Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

Alonso fastest in first practice for Australian GP

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Fernando Alonso has started the 2014 Formula 1 season in the best possible fashion by finishing fastest during the first practice session for the Australian Grand Prix today.

The Spanish driver managed to see off the challenge of McLaren’s Jenson Button and both Williams drivers to finish on top of the timesheets as Mercedes and Red Bull both encountered problems during the opening session of the season.

Formula 1’s new era got underway in typically sunny conditions in Australia with Alonso being the first driver out on track. He was joined by a number of other drivers for an installation lap, but some had to bide their time, including Sebastian Vettel as Red Bull worked on his car.

However, the session was soon interrupted when Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes came to a halt on track after just five minutes, appearing to confirm the reliability concerns that had been raised throughout the winter. The W05 was craned away a few minutes later, allowing the session to continue after a yellow flag period. The team later confirmed that a sensor shut down the car, and it was not a problem with the power unit.

Despite Red Bull’s problems, Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to post a lap time, setting an early benchmark of 1:37.290, and he was soon followed by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen who was around half a second off with his first lap. A number of other drivers came out and posted a lap time inside the first 30 minutes of the session, with Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg trading fastest lap times. As the drivers sought the limit of their cars, a number of mistakes were made. Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat both had sideways moments, whilst Sergio Perez very nearly spun his Force India at turn three.

Thanks to the new rules in 2014, all drivers have an extra set of tires to use in the first half an hour of the session, meaning that there was a great amount of on-track action to kick-start the new era of Formula 1. However, at the end of this period, there was a lull on track as teams took a second to regroup and prepare for the final hour of the session.

Jenson Button and Esteban Gutierrez both looked to set some fast laps at the halfway point during the session, and the British driver managed to move to the top of the timesheets with a lap of 1:32.357. After a disastrous 2013 season, McLaren began 2014 in good fashion with Button leading the way. However, Caterham’s year got off to a bad start as both Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson were forced to sit out due to problems with the CT-05 car.

With 40 minutes to go, defending world champion Sebastian Vettel finally got out on track for the first time after a lengthy rebuild by the Red Bull team. However, he only completed an installation lap before returning to the pits. At Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso, Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat kicked up some grass after running wide, but he was able to continue. Teammate Jean-Eric Vergne also made a mistake at turn one, lamenting his lack of experience with the new brake-by-wire system over the radio.

Felipe Massa, running in his first official session for Williams, soon began to show his pace by popping up into second place with around 30 minutes remaining. Former teammate Fernando Alonso soon returned to the top of the timesheets though, wrestling P1 away from Button by going half a second quicker than the McLaren. Marussia’s Max Chilton managed to come out and post a lap time in the final half an hour of the session, although he did hit a trolley in his pit box on entry.

Towards the end of the session, the drivers began to focus on their long runs with heavy fuel, meaning that the times remained relatively unchanged. Lotus managed to send its drivers out during the final ten minutes of the session, but Pastor Maldonado suffered a problem with his car that saw him take a trip through the gravel before returning to the pits without any power.

Come the end of the session, none of the drivers could better Alonso’s time, giving Ferrari a great start to the season as its rivals faltered. However, with this being just the first session of the year, it remains to be seen who will be the man to beat come race-day.

Free Practice 2 begins at 1:30am ET and is live on NBCSN and Live Extra.

Helmut Marko: Modern-day F1 drivers are overpaid

xxxx during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 19, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.
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Red Bull Racing team advisor Helmut Marko believes that modern-day Formula 1 drivers are overpaid due to the reduced risk and easier driving conditions they experience.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel are two of the highest-paid drivers on the grid in 2016, earning upwards of $30 million per year from their teams.

However, Marko believes that drivers in F1 are overpaid as there is now a reduced risk of suffering a fatal accident, and that with the cars being easier to drive, their worth has decreased.

“Basically, the drivers of today are definitely overpaid for two reasons,” Marko told Sport Bild in Germany.

“Firstly, there is only a small risk that serious accidents can result in injury or even be fatal.

“Secondly, young top talent like [Max] Verstappen or [Pascal] Wehrlein can take the modern car and straight away easily do 100 laps without tiring.

“Previously you had even a Vettel have to take breaks because he was not used to the high centrifugal forces. This means that the cars are easier to drive. The drivers must do less.”

Wolff: Wehrlein, Ocon deserve Formula 1 roles

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 23:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during Formula One testing at the Red Bull Ring on June 23, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images)
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Mercedes AMG Petronas team boss Toto Wolff believes that junior talents Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon have both earned their roles in Formula 1 for the 2016 season “on merit”.

Wehrlein will make his grand prix debut in 2016 with Manor Racing after winning the DTM title for Mercedes last year, becoming the youngest champion in the history of the series.

Ocon has been loaned to Renault Sport F1 Racing for its comeback season, and will work as the team’s reserve driver following his GP3 title success last year.

Wolff feels that both drivers deserve their chance in F1 this year, and also said that Mercedes will look to expand its junior program across the course of the season.

“We’re delighted that Pascal and Esteban will tackle a fresh set of challenges in 2016,” Wolff said. “Our aim is to build their experience in the best possible environment and, following positive discussions with our counterparts at Manor and Renault, it became clear that their respective Formula 1 programmes presented ideal opportunities to achieve that.

“It is very pleasing to see young drivers earning their spot in Formula 1 on merit and to see that talent is being rewarded by the system. Pascal and Esteban have proven themselves to be amongst the top young drivers out there – and both come into 2016 as champions of their respective series.

“But they still have plenty to learn and they will be staying humble, with their feet on the ground. This is an important year for them and we will be following their progress with great interest, while also looking to expand our junior program.

“Mercedes-Benz has a strong tradition of developing young racing talent and our eyes are very much open to other promising prospects for the future.”

Social roundup: When Mika Hakkinen met CJ Wilson, and other cool shots

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 15:  Former F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen is seen during practice for the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2011 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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What happens when you put a McLaren P1 owned by baseball star and CJ Wilson Racing team principal, and occasional driver, CJ Wilson, with two-time F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen, and you turn them loose at The Thermal Club for a track day?

Pure awesomeness.

Of course there’s other cars besides the McLaren and hockey legend, Teemu Selanne, was also on site.

This really isn’t a post so much that needs words, but one that does need proper photos and noise.

The CJWR pairing of Marc Miller and Daniel Burkett, who drive the No. 33 One Capital/Motor Oil Matters Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport dubbed “Darth Cayman” in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, have been coaching and driving at an event this weekend out at The Thermal Club, a luxury race track in California.

See a mix of photos and videos below:

Ecclestone gives Monza until end of February to resolve F1 future

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium next to Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari after winning the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 6, 2015 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone has given officials at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza until the end of February to resolve the future of the Italian Grand Prix.

Monza has hosted the Italian Grand Prix for all but one year since 1950 when the F1 world championship was formed, establishing itself as one of the series’ most historic and legendary venues.

However, its future has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months following a cut in the amount of tax relief that the race receives by the Italian government.

Ecclestone said back in November that he had “no doubts” the race would remain on the calendar and extend its contract beyond the end of 2016 when it expires.

However, the 85-year-old has now cast fresh doubt on the race in an interview with Reuters, giving the circuit until the end of February to resolve its future.

“It’s Italian. A lot of conversations at the moment and not much action,” Ecclestone said.

“They said to me a few months ago: ‘Everything is sorted out, we know exactly where we are and it’s all agreed and no dramas.’

“And now I heard yesterday it’s become very political… They’ll get on with it. Or not. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Nothing we can do about it.

“The only people that can sort this out are the people that are currently involved in Italy. They can take as long as they like, provided it’s by the end of this month.”

The 2016 Italian Grand Prix is set to take place at Monza on September 4.