F1 2014 Primer: The Tracks

1 Comment

The calendar for the 2014 Formula 1 season has undergone many drastic changes over the past six or seven months. At one point, we were staring down the barrel of a 22 race season, set to be the longest ever. Ultimately, the final figure was 19, as it has been in recent years, but there have been a few changes made from 2013.

THE NEW ADDITIONS

There are two races on the 2014 calendar that were not held in 2013. Firstly, the Austrian Grand Prix makes a return to Formula 1 after ten years away. Once again, it will be held at the old A1 Ring which fell into disrepair after being dropped from the F1 calendar. However, following serious investment by Red Bull (it is now known as the Red Bull Ring), it is once again a world class racing facility, and is a welcome return to the fray.

The only ‘brand new’ event on the calendar is the Russian Grand Prix, with a circuit being constructed as part of the Sochi Winter Olympics complex. Although this is the first Russian GP to be part of a world championship, it will actually be the third race to be run under the ‘Russian Grand Prix’ moniker. In 1913 and 1914, races were held in St. Petersburg before the outbreak of World War One. It is a new and exciting market, and with Russian youngster Daniil Kvyat on the grid, it should be a well-attended event.

THE DROPPED EVENTS

With two races joining the calendar, two have made way, both of which are short-lived events in Asia. The Korean Grand Prix was first held in 2010, but with plans for significant development at the circuit shelved, and the fact that it is a four hour train journey from Seoul, it has never really taken off. The only person who may miss it is Sebastian Vettel, having won three of the four grands prix held at Yeongam.

In contrast, the Indian Grand Prix will certainly be missed. The nation is booming economically and has a rich and vibrant culture, but financial complications have caused the race to be dropped for 2014. The official line is that the promoters want an early slot on the 2015 calendar, and cannot hold two races within six months of each other. Sadly, it’s unlikely that we will return to Buddh International Circuit next year – again, a favorite of Vettel’s, having won three from three there.

THE CHANGES

There have been a few minor changes to the order of the races in 2014. Firstly, the Bahrain Grand Prix and the Chinese Grand Prix have swapped places, with the event at Sakhir now going back-to-back with the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Further to that, the Bahrain Grand Prix will become a night race for 2014 to mark ten years since its first event. It will start at 6pm local time and run under floodlights (pictured), following in the footsteps of Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

Controversially, the Brazilian Grand Prix will no longer be the season finale, swapping places with the less-popular Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. However, with Interlagos having quite outdated facilities, it is thought that a more modern venue is wanted for the final round of the year. Once the expected upgrades are put in place in Brazil for 2015, it should return to being the final round of the season (although that will only slightly soften the blow of double points).

Finally, there are less back-to-back races in 2014 due to the return of in-season testing. Tests will be held following the races in Bahrain, Spain, Great Britain and Abu Dhabi.

2014 FIA FORMULA 1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR

1. Australian Grand Prix 16th March 2014 – Albert Park
2. Malaysian Grand Prix 30th March 2014 – Sepang International Circuit
3. Bahrain Grand Prix 6th April 2014 – Bahrain International Circuit
4. Chinese Grand Prix 20th April 2014 – Shanghai International Circuit
5. Spanish Grand Prix 11th May 2014 – Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
6. Monaco Grand Prix 25th May 2014 – Circuit de Monaco
7. Canadian Grand Prix 8th June 2014 – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
8. Austrian Grand Prix 22nd June 2014 – Red Bull Ring
9. British Grand Prix 6th July 2014 – Silverstone Circuit
10. German Grand Prix 20th July 2014 – Hockenheimring
11. Hungarian Grand Prix 27th July 2014 – Hungaroring
12. Belgian Grand Prix 24th August 2014 – Circuit de Spa Francorchamps
13. Italian Grand Prix 7th September 2014 – Autodromo Nazionale Monza
14. Singapore Grand Prix 21st September 2014 – Marina Bay Street Circuit
15. Japanese Grand Prix 5th October 2014 – Suzuka Circuit
16. Russian Grand Prix 12th October 2014 – Sochi International Street Circuit
17. United States Grand Prix 2nd November 2014 – Circuit of the Americas
18. Brazilian Grand Prix 9th November 2014 – Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace
19. Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 23rd November 2014 – Yas Marina Circuit

Bottas feels at home at Mercedes as a challenger, not No. 2

Leave a comment

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Valtteri Bottas feels like he finally belongs at Mercedes, and that is not as a support driver to Lewis Hamilton.

The Finnish driver has exceeded expectations since joining from Williams as an emergency replacement for Nico Rosberg, who dramatically retired days after winning last year’s Formula One championship.

“I feel very much part of the team, I feel I can definitely perform at my best level,” Bottas said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. “(There is) plenty more to come.”

The widely held perception was that Bottas, who had never won a race before this season, was clearly arriving as the No. 2 behind Hamilton, a three-time F1 champion.

Yet at the halfway point of the 20-race season, Bottas is in third place overall, 22 points behind Hamilton and 23 behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari. That puts him within touching distance.

Bottas won in Russia and Austria, and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and Britain. With four straight podium finishes, he has good momentum for the Hungarian GP, the last race before a month-long summer break.

If not for his failure to finish the Spanish GP in May, Bottas could be even closer to Hamilton and Vettel.

“I feel like I am getting up to speed now. In a way I hope there wasn’t a break,” Bottas said Thursday. “I always set targets higher. I didn’t expect myself to be behind (Hamilton) all the time. I’ve shown it is possible to battle and show my skills.”

Asked if he thinks he can win the title, the 27-year-old Bottas says “everything is wide open,” adding “I believe I can fight for the pole (position) here.”

The twisting nature of the 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) Hungaroring circuit may favor Ferrari more than Mercedes, however.

Mercedes struggled at this season’s Monaco GP, which is a similarly tight-turning track where overtaking is much harder. Vettel won in Monaco from pole, while Bottas was fourth for Mercedes and Hamilton managed only seventh spot.

“We’ve learnt a lot since Monaco,” Bottas said. “I think it will be a good test for our car, we’re expecting a close battle.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Hungarian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Formula 1’s final race before the summer break takes place this weekend with the Hungarian Grand Prix from the Hungaroring in Budapest.

It’s a busy time of year and a highly important weekend on the calendar, with the two championship combatants only separated by one point and all the silly season talk about 2018 heating up – particularly with the two-day young driver test set to run on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week after the race.

And with the confirmation the Halo device is set to be introduced next year, what are the drivers thoughts on that?

All that makes for ideal timing of this weekend’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass with Will Buxton checking in from the ground in Hungary.

Here’s the pre-race episode, below.

Drivers divided over F1 halo cockpit device

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) The “halo” cockpit head protection system that will be mandatory on Formula One cars next season protects drivers from the potentially fatal impact of objects like a loose wheel traveling at up to 225 kph (140 mph).

Motor sport’s governing body, FIA, has been looking at ways to improve cockpit protection and limit the risk of head injuries, after French F1 driver Jules Bianchi died in July 2015 and British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died a month later.

“The halo will become the strongest part of the car, a secondary wall structure (along with the helmet) and can take about 15 times the car’s weight,” FIA safety director Laurent Mekies said at a news conference Thursday. “We know that our resistance against small objects has stepped up.”

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – JULY 27: FIA Race Director, Charlie Whiting and Laurent Mekies, FIA Deputy Race Director and Safety Director talk in a press conference regarding the halo device during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 27, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Drivers remain divided over the move.

The halo design forms a semi-circular barrier around the driver’s helmet in the front half of the cockpit, protecting against debris without completely closing the cockpit. When first tested ahead of 2016, drivers were split as to whether they liked it with some – such as three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton – criticizing it on aesthetic grounds.

Tests were done from the front and side of the car with a loose wheel weighing 20 kilograms. Researchers took in various factors: car-to-car contact, car-to-environment contact and external objects, such as a wheel. They also analyzed real-life accidents, including those with fatalities.

In terms of manufacturing design, FIA race director Charlie Whiting said “it’s going to be a one-part (piece) made by one company, so they all have to fit the same one.”

The device is expected to weigh about 8 kilograms, Whiting said. The manufacturer has yet to be decided, although several companies have been contacted. Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas both expressed concern that the extra weight will impact driving, particularly on cornering speeds.

Other safety devices were considered before the halo was approved by the FIA last week.

At the British Grand Prix two weeks ago, a transparent open canopy system constructed using polycarbonate, and known as the “shield,” was tested at Silverstone by four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel.

The Ferrari driver was critical.

“I wasn’t a big fan of the shield,” Vettel said. “For sure you need to get used to the halo, but at least it didn’t impact on the vision.”

Bianchi died at the age of 25, several months after massive head injuries sustained at the Japanese GP in October 2014.

Bianchi’s accident at Suzuka occurred at the end of the race in rainy, gloomy conditions, when his Marussia team car slid off the track and ploughed into a crane picking up the Sauber of German driver Adrian Sutil, who had crashed at the same spot one lap earlier.

Wilson died in August 2015, a day after being hit on the helmet by debris from another car at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.

“We believe (the halo) would have changed dramatically the outcome of the accident,” Mekies said.

Vettel, who emotionally dedicated his 2015 win at Hungary to Bianchi, said the change was justified.

“We would all take it, to help save his life. We can’t turn back the clock,” the German driver said. “But knowing something is there that would help us is stupid to ignore. Overall it’s supposed to help us, so that’s what we should remember.”

While Hamilton and others have been critical of the halo’s appearance, Vettel championed it.

“Times are changing and moving forward,” Vettel said. “It helps us in the car in case something goes very wrong.”

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso is also in favor.

“If we could go back in time and save lives we would all be happy,” the Spanish driver said. “That’s the first and only thing we should talk about. The aesthetics I don’t care too much (about).”

Several drivers disagree.

“Doesn’t look too good,” Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg said. “Not sure that this additional protection is necessary because all the other areas (of safety) are improving.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, and Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are also against it.

“I didn’t like the visibility and the thing in front of you, it’s not great,” the 19-year-old Verstappen said. “I don’t think you will lose the wheel very easily (anyway) and when there are parts flying around the car it’s not going to protect you. So I don’t know why we need it.”

Magnussen took a sarcastic tone.

“F1 cars aren’t meant to be ugly. That is the reason that a Ferrari is more exciting than a Mazda,” the Danish driver said. “I think there is a limit where it becomes too safe to be exciting. We could make the cars go 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour and it would be boring.”

Grosjean said “it was a sad day for Formula 1 when it was announced, and I am still against it.”

Sergio Perez wants 2018 F1 contract secured by Spa

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sergio Perez is keen to swiftly define his Formula 1 future and secure a contract for next season by the time the paddock reconvenes in Belgium at the end of August after the summer break.

Perez has been one of the stand-out drivers in F1 this year, sitting seventh in the drivers’ championship as the leading midfielder behind those racing for Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull.

The Mexican’s future has become a regular talking point during F1’s ‘silly season’, with links to Ferrari being thrown about for 2018 as it mulls over Kimi Raikkonen’s position.

Force India has been punching well above its weight in F1 this year, much to Perez’s delight, and he hopes to have a new contract with the team sorted for next year within the next month.

“I think the team has been moving forwards every year. Although last year we achieved the same position which we have now which is fourth, I think we have consolidated that fourth place,” Perez said.

“I think the team is moving forwards; there is a lot more interest in terms of sponsorship into the team, more investment but it’s not easy to make the next step with the big boys, with the big teams, it’s not easy.

“In terms of my future, I just hope that once I come back to the next race, after the summer break, I can have a new contract.”

When asked if he meant a new contract with Force India, Perez said: “That would be good you know, but you never know what will happen.”