We’ll be talking about the 2014 Australian GP in years to come


The 2014 Australian Grand Prix was one of the most hotly anticipated races in years as a whole new era of the sport began on Sunday in Melbourne. And boy did it live up to the hype.

It was maybe not a classic race, but certainly an important one that was aided by a number of poignant and rather warming storylines. As the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton floundered, the new generation of young and exciting drivers came to the fore. Bear in mind that Vettel is just 26 and Hamilton is 29 – they seemed like the old boys on Sunday, though.

Instead, it was about four drivers in particular: Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo. At an average age of 22, this quartet is set to become the young upstarts pestering the older drivers and giving them grief in 2014. It sure feels good to be writing about some new names…

Although Ricciardo’s disqualification did put a dampener on his race weekend, it was a great display from the Australian driver to finish second on track. With Vettel retiring on lap five, the result saw him become alpha male at Red Bull for a few hours at least. The images of him on the podium will go down in Australian motorsport folklore, and there will be a great push for the FIA’s decision to be overturned upon appeal.

Magnussen was one of the main beneficiaries, rising up to second place as a result. In the race, the F1 rookie – making his debut on Sunday – duped Hamilton at the start and then produced a fine display to remain in the top three for the whole race. Fellow rookie Daniil Kvyat became the youngest ever points scorer in the race, finishing tenth and then being promoted to ninth following Ricciardo’s exclusion. He too ran well throughout the race, kept himself out of trouble and produced a very mature drive.

And then we have Bottas. The Finnish driver was simply spectacular on Sunday, making 19 passes for position. Having started in P15, he jumped up to sixth place before suffering a puncture after hitting the wall at turn ten. Back down to P16? No problem: he simply re-overtook the drivers he had passed earlier. Compatriot Kimi Raikkonen was one of a handful of drivers to have the ignominy of being passed twice by the Williams. It was a remarkable display, and one would imagine that without the puncture he would have been vying for a podium finish.

Of course, we cannot forget Nico Rosberg. Although they are great friends and Mercedes do run an ‘equal driver’ policy, it sometimes feels like the German driver is overshadowed by superstar teammate Lewis Hamilton. However, when he’s at his best, Rosberg is a very tough driver to beat. With so many other storylines dominating the coverage of the race, it is quite easy to forget that he won the race with relative ease.

Once again, a German driver won the race by over 20 seconds. On the face of things, that’s a continuation from 2013. In reality though, the sport is a completely new animal.

In years to come, this race will be spoken about by journalists, broadcasters and fans.

“Remember Magnussen’s first race?”

“Remember Kvyat’s debut?”

“Remember when Bottas passed everyone twice!?

Some very memorable moments indeed. Long may this continue.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”