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2014 Austrian Grand Prix Preview

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Formula 1 returns to Austria this weekend after eleven years away, and anticipation is high for the first race at the revamped Red Bull Ring in Spielberg.

The race was last held in 2003 at what was then called the A1 Ring, but it fell off the calendar the following year as the facilities became run down and the money dried up. In 2008, Red Bull came to the rescue with funding, and it has since been transformed into a state-of-the-art racing facility where Formula 1 needs to be.

The home favorites will of course be Red Bull, given that the team is Austrian, although a large German contingency will undoubtedly come out in support of Mercedes. The Silver Arrows will want to hit back this weekend after the catastrophe in Canada, which afforded Daniel Ricciardo the opportunity to win his maiden grand prix.

2014 Austrian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Red Bull comes home on a high

Given that it debuted back in 2005, Red Bull has never raced on home soil, but that will change this weekend. Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo will look to put on a show for the fans, and the team enters the weekend on a high following the cheery Australian’s victory last time out in Canada. Anything less than a podium finish would have to go down as a disappointment.

Mercedes still the team to beat

Hoping to rain on Red Bull’s parade will be Mercedes, who looks to continue its perfect pole position streak and return to the top step of the podium. Nico Rosberg’s championship lead now stands at 22 points over teammate Lewis Hamilton, but neither has raced in F1 on this circuit. It could be another classic tussle between our two title protagonists this weekend.

Back to the future?

In planning for this weekend’s race, all of the teams will have been putting their drivers through their paces on the simulator as usual. However, many of the drivers will have raced in Spielberg in their junior formulae days, giving them something to hark back on. It’s great to be back in a country that loves F1.

Ferrari hopes for better… which won’t be hard

In Canada, just eleven cars finished the race. Out of said eleven, Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were classified in sixth and tenth place respectively; nothing short of terrible. This weekend, the Italian marque will hope to bounce back at a race it has won on five occasions, including the last Austrian GP in 2003. Good points for both drivers must be the target this weekend.

It’s good to be back

Austria’s return to the F1 calendar was funded and brokered by Red Bull’s billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz, and it has bucked the trend of the sport’s recent global expansion. Another European race may mean another early start on Sunday for American fans, but boy-oh-boy is this race a special one. It’s a true ‘old style’ circuit, and with new style cars, it could be a thrilling event on all counts.

Austria – Facts and Figures

Track: Red Bull Ring
Laps: 
71
Corners: 8
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:08.337 (2003)
Tyre Compounds: Super-Soft (Option); Soft (Prime)
Last Held: 2003
2003 Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2003 Pole Position: Michael Schumacher 1:09.150
2013 Fastest Lap: Michael Schumacher 1:08.337
DRS Zone: Main straight (T8 to T1); T2 to T3

Click here for full details on NBCSN’s broadcasting of the Austrian Grand Prix.

Matchett: The end of an era

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 10:  F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone looks on in the paddock during practice for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2016 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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I’ve played various roles within my near 30-year involvement with Formula 1: Race mechanic, journalist, author, television broadcaster. During these years I’ve witnessed many memorable events, some triumphant, some tragic, and I’ve seen an untold number of changes unfold within the industry, too.

Drivers have arrived in the paddock as unknowns, have won their championships and then faded away; mighty engineering empires have fought tooth and nail to claw themselves to the top, claiming their trophy only to then come slithering down the other side of the mountain. Team principals, engineers, mechanics, hospitality crews, drivers, race venues, tire suppliers, car designs, engine specifications, aerodynamic configurations, on and on and on: all have come and gone, replaced by others.

matchettThroughout all these upheavals, and stretching back years before my time in the sport, there has always been one constant: Bernard Charles Ecclestone.

And his seemingly unstoppable 40-year reign over this mighty industry came to a quiet close yesterday afternoon, around tea time. No cataclysmic boardroom explosions, no ‘he-said-she-said’ slanging matches in the tabloid press; rather his removal from office was signaled via a simple press release, a memo announcing that Bernie is no longer chief executive of the Formula One Group.

The former ‘F1 supremo’ is now ‘chairman emeritus’, a sinecure, an honorary position to the newly appointed three-man group at the helm. And with this announcement the much vaunted Liberty Media takeover of the multi-billion dollar business appears complete.

And Formula 1 will never again be the same.

Nelson Piquet, in the No. 20 Benetton Formula Benetton B190 Ford V8, won the 1990 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide. (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)

My first interaction with Bernie was back in 1990, my opening year working with Benetton. Strolling across the paddock, returning to the Benetton pits, I noticed him standing near one of our two brightly painted trucks, with Bernie’s expression suggesting he was distinctly unhappy about something. He was looking down the line of parked trucks, two-by-two, team by team, all standing in a uniform line outside the pit garages of their respective teams.

Bernie noticed me and stopped me in my tracks. “This truck is out of line,” he said, “it’s too far forward, get your truckies to move it back an inch.” And with that he moved away, without another word. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t joking. I told one of our truckies what had just happened and he immediately stopped what he was doing and reversed his truck, repositioning it one inch rearward. Bernie’s word was law in the F1 paddock. Everything was carried out to perfection.

Bernie has worked tirelessly to turn grand prix racing into the highly successful, highly respected, military-type operation we see today. The professionalism of the teams, their own standards, and their own orchestration has visibly improved every year over the past decades. For an extreme example of this, compare an image of an F1 pit garage from the mid-1980s (the start of Bernie’s rise to prominence) with an image of a pit garage from 2016. In terms of cleanliness, the latter shares more commonality with a hospital’s operating theatre than a temporary trackside place in which to rebuild a race car.

Beyond his obvious entrepreneurial skills, his well-reported ability to strike phenomenal business deals, Bernie’s greatest attributes are to be found in things kept out of sight; those operational skills often overlooked by those who do not live inside F1’s microcosm. For example, take the unending international air transport of the race cars and the tons of freight that need to be moved around the world from venue to venue. The cars and equipment must arrive in their next destination on time. Each time. Every time. No hassles with customs; no cars missing from Sunday’s grid because their engines or transmissions are not scheduled to be released from border inspections until the Monday following a race. Bernie makes it happen. Every race. It was his job to make it happen. Until now.

Permane on the pit wall at the 2005 Hungarian Grand Prix. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

On hearing yesterday’s news, Alan Permane, Sporting Director to Renault’s F1 team said this to me: “I’ve worked in Formula 1 for 28 years now, and I’ve seen the sport continually grow due to Bernie. I will be forever grateful to him for making the sport what it has become during my career. I’m sure he will be missed but we must now look forward and embrace a new era.”

As to this new era, I have no doubt whatsoever that F1’s new boss, Chase Carey, along with his two managing directors, Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn, are all perfectly capable of leading F1 into the future. All three men have experienced remarkable success in their respective fields.

Personally, I’ve had no dealings with Carey or Bratches but I have worked alongside Ross Brawn, Benetton’s technical director for five years. Ross is one of the most respected engineers, one of the most successful strategists in the history of Formula 1; a winner of multiple world championships, and yet he remains a firmly grounded individual, an approachable leader.

Alan Permane has also worked alongside Ross Brawn: “I don’t yet have details of what Ross will be doing in his new role but if charged with looking after the Sporting and Technical side of the Championship then these aspects are in very safe hands, and I certainly look forward to working with him again.”

A brave new world, then, and one that is all but guaranteed to better exploit social media and the ever expanding digital world, aspects of the industry that Mr. Ecclestone never fully embraced, seemingly never wanted to.

Some may suggest that Chase Carey should have cut all ties with Bernie: out with the old and in with the new. All new. Personally, I believe he has done right in making the sport’s ex-supremo available as a consultant. The first time the sport’s new management receive notification that fifty-thousand tons of F1 equipment is sitting on a runway in Paris, Texas, not in its intended destination of Paris, France, that decision to keep Bernard Charles Ecclestone close at hand might well pay dividends.


Alex Lynn joins DS Virgin in Formula E as reserve driver

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Recent GP2 race winner and Williams Formula 1 test driver Alex Lynn has joined Formula E outfit DS Virgin Racing in a reserve role.

Lynn, 23, won the GP3 title back in 2014 before spending two years in GP2, balancing his racing commitments with a test/development position at Williams.

Lynn announced in the summer that he would be exiting GP2 after 2016, and angled for a drive with Jaguar’s factory Formula E operation ahead of its on-track debut in October.

Despite testing for Jaguar at Donington Park, Lynn missed out on the seats to Adam Carroll and Mitch Evans, prompting the Briton to look elsewhere for a drive.

On Monday, DS Virgin Racing announced that Lynn would be joining as its new reserve and test driver on a multi-year deal.

“Formula E is arguably the most competitive motor racing championship in the world, with the highest caliber of drivers,” Lynn said.

“As a driver I want to be competing in the top series, which is why I’ve been trying so hard to get into Formula E, and DS Virgin was my first choice. So I’m delighted to have signed a multi-year deal with DS Virgin Racing.”

Lynn’s arrival comes at a time when DS Virgin Racing is braced to possibly lose both of its drivers for at least one event in 2017, owing to clashes with the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Sam Bird raced for Ferrari’s factory GT team in the GTE Pro class of the WEC last year, and could be forced to miss the New York Formula E race due to a clash with the 6 Hours of Nurburgring.

Jose Maria Lopez is yet to enter the WEC, but is widely expected to be signed to a factory Toyota seat in the LMP1 class for 2017, putting the Argentine in a similar quandary.

The Mexico ePrix also clashes with the pre-season WEC test at Monza on April 1, but it is thought that drivers with clashes would split their duties between the two series – and two continents – over two days.

Berlin Formula E race set to change location after city senate vote

BERIN, GERMANY - MAY 21:  In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS Virgin Racing DSV-01 and Sebastien Buemi (SUI), Renault e.Dams Z.E.15 lead at the start of the race during the Berlin Formula E race on May 21, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by LAT/Formula E via Getty Images)
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Berlin’s Formula E race is set to change venue ahead of its third edition in June after the city senate voted against keeping it in a downtown location.

Berlin featured on the first Formula E calendar back in 2015, hosting a race around the site of the disused Tempelhof Airport.

When the site was turned into a refugee camp following the migrant crisis that hit Europe last year, an alternative location was found in the city center.

A circuit was constructed in downtown Berlin around Strausberger Platz and using Karl-Marx-Allee, with the race and location proving popular for the Formula E fraternity.

However, the race caused disruption for local residents, prompting city officials to vote against the event staying in the same location for its third edition on June 10.

“We are in constant dialogue and cooperating with local authorities to determine the final location of the race and are thankful for the continued interest and support shown from the mayor to host a race in the city of Berlin,” a spokesman from Formula E told NBC Sports.

This is not the first time that Formula E has been forced to change the location of a race due to local pressure, with the London ePrix dropping off the calendar at the end of season two after multiple court battles to keep the event at Battersea Park.

AP Interview: Formula One’s new owners plan U.S. street race

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Formula One’s new owners plan to add a street race in the United States in an attempt to improve a sport which they feel stagnated under Bernie Ecclestone’s control.

Chase Carey, who ended Ecclestone’s four-decade reign as F1’s chief executive, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the sport will no longer be run as a “one-man show.”

Carey, though, will be as dogged as the 86-year-old Ecclestone in negotiations with circuits, insisting that less-lucrative races in heartlands like Britain will have to prove they can become more profitable rather than being allowed to renegotiate hosting fees.

International sports and entertainment firm Liberty Media, which is controlled by 75-year-old tycoon John Malone, completed its takeover of F1 on Monday from investment fund CVC Capital Partners.

Driving growth in the United States is seen as a priority for Liberty, which also owns baseball’s Atlanta Braves and has investments in cable TV companies. F1 currently only makes one stop during the season in the United Sates – to Austin, Texas – but adding a street race is high on Liberty’s agenda.

“We would like to add a destination race in the U.S. in a location like New York, L.A., Miami, Las Vegas,” Carey said in a telephone interview. “We think we can create something that will be a really special event. Obviously the U.S. is all upsides for us. We haven’t invested in the way we need to build the U.S. market.”

The sport has remained stuck in the past, making “events feel a little tired,” while the modern media landscape was not grasped by Ecclestone, according to Carey.

“Bernie really ran a one-man show,” Carey said. “I don’t plan to run a one-man show.”

Although Ecclestone remains on board as an honorary chairman and will be an F1 adviser, power clearly now rests with Carey, who is a veteran Fox executive.

“The last half dozen years I think the business has not reached its potential,” Carey said. “With all the things you need to do to be competitive in an increasingly fragmented online world, you need an organization doing many things at the same time.”

Ecclestone was criticized for overlooking historic popular race venues to move into new, wealthier markets including Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Azerbaijan, which held its first race last year. The German Grand Prix has been dropped from the 2017 calendar because of Hockenheim’s financial difficulties, while the British race at Silverstone is at risk because of hosting costs.

“Western Europe is important for us and to some degree we have to engage to make those races bigger and better than they are while respecting their heritage,” Carey said, while ruling out cut-price deals to keep historic races.

“We are willing to invest in the sport but we are the new guys so everyone wants to come in and figure it’s a chance to renegotiate. So I don’t think that’s the right mindset. We think these races (in places like Britain and Germany) should be bigger and more profitable and we are willing to work with promoters to figure out how to achieve that. That’s our goal.”

The takeover, which gives F1 an enterprise value of $8 billion and an equity value of $4.4 billion, comes as the series is poised for a shakeup.

Changes such as wider tires, car design, louder engines, and more overtaking opportunities are set to make F1 more exciting in a bid to win back a large chunk of unhappy fans amid flagging attendances at some races.

“We can certainly do things to make the race day more engaging, more exciting – make the race itself more exciting,” Carey said. “I have gone around and talked to lot of people and hear many of the same things about predictability, rules too complicated, engineers overtaking drivers, the engines could be faster, louder, cheaper.

“And so there are a number of things we can do to improve the race, the race day.”

Such as tapping into the “excitement and buzz” found at the NFL’s showpiece game and turning races into week-long festivals in host cities.

“What I would like to have is 21 Super Bowls,” Carey said. “Priority 1 is to make the races bigger and better. We have some great races like Singapore, Mexico and Abu Dhabi but we have to make all the races have an energy and excitement that really makes them unique events.”

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports