Lotus confirms Pastor Maldonado for 2015

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We may only be in July, but the first driver confirmation for 2015 was made yesterday as Lotus boss Gerard Lopez revealed that Pastor Maldonado will be staying with the team for next season.

Although his retention was something of a formality, most teams choose to leave their driver announcements until later in the season. However, in an interview the Lotus F1 Team website, Lopez confirmed that the Venezuelan driver will remain at Enstone for 2015.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but as it’s half way through the season I can confirm 50% of our driver line-up for 2015 as Pastor is with us for next year,” Lopez said. “Despite the difficulties we’ve had so far this season, he recognises our true potential as a team and we recognise his true potential as a driver. We will achieve great things together.”

Maldonado joined Lotus at the beginning of the season after spending three years at Williams. The one-time grand prix winner has gained many critics over the years as a result of his aggressive driving style, but he has shown signs of immense pace and ability.

It has been a very difficult year for Lotus following a period of great uncertainty in 2013. Maldonado’s signing did ease the financial pressure at Enstone, and Lopez is looking forwards to the team being properly back on its feet next year.

“We have been able to take steps to ensure that 2014’s lessons have been learnt and we get back to where we want to be in 2015 – fighting for podiums,” he explained. “When we look at the team’s recent history we can see what is possible. In 2011 our car followed a unique development path with the forward facing exhausts. This concept didn’t give us the results we wanted but look how we bounced back in 2012 and 2013!

“Our 2014 car hasn’t given us the results we’ve wanted, so watch this space in 2015 and beyond!”

With 50% of the line-up confirmed, a question mark hangs over the other 50%: Romain Grosjean. In 2013, he developed from a crash-kid driver to one of the most talented starlets on the grid. In 2014, he has scored all eight of the team’s points, and is well respected in the F1 paddock.

However, with the team set to switch to Mercedes engines in 2014, Grosjean’s place may be at risk. Three of the four Mercedes-powered teams use Petronas fuel, with the fourth – McLaren – suffering a lack of performance as it is running on Mobil 1. Grosjean’s main backer is French supplier Total, but it is unclear whether the team will have to switch to Petronas, thus ending that deal.

For the time being though, both drivers will be hoping to do the best job possible and try to score some points at today’s German Grand Prix. You can watch the race live on CNBC from 7:30am ET.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.