F1 Grand Prix of Monaco - Practice

2014 Monaco Grand Prix Preview

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After five rounds of the 2014 Formula 1 season, we finally arrive at the biggest race of all: Monaco. Since 1929, the brave and the brilliant have pushed themselves to the very limit around the tight streets of the principality, and it has cemented its place as the jewel in the sport’s glittering crown.

As we head to the principality on the French riviera this time around, though, it is quite clear that it will be another two horse race for the win on Saturday. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are set to go toe-to-toe once again as they both battle for a second win in Monaco, but after emerging victorious in 2013, it is unlikely that Rosberg will be letting his crown go without a fight.

Due to the odd weekend structure at Monaco that sees practice take place on Thursday, proceedings are drawn out a little more. It’s the social event of the year for everyone in the sport, and for those at home – regardless if you’re an F1 fan or not – it’s a must watch race.

2014 Monaco Grand Prix Talking Points

Hamilton looks for a high five

After winning the last four races, Lewis Hamilton is looking to make it five-in-a-row for the very first time in his Formula 1 career. The Briton certainly appears to have had the upper hand over teammate Nico Rosberg of late, but he has not reached the podium in Monaco since his win here back in 2008. However, should he win, he would have history on his side; no driver has won five grands prix in a row and not won the world championship.

Red Bull tries to strike back

Red Bull’s response to a disastrous pre-season period has been nothing short of emphatic. The team is now easily second quickest, and in Monaco, it is looking to cut the gap to Mercedes at the front of the field. In FP1 on Thursday morning, Daniel Ricciardo finished within three-tenths of a second of Lewis Hamilton, and both he and Sebastian Vettel seem to be more comfortable around the streets this weekend.

More problems to surface at Ferrari?

In Bahrain, Ferrari languished down in P9 and P10 as Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen struggled with the car coming out of corners, claiming that there was a lack of traction. Now, in Monaco, this is pretty much everything. Alonso is fighting hard to keep the Ferrari towards the front end of the field, but a poor qualifying result could put paid to any hopes of a prancing horse on the podium at Monaco.

Qualifying is king, giving Force India and Williams an advantage?

Overtaking at Monaco is by no means impossible, but it is very, very hard. Ordinarily, qualifying is everything, and whoever puts it on the front row on Saturday typically wins on Sunday. Although the front row might be out of the question for Force India and Williams, their good qualifying form so far this year could allow them to perhaps sneak a top five finish.

The unforgiving barriers, safety cars and attrition

Rule number one in Formula 1: “To finish first, first you have to finish.” In Monaco, this could not be more true. It’s crucial to keep the car out of the barriers, but that could be all the more difficult with the new cars. The last four races have seen a safety car period, so this surely must be accounted for when planning a strategy, and the for likes of Sauber, Toro Rosso and perhaps even Caterham and Marussia, a low number of finishers could give them a huge chance in Monaco.

Monaco – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit de Monaco
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:14.439 (2004)
Tyre Compounds: Super-Soft (Option); Soft (Prime)
2013 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2013 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:13.876
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:16.577
DRS Zone: Main straight (T19 to T1)

Click here for full details on NBC Sports’ broadcasting of the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend. Please note that the race is live on NBC on Sunday.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal
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MotorSportsTalk continues its driver-by-driver review of the field in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Next up is fourth-placed Graham Rahal, who had a career year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

  • 2014: 19th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 4 Top-10s, 28 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 4th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 5th, 6 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10s, 76 Laps Led, 11.0 Avg Start, 8.5 Avg. Finish

Formula 1 fans will remember the miraculous, shock rise of Brawn GP, which didn’t even exist as a team until mere weeks before the 2009 Australian Grand Prix having risen from the demise of the former Honda factory team, and then promptly proceeded to stomp the field en route to winning both the Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships that season.

It’s the best racing comparison in recent years – or perhaps any year – for what was done at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2015, courtesy of a career year from Graham Rahal, an instant chemistry renewal with the people father Bobby put in place, and the fact Bobby himself stepped back this year to allow his team’s key players to shine through.

Because quite simply, after finishes of 18th and 19th the last two seasons, no one in their right mind had Rahal winning races and contending for a championship this season.

It’s hard to say specifically which point was most important, because all played dividends. Bobby Rahal moved off the pit box, and actually missed a fair number of races this year, which allowed Graham and team manager Ricardo Nault to gel with Nault on the radio and pretty much running the team on the whole. Then there were the three key crewmember additions: Eddie Jones moving over to be lead engineer on the No. 15 car was clutch, as was Rahal getting the opportunity to reunite with Martin Pare and work for the first time with Mike Talbott. The addition of damper ace Stuart Kenworthy was not covered much this year, but undoubtedly a big help. Sponsor Steak ‘n Shake’s arrival also brought a wealth of attention.

And then there were the drives in the races themselves. Perhaps strangely, Rahal had a tough qualifying average – only 11th – but it was the best for a Honda driver this year. The strategy calls from RLL were damn near perfect all year and Rahal seized every opportunity at his disposal, be it his wins at Fontana and Mid-Ohio, his recovery at Iowa, and his numerous other podiums throughout the year. His charge to second at Barber stands out as one of the drives of the year.

Call Fontana lucky if you will, and he was fortunate to avoid a penalty for leaving with the fuel buckeye, but even so he still could have come back given where the race was at that point. And being on the receiving end of two ill-advised taps from Tristan Vautier and Sebastien Bourdais at Pocono and Sonoma, respectively, cost him huge results and huge points – the net effect of three races.

The single-car title charge was one of the stories of the year, even beyond Scott Dixon’s championship comeback and Juan Pablo Montoya’s consistent-until-Sonoma season. Rahal re-established his credentials on track if people had forgotten what he was capable of; additionally, he reaffirmed his status as one of racing’s best people with his work in the Justin Wilson memorial auction after that tragedy. It was truly a ’15 to remember for the driver of the No. 15 car.