The Mercedes Formula: What has powered the Silver Arrows’ success in 2014?

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“The King is dead. Long live the King.” Sebastian Vettel’s reign at the top of the Formula 1 world has come to an end in 2014, and we’re not even halfway through the season.

Instead, Mercedes is the new king pin, having won all but one of the races so far. So just why has the German marque surged ahead and left the rest of the field trailing in its wake?

One of the biggest advantages to the Mercedes team was the seismic change in the technical regulations that took place for this season. Essentially, each time there is a big change such as this, the reset button is pressed. The team that found the perfect formula for the last set of regs – in this case, Red Bull – may not get it right with the new set.

In fact, Red Bull was, in a way, the Mercedes of the post-2009 regulation change. In the final two years under the previous regulations, the sport was dominated by Ferrari and McLaren. For 2009, a number of changes were made, and both teams fell down the pecking order, winning just three races between them in 2009. The dominant team that year was Brawn GP – previously Honda, then to become Mercedes – with Jenson Button winning his solitary world title. However, Red Bull ran the team close, and has remained top dog ever since. In a way, the changes made in 2009 set the tone for the next four years of racing.

So will the same be true of this new era? Will Mercedes dominate F1 for the foreseeable future? Of course, things do change. When the German marque took over Brawn, it did not dominate as the phoenix of Honda had in 2009. Instead, it battled for podium finishes at best, with wins coming in 2012 and 2013. All the while, Red Bull was still the team to beat simply because it got everything so right with the regulations.

And that is why Mercedes is dominating F1 as it currently is. 2014 wasn’t a hastily planned season; it has been years in the making. The new regulations have been exposed perfectly by the engineers at Brackley, making the W05 Hybrid car – for want of a better word – beastly. Lewis Hamilton led McLaren’s charge during 2007 and 2008 with arguably the quickest car on the grid, yet he still says that his 2014 challenger is the best car he has ever driven. That is quite the compliment from one of the sport’s finest talents.

Lewis is not only in the form of his life, but he is also in a good place mentally. Speaking to the media in Austria, he said: “I’m great, excited. Couldn’t be in a better place really.” He is clearly reveling in the prospect of a second world title.

The big advantage that Mercedes has over the other teams in F1 lies with its engine (or, to be more precise, the ‘power unit’). Only two teams on the grid make both their own car and their own engine: Mercedes and Ferrari. Given that 2014 was meant to be the year where this was the key battleground, many expected the two works teams to be forging ahead. Mercedes has done exactly that, but Ferrari is still struggling to find its feet in 2014.

The cohesion between Mercedes’ team base in Brackley and its power plant in Brixworth is stunning. The power unit has been put together in an inventive way, designed to reduce turbo lag, and has been simply devastating this year. That doesn’t just go for the Mercedes works team: Williams and Force India are also customers, and have both flourished.

McLaren, on the other hand, is having a tougher time of it despite using the Mercedes power unit. Before the German marque had a works team, McLaren was its primary focus for development. The engines were designed to work with the British team’s fuel supplier, Mobil 1. Now though, they work best with Petronas fuel – Mercedes’ title sponsor. Force India and Williams also use Petronas, and are therefore at an advantage. The British team will obviously be ensuring that Honda’s engines in 2015 are made with Mobil 1 in mind.

2014 is the year where fuel and engines are the two main battlegrounds, unlike the focus on aerodynamics that we have seen in recent years. For this reason, Mercedes is ruling the roost.

Just as Mercedes has got the best engine, its advantage has been increased because Red Bull has the worst: Renault. The French marque admitted that it had problems during the off-season, and its power units have been lagging behind the rest of the field ever since. Regular promises to bring the engines back to up to speed have been made, but as of yet there is a definite pace disadvantage. If you were to run equal cars in a straight line, one with a Mercedes engine, one with a Ferrari, one with a Renault, it would most probably end in that order.

The move away from aerodynamic battle has harmed Red Bull. Technical guru Adrian Newey masterminded the team’s domination of the sport, but no matter how good the car is in terms of setup, without the right engine, it will always lag behind. Many in the paddock believe that the RB10 car is better than Mercedes’ W05 aerodynamically, but simply cannot compete with a dud engine.

We must not take anything away from the Mercedes drivers, though. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are among the top four or five drivers on the grid, and both have proven themselves to be championship contenders. As we have seen in the past, having the best car on the grid does not guarantee you a shot at the title: you have to deliver. Both drivers have done that in abundance so far this year.

It can be said with some certainty that Mercedes will win the constructors’ championship, and you can be sure that either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg will win the biggest prize in motorsport: the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

However, the same cannot be said of 2015, or 2016, and so on. Once Renault is back up to speed and has resolved its issues, Red Bull will unquestionably be able to fight back. The team has not forgotten how to win, even with some 48 grands prix and four world championships under its belt in just eight seasons.

Unlike Vettel’s dominance in 2011 and 2013, though, we have two drivers who are capable winning the championship in the quickest car. Be it Lewis or Nico, the world champion will most probably be crowned at the final race of the year – double points and all.

WATCH LIVE: Australian GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 12am ET

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The new Formula 1 season kicks off this Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix (live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET) as a new era for the sport gets underway.

New rules, new drivers and even a new owner of the series all adds up to make 2017 a season of change, with the established status quo in recent years set to be challenged.

Mercedes faced a stringent test from Ferrari in qualifying on Saturday, but it was Lewis Hamilton who once again took pole position after fending off Sebastian Vettel in the final Q3 shootout.

It may have been a familiar result, being Mercedes’ 16th-straight pole, yet the stage is set for a closer fight on Sunday, with a number of storylines due to play out up and down the grid.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

You can also try out a new ‘Mosaic View’ for the race that includes the race simulcast, in-car cameras, driver tracker and pit lane cam. CLICK HERE to watch the Mosaic View live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground at Albert Park providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.

Ricciardo hit with five-spot grid penalty for gearbox change

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Daniel Ricciardo’s already tough Australian Grand Prix weekend has been dealt another blow, with the Red Bull Racing team confirming it would need to change the gearbox on his RB13 chassis.

As a result, Ricciardo’s 10th place grid position will now be 15th following the five-spot grid penalty that’s assessed for that change.

Coverage of the Australian Grand Prix begins at midnight ET on NBCSN with F1 Countdown. Lights out are at 1 a.m. ET.

Ricciardo was due to line up 10th anyway after his crash in qualifying yesterday, and repairs to the car have necessitated this gearbox change.

It makes the home race a little bit tougher for Ricciardo, but on the bright side, it should allow us to see what the “Honey Badger” is capable of passing or strategy-wise, and if overtaking will be possible given the new cars and from such a low grid position after a rare unforced error.

What to watch for: Australian Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from midnight ET)

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For all of changes that had taken place over the winter, qualifying for Formula 1’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix delivered a familiar result.

For the 16th race in a row, it was a Mercedes that captured pole position, with three-time champion Lewis Hamilton pulling clear in Q3. It marked his 62nd career pole and his sixth in Australia, where he made his F1 debut 10 years ago.

But the status quo from 2016 has been broken up, even if Mercedes took pole yet again. Ferrari put up a good fight courtesy of Sebastian Vettel, who split the Silver Arrows and scored his first front-row start since Singapore 2015.

Qualifying was filled with plenty of interesting storylines, leaving things finely poised for the opening round of the 2017 season.

It’s time to shake off the winter rust: Formula 1 is back.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight ET on Sunday.

Here is what to watch for in tomorrow’s race.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton, Vettel prepare for first act of title battle

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel may have won six of the seven drivers’ titles since 2010, but we are yet to see the two go mano a mano for a championship. That may be all set to change this year.

Ferrari has made significant progress over the winter, proof of that being the disappointment felt by the team as Vettel was only second and not on pole. For a team that would have been happy with fifth at points last year, it marks a big, big step forward.

Hamilton certainly looks to be in the same kind of groove that delivered four straight race wins to close out 2016. He is upbeat, relaxed and looks very comfortable in himself – and when Hamilton is in this kind of shape, it adds another layer of strength to one of the finest grand prix racers in F1 history.

Having Hamilton and Vettel lock out the front row in Australia could be a nice bit of foreshadowing of the title race to come. Let’s hope we see them duke it out on Sunday, and finally make clear who holds the upper-hand in the Mercedes-Ferrari fight.

What can Bottas do on his Mercedes debut?

Valtteri Bottas was impressive in qualifying, finishing just three-tenths of a second shy of Hamilton on pole and securing third place on the grid for his Mercedes debut. For starters, it was really good going – yet the Finn was disappointed not to have made the front row or matched Hamilton.

For the race on Sunday, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Bottas could chalk up his maiden grand prix victory. His race pace in second practice on Friday was comparable to that of Hamilton, and easily clear of the Ferrari drivers. Naturally, fuel loads and engine modes need to be taken into account – but Bottas can certainly get in the mix.

The biggest thing for Bottas will be getting to grips with life at the sharp-end of the grid. Sure, he’s flirted with the front before during his time at Williams, but this is different. A podium finish is no longer the target; it’s the expectation. How he soaks up the pressure on debut tomorrow will be fascinating to see.

New start procedure set to spice things up

As part of F1’s push to increase the challenge posed to drivers, a revision of the start procedure and available aids will get its first official run-through tomorrow.

Stricter rules regarding clutch bite points and paddle placement are set to make the perfect start very, very hard to find, most likely creating greater position change off the line. The way Kevin Magnussen put it during testing was that before, so long as the drivers hit somewhere between 10 and 90 percent of their clutch bite point, they’d get a good getaway. Now the odds are much, much slimmer, making a good start down to luck as well as judgement.

Starts were a particular weakness of Lewis Hamilton through 2016, costing him the chance to fight for victory on numerous occasions, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the new rule. All of the drivers have been focusing on practice starts through testing and practice, yet none seem totally comfortable just yet…

Home hero Ricciardo looks for response after qualifying shunt

The home-race hoodoo for Australians in F1 continued on Saturday as Daniel Ricciardo crashed out of qualifying, resigning himself to 10th place on the grid and in need of quite the fightback on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the weekend aiming to be the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race in F1, with none making the top three since the event became a world championship round in 1985.

Red Bull has struggled for pace for much of the weekend, with setup issues leaving Ricciardo adrift in Friday practice. Teammate Max Verstappen also failed to impress in qualifying, finishing well off the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers at the front in P5.

For Ricciardo, starting P10 is hardly the end of the world. With the start offering a good opportunity to get ahead and the pace of the Red Bull RB13 clearly superior to that of many cars around him, he can certainly battle back into the top five – but that home podium may need to wait for another year…

Overtaking questions set to be answered

As exciting as the new regulations for 2017 have been, and as quick as the cars are for both the drivers to drive and the fans to watch, there is still a big question mark of whether or not the racing itself will improve.

The addition of downforce to the cars has allowed lap times to be slashed, yet it is also set to make following other drivers all the more difficult. If you can’t get close to the car ahead, you’ll struggle to overtake. That’s the thinking.

Sunday will be the first true test of that. The race will be much quicker than last year’s and certainly look more spectacular, yet with a fine line between one and two stops, and the possibility of a lack of movement once the start is done with, F1’s ‘brave new world’ could get a rude awakening.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Max Verstappen Red Bull
6. Romain Grosjean Haas
7. Felipe Massa Williams
8. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
11. Sergio Perez Force India
12. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
13. Fernando Alonso McLaren
14. Esteban Ocon Force India
15. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
16. Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber
17. Kevin Magnussen Haas
18. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
19. Jolyon Palmer Renault
20. Lance Stroll Williams*

* Lance Stroll received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change following FP3.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight ET on Sunday.

Maverick Vinales takes Qatar MotoGP pole as qualifying is rained off

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Maverick Viñales will make his Yamaha MotoGP debut from pole position after qualifying at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit was rained off on Saturday evening.

Viñales claimed his maiden MotoGP race win last year with Suzuki, prompting a move to Yamaha in place of three-time champion Jorge Lorenzo, who made a switch to Ducati.

After impressing throughout pre-season testing, Viñales laid down an early marker in Qatar by setting the pace in practice.

His performances would prove key as rain on Saturday in Qatar forced officials to cancel qualifying, leading them to combine the times from practice to form the grid.

Viñales’ time of 1:54.316 from FP1 handed him his first MotoGP pole by half a second from Suzuki replacement Andrea Iannone, while defending world champion Marc Marquez will start third for Honda.

2015 and 2016 Moto2 champion Johann Zarco will make his MotoGP debut from fourth on the grid, with Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso fifth ahead of Scott Redding.

Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi will begin his search for a 10th title from P10 on the grid, two places ahead of perennial rival Lorenzo, whose Ducati debut will come from P12.