Marussia, Caterham miss out on Melbourne points


The feared reliability woes heading into the Australian Grand Prix meant, in theory at least, that the door was open for the Marussia and Caterham teams to finally score their first World Championship points.

Problem was, of the seven cars that failed to reach the checkered flag, two of the four cars from the tail-ender teams were included, and one made it home too many laps down. But not all was lost after an at-times promising weekend.

Kamui Kobayashi made it into Q2 for Caterham although his race quickly went awry when he contacted Felipe Massa’s Williams at Turn 1 on the opening lap.

Through the first couple laps, rookie teammate Marcus Ericsson actually ran ahead of four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull before Vettel retired. Ericsson completed a nice pass of Adrian Sutil’s Sauber and had his first successful live pit stops before retiring at the halfway mark due to an oil pressure issue.

“We still showed a bit of the potential we have in the first laps of the first stint when I passed Sutil and was running well in 12th,” said the Swede. “My first ever live pit stop a Grand Prix went really well but then unfortunately an oil pressure problem forced us to stop – we don’t know what caused that yet but if we hadn’t had that I think we’d have finished ahead of the Marussias as I was pretty comfortable ahead of (Max) Chilton until the issue.”

And to the Marussias, considering their at-time rocky preseason, two finishes was almost something of a surprise. Chilton wound up best on the road in 13th after qualifying 17th, and ahead of teammate Jules Bianchi on Saturday for only the second time in his career. Chilton, too, was ahead of Vettel at one stage.

Bianchi’s weekend was tough as his car stalled on the grid for an aborted start, and he’d need to start with his teammate on pit lane. Despite missing the first six laps, he resumed and made it to the flag, albeit an unclassified 14th.

“The problem at the start was really quite worrying and I did not expect to be able to race, but the team got me to the garage and fought hard to get me back on track,” said Bianchi, who many regard as a star-in-waiting.

“I was six laps down when I did rejoin and of course I was never going to recover from that, but that was not the point. Being in the race – and finishing it – enabled us to gather the maximum amount of information and test various strategies for maximizing the power unit.”

Added team principal John Booth, “It was a heart-stopping start to our race, to say the least, but the way we recovered from the issues we experienced with both cars was very pleasing and ultimately we achieved our objective of a two-car finish.”

The teams head to Malaysia next, where a year ago Bianchi’s 13th place finish proved the result that netted Marussia the 10th place spot in the Constructor’s Championship ahead of Caterham.

‘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.”