Daniel Ricciardo

Don’t rule Red Bull out of the F1 title fight just yet


This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix may not appear to be much more than being one of the 19 races on the 2014 calendar, but in truth, it is one of the most important races of the season.

After four flyaway rounds in Australia, Malaysia, Bahrain and China, the race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya provides the first opportunity for the teams to introduce upgrade packages for their cars. Of course, at the last couple of races, there were some minor upgrades to the cars (e.g. Mercedes’ new nose in China), but nothing quite on the level of what we are to see in Spain this weekend.

The development race in Formula 1 is – alongside what the drivers do on track – the most influential part of a season. Fail to upgrade, and you’ll be left way behind. That is all the more significant given that 2014 is the first year of a new regulation era – standing still is very costly.

This was clear in 2009, when we last had a great change in the regulations. Brawn GP arose from the embers of Honda with a quite remarkable car, and, with six wins in the first seven races, stormed into a championship lead. However, from then on, the team struggled. Honda pulled out of the sport at the end of 2008, but agreed to put some money into Ross Brawn’s efforts in 2009 on the condition that he bought the team. Once the money dried up, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello struggled. Just two more wins from Barrichello came after Turkey, and Red Bull – before it had won any titles – cut the gap.

It was the ‘Seb and Mark Show’ at the back-end of 2009, with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen enjoying brief cameos on the top step of the podium. However, Button just about did enough to hang on and win the championship for Brawn, but had there been another two races, Sebastian would most probably have caught him.

Embedded in this is why I am refusing to say that the 2014 championship is over yet. Red Bull’s rate of development has always been remarkable, even back in 2009. In 2010 and 2012, the team was by no means ‘dominant’ until around the middle of the season. After the end of European season in 2012, Vettel had won just once and Alonso enjoyed a handsome lead. However, Red Bull had the quickest car, and with four straight wins, Sebastian wore away the Spaniard’s advantage and eventually won the title by three points.

So now we come to 2014. The gains and losses in the development race are accentuated this year, meaning that should Red Bull get it right, Seb could be capable of overcoming the Mercedes challenge. He does need a bit of time to get used to the new car and how it works, but once the stars align, he could yet be a contender for the championship.

The difference between now and 2009 is that Mercedes’ dominance is – in my mind – greater than that of Brawn. If Red Bull finally gets its act together by the British Grand Prix in July, that could still be too late. By then, Mercedes could have racked up seven wins and six one-twos. It would then take something remarkable to stop that, even if the development seizes up.

The money is there this time around, too. Ever since the German marque made its return as a works team in 2010, the goal always was 2014. In fact, when the team won three races last season, that was considered to be an overachievement.

This weekend’s race is so, so important because of this. The teams know that this is their big roll of the dice. Further upgrades and improvements will follow across the course of the season, but much of their foundations will be laid in the race this weekend.

Even if one of the Red Bulls can finish second on Sunday (without taking retirements into account), thus preventing a fourth straight Mercedes one-two, that would be enough for me to say “this championship is still alive.”

Remember the position that Red Bull was in at the first test in Jerez? Remember that the team went to the first race of the season without completing a full race run? And look where it is now. That rate of development and improvement is nothing short of extraordinary. Keep that up, and if Renault can match it by squeezing a little bit more out of the V6 power unit, Seb and company could be right back in the hunt.

Who would have thought it? After four years of dominance that culminated in nine consecutive wins last season, I’m now writing in favor of a Red Bull revival. Formula 1 is a funny sport.

Can Red Bull stop the Mercedes parade? Find out by watching the Spanish Grand Prix live on NBCSN from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

NHRA: Schumacher needs big weekend to keep Top Fuel title hopes alive

tony schumacher NHRA
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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With just three races remaining in the Countdown to the Championship, eight-time and reigning NHRA Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher needs a big-time Texas turnaround this weekend.

Schumacher, as well as the rest of the Top Fuel class, has been at the mercy of Antron Brown thus far in the Countdown.

Brown, who is Schumacher’s teammate at Don Schumacher Racing, has won each of the first three races in the six-race Countdown.

“We do have quite a challenge in front of us over the second half of the Countdown. Hats off to Antron and all those Matco Tools/U.S. Army guys because they’ve had about as perfect of a run so far as you can have in this sport,” Schumacher said in a media release.

And as the NHRA moves into this weekend’s AAA Texas Nationals at the (Ennis) Texas Motorplex, Schumacher – who is in second place in the standings, 94 points behind Brown – knows what is at stake.

And most importantly, with just 12 rounds of racing remaining this season (four rounds in each of the final three races), Schumacher – who is the defending champion of this event – knows what he and his team have to do.

“If you do the math, we have five round wins to make up in the next three race weekends, which is entirely within the realm of possibility, especially for this U.S. Army team,” Schumacher said. “We’ve made up larger deficits before and came out with the championship by the time all was said and done. We live for the challenges we face every day and this is one we’re certainly ready to tackle.

“Obviously, it would be incredible to wipe out the entire deficit at Dallas and then hit Vegas and Pomona (the final two races) on equal ground.

“It’s mathematically possible, but is it likely? I would think not, especially with the way (Brown’s) team has been performing the first half of the Countdown. But, you never know. The way we approach it is to take care of what we can control, and that is to go out and try to be fastest in every qualifying session, then run the table on Sunday. That’s the best we can do.

“I always say it is a gift to be able to do what we do, and it is a gift to be presented with the opportunity to come to bat with the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and your team needing a grand slam to win the game, to win the championship.

“Some people wilt under that kind of pressure. This Army team has proven time and again that it is at its best when those opportunities come around, and we have one of those in front of us right now. It’s time to go out and get it done.”

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Canada Drag Racing Hall honors some of nation’s greatest legends

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(Photo courtesy RB Photographie/Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame)
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Hockey may be the national sport in Canada, but drag racing isn’t far behind in overall popularity.

And nearly 40 legends in the sport were honored Oct. 9 as inaugural inductees of the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Montreal.

Among the 28 living and 10 posthumous legends honored included racers, crew chiefs, mechanics, track officials, promoters and sponsors from across the nation “who made a lasting impact and significant difference the development of drag racing in Canada and elsewhere,” according to a media release from the Hall.

“The recognition of world-class Canadian drag racing legends, all under one roof, is long overdue,” said Hall founder John Scotti. “I am very excited about this achievement for the sport and look forward to sharing it with others who will visit the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame museum as well.”

Added Hall director Bob Aubertin, “It is a dream come true to see great ones of our sport getting the recognition they deserve for their extraordinary achievements, contributions and efforts for the sport of drag racing.”

Among inductees are NHRA senior vice president Graham Light, all-star crew chief Dale Armstrong, famed Funny Car driver Gordie Bonin, longtime John Force Racing crew chief Bernie Fedderly, former U.S. Nationals Top Fuel winner Terry Capp and 1970 Winternationals Super Stock winner Barrie Poole, the first Canadian driver to win an NHRA national event.

A former Competition Eliminator and Top Fuel driver, Light owned and operated Edmonton International Speedway in his hometown from 1974 to 1982. He joined NHRA in 1984 and has been with the sanctioning body ever since.

“It’s a great honor to be inducted into the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame during its inaugural year and to be included among the legends of Canadian Drag Racing,” said Light, who was inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1996. “All of the inductees owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to founder John Scotti for his vision in creating the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame, which will provide an appropriate venue to preserve the history of the sport well into the future.”

Complete list of inductees in alphabetical order:

  1. Dale Armstrong, AB (Posthumous)
  2. Gordie Bonin, AB (Posthumous)
  3. Ron Bracken, Pierrefonds, QC (Posthumous)
  4. Ronald Brunet, Napierville, QC
  5. Frank Cantusci, Ottawa, ON
  6. Terry Capp, Sturgeon County, AB
  7. Wally Clark, Niagara, ON
  8. Aurèle Collette, Bouctouche, NB
  9. George Constantine, Montreal, QC (Posthumous)
  10. Marcel Couture, St. Henri, QC (Posthumous)
  11. Garry Dearn, Lasalle, QC
  12. Louis Desjardins, Montreal, QC
  13. John Dingman, Montreal, QC (Posthumous)
  14. Sandy Elliot, Chatham, ON (Posthumous)
  15. John Elliot, Chatham, ON
  16. Bernie Fedderly, Edmonton, AB
  17. Alban Gauthier, Montreal, QC
  18. Ralph Hope, London, ON
  19. Don Lavoie, Dieppe, NB
  20. Graham Light, Edmonton, AB
  21. André Massé, St.-Jean d’Iberville, QC (Posthumous)
  22. Jacques Marier, Repentigny, QC
  23. Terry ‘Zeke’ Maxwell, St. Constant, QC
  24. Ken McDonald, Montreal, QC (Posthumous)
  25. Doug Miller, Williamsburg, ON
  26. Jim Morrison, Elmsdale, NS
  27. John Petrie, Victoria, B.C.
  28. Barrie Poole, Montague, PEI / Chatham, ON
  29. Jim Rini, Kingston, ON
  30. Dan Rini, Kingston, ON
  31. Joe Roy, Montreal/Toronto, QC/ON
  32. Stan Sipos, Victoria, BC
  33. FJ Smith, Cayuga, ON
  34. Ollie Stephan, Scarborough, ON
  35. Alain Tanguay, Charlesbourg, QC
  36. Claude Tetreault, Napierville, QC
  37. Denis Warner, Toronto, ON (Posthumous)
  38. Scott Wilson, London, ON

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