married the 2012 specifications to the 2013 compounds. Following that decision, the second half of the year went off relatively smoothly. But another challenge awaits Pirelli as it now tries to create a solid tire for the 2014 cars that will be vastly different from what they once were.

Mark Webber says goodbye. One of the more beloved drivers in F1, Webber’s departure for sports car racing is a tough loss for the series. A mainstay for 12 seasons, Webber notched a Top-5 in front of his fellow Australians in his 2002 debut for the humble Minardi outfit. And on he went from there, through a pair of two-year runs at Jaguar and Williams before coming to Red Bull, where he would enjoy his greatest success. His final year in F1 is tough to classify – he, like everyone else, was buried by his machine-like teammate, Vettel, but he still got third in the championship and closed out his F1 tenure with four podiums in the final five races. He deserves all the credit there is for being a fighter to the very end.

Renault won’t rush decision on 2017 F1 line-up

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo makes a pit stop during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Renault Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur says a decision on the French marque’s driver line-up for the 2017 season will not be rushed as ‘silly season’ begins to ramp up.

Renault returned to F1 as a constructor in 2016 after five years away after taking over the financially-ailing Lotus operation at Enstone.

Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were signed as drivers for 2016, but both have struggled for form with the R.S.16 car.

Magnussen’s seventh-place finish in Russia remains Renault’s only points finish of the season so far.

Speculation has been growing about the future of both Magnussen and Palmer at Renault, with a number of drivers out of contract and available for next season.

Renault also has an extensive junior program featuring drivers such as Esteban Ocon, Sergey Sirotkin and Oliver Rowland, all of whom are vying for their F1 debuts next year.

With so many options and many drivers to consider, Vasseur is keen to take some time before making any call on Renault’s line-up for 2017.

“We are at that time of year when we are asked these questions, but the questions and the speculation often happen before any decision is made,” Vasseur said.

“What I can say is we have two good drivers, who are improving weekend after weekend. Let’s not forget that Jolyon is a rookie and that Kevin only had one year driving full-time at McLaren then a year not racing.

“They are both doing a strong, solid job and work very well within the team. I have a strong relationship with them both and they know what is expected of them.

“Within the team we are very happy together. We will make our decisions for 2017 in our own time.”

Time on Perez’s side in race for top Formula 1 seat

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Sergio Perez believes that time is on his side as he looks to secure a seat with a top Formula 1 team in the future, with his plans for 2017 still yet to be defined.

Perez has led Force India’s charge in 2016, scoring two podium finishes to lift the team to fifth place in the constructors’ championship behind Williams.

Perez’s impressive form led to speculation about a possible move up the grid for 2017, the Mexican being tipped as a possible replacement for Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari.

Ferrari opted to stick with Raikkonen for next season, but Force India team owner Vijay Mallya said at Silverstone he had already signed Perez and teammate Nico Hulkenberg up for 2017 anyway.

Perez has stated on multiple occasions that a firm decision on his future has not been taken, and will be discussed with his sponsors over the summer.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Perez said that although his backing from Mexican telecoms giant Carlos Slim helps, the teams he wants to race for do not take financial backing into serious consideration.

“Top teams are always looking for the best possible drivers,” Perez said.

“But I also know that I am in a privileged position as I have that support that not many drivers have.

“But to be honest: the teams that I am eyeing are not really to be impressed by money – only performance.”

After being re-signed by Ferrari, Raikkonen said he took pleasure in ending the hopes of drivers who may have wanted his seat. Perez responded to this by saying he had time on his side at just 26 years old.

“Well, regardless of seeing Kimi’s pleasure having signed for one more year, it is only one more year,” Perez said.

“And time is on my side!”

While question marks remain when it comes to Perez’s future at Force India, Hulkenberg confirmed on Thursday in Germany that he will be racing for the team next year.

Rosberg quickest in opening German GP practice

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg made an impressive start to his home grand prix weekend by leading first practice at Hockenheim for Mercedes on Friday.

Rosberg heads into the German Grand Prix trailing teammate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship for the first time this season after the Briton’s victory last weekend in Hungary.

Rosberg won the last German Grand Prix in 2014, delighting home fans at Hockenheim, and brought a smile to those scattered across the grandstands on Friday morning by topping FP1.

A fastest lap of 1:15.517 was enough to give Rosberg P1 by three-tenths of a second, with Hamilton trailing in second place.

The rest of the pack was left far behind, with Sebastian Vettel leading the charge for Ferrari in third place. His time was over a second slower than Rosberg’s best lap, suggesting that Mercedes is set to dominate proceedings once again in Germany.

Kimi Raikkonen followed Vettel in the second Ferrari, finishing fourth ahead of the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Fresh from finishing every session of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend in P7, Fernando Alonso finished FP1 seventh for McLaren, with teammate Jenson Button close behind in P8. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top 10 for Toro Rosso.

Second practice for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Friday.

Cruz Pedregon aims to land knockout punch in battle for playoff spot

2016_Cruz_Pedregon_Action
(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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He may be one of the nicest guys in drag racing, but Cruz Pedregon has a fighting side to him.

He’s a big fan of the fight game, including pro boxers like Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and others.

But it’s Pedregon who will be gearing up for quite a brawl during this weekend’s Toyota Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma (California) Raceway.

Ranked 12th in the standings and with just four races remaining to crack the top 10 and qualify for the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, the two-time Funny Car champ is strapping on the gloves tight and plans to come out swinging this weekend.

Given where he’s ranked, some might consider Pedregon an underdog to make the playoffs. Right now, he’s 188 points out of 10th place (held by Alexis DeJoria), the final qualifying spot for the Countdown.

But make no mistake about it: the Southern California native, a winner of 35 national events, knows what to do to keep his title hopes alive.

2016_Cruz_Pedregon head shot

“My favorite fighter was Muhammad Ali (and) I feel like this time right now for me and our team is like Ali-Frazier 1,” Pedregon said in an NHRA media release. “Joe Frazier hit Ali with a big left hook right on the chin and (knocked) him down.

“Ali took a breath and got right back up and that’s what we have to do, just take a deep breath and get up, and keep fighting for these round wins and points.”

There’s no question Pedregon has struggled in 2016: he’s failed to advance past the first round in 11 of the season’s first 14 races, including eight of the last nine.

And while he reached the semifinals four times last season (finished ninth in the overall season standings), he hasn’t won a race since 2014 at Englishtown, New Jersey (finished 10th in the season standings).

But if there was ever a time for a turnaround, it’s this weekend, as Pedregon is sponsored by Toyota and this is a Toyota-sponsored race.

There has been one bright spot this season for Pedregon: he reached the finals at Charlotte, but fell short of winning. Still, it showed his 10,000-horsepower Camry has what it takes to challenge for wins.

“The most frustrating part about the entire thing is just not having the runs we all know we are capable of running,” Pedregon said. “We are a 3.90s car, we are a 3.80s car, and we just haven’t been able to completely show our full potential.

“It also frustrates me for our team. I have the best group of guys I’ve ever had work on my car. There is no quit in them and even when they are frustrated like me they put their heads down and work harder because they want to win, they want to show people what we have here and I think that speaks to the core leadership on our team.”

But don’t think Pedregon is going to take a dive or roll over this weekend. He’s going to be punching from the first qualifying session until the final round – and he hopes to be the last man standing in Sunday’s eliminations.

“Our mindset for these next few races is first, figure out the little things that (are) happening to us and get them straightened out,” Pedregon said. “Second is just going out and running how I think our Snap-on Tools/WIX Filters Toyota is capable of running.

“I know we have a fast car, everyone knows we have a fast car, it’s just these little things jump up and happen to us and it’s frustrating. We go out to each qualifying session with the goal of top five in mind and we will fight for each round to get into the Countdown.”

Even though he’s in a catch-up position, Pedregon isn’t letting the pressure get to him. He’s one of the best drivers in the sport when the pressure is the highest.

In fact, Pedregon thrives on pressure. That, combined with a good fight, could turn things around in a hurry for him. And he has the perfect example of past history to prove how solid a punch he can land.

“Every qualifying session, every round of racing means something,” Pedregon said. “If you feel as if you’re under pressure, people tend to tense up and lose focus and miss their mark.

“You can control only what you can control and that’s all you can do. (In) 1992 I won five straight races to clinch a title and in 2008 I won four.

“That’s not because I felt the pressure of needing to win, it was the mentality of going out and everyone doing the same routine over and over, like chopping a tree down. I believe in my team and in my race car.”

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TOYOTA NHRA SONOMA NATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT: 29th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals, the 15th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event.

WHERE: Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, Calif. The track is located at the intersection of Highways 37 and 121.

COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 15 feet above sea level; Track direction is north to south.

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, July 29-31

SCHEDULE:        

FRIDAY, July 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:30 and 7 p.m.

SATURDAY, July 30 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:10 and 4:15 p.m.

NHRA PRO BIKE BATTLE AT SONOMA RACEWAY at 1, 3 and 4:50 p.m.

SUNDAY, July 31 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION:      

Friday, July 29, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 7:30 p.m. (ET).

Saturday, July 30, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).

Sunday, July 31, FOX will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 4 p.m. (ET).

2015 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Jack Beckman, Funny Car; Chris McGaha, Pro Stock, Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST VICTORIES AT SONOMA: John Force, 7, FC; Doug Kalitta, 5, TF; Greg Anderson, 4, PS; Antron Brown, 4, TF; Ron Capps, 4, FC; Darrell Alderman, 3, PS; Warren Johnson, 3, PS; Eddie Krawiec, 3, PSM; Jason Line, 3, PS; Jim Yates, 3, PS.

TRACK RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.707 sec. by Antron Brown, July ‘15; 329.10 mph by Dave Connolly, July ’15.

Funny Car – 3.921 sec. by Jack Beckman, July ‘15; 325.77 mph by Matt Hagan, July ‘15.

Pro Stock – 6.499 sec. by Chris McGaha, July ’15; 213.00 mph by Shane Gray, July ‘15.

PS Motorcycle – 6.785 sec. by Eddie Krawiec, July ’12; 198.79 mph by Hector Arana Jr., July ’15.

NATIONAL RECORDS:    

Top Fuel – 3.676 sec. by Brittany Force, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car – 3.862 sec. and 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.;  215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.

TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 870-RACE (7223). Tickets may also be purchased online atwww.sonomaraceway.com.

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Point standings (top 10) following the 14th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series::

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 1,145; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 1,088; 3.  Steve Torrence, 982; 4.  Brittany Force, 953; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 916; 6.  Shawn Langdon, 800; 7.  J.R. Todd, 799; 8.  Clay Millican, 681; 9. Richie Crampton, 660; 10.  Leah Pritchett, 553.

Funny Car: 1.  Ron Capps, 1,120; 2.  Courtney Force, 998; 3.  Jack Beckman, 976; 4.  Matt Hagan, 881; 5. (tie) Robert Hight, 877; Del Worsham, 877; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 855; 8.  John Force, 821; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 793; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 733.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 1,548; 2.  Greg Anderson, 1,466; 3.  Bo Butner, 955; 4.  Allen Johnson, 885; 5. Vincent Nobile, 758; 6.  Drew Skillman, 753; 7.  Chris McGaha, 661; 8.  Shane Gray, 658; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 613; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 595.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 742; 2.  Andrew Hines, 633; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 534; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 500; 5. Chip Ellis, 386; 6.  Hector Arana, 375; 7.  LE Tonglet, 364; 8.  Matt Smith, 290; 9.  Steve Johnson, 268; 10.  Michael Ray, 262.

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