Sebastian Vettel

F1 silly season kicks into gear in Hungary

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As Formula 1 quickly approaches its summer break, the moving and shaking in the driver market – also known as ‘silly season’ – is starting to begin.

It is a double-edged sword that is loved and loathed by the F1 community in equal measures. The last few years have seen a number of drivers linked with a number of seats, be it Alonso to Red Bull, Vettel to Ferrari or Hamilton to Mercedes (one out of three isn’t bad), but once again, all three are now coming under scrutiny ahead of the summer break.

The missing jigsaw piece in all of this is McLaren. Although the team has been dithering towards the backend of the top ten so far this season, the arrival of Honda engines in 2015 is thought to be a huge draw for a number of drivers. Jenson Button is yet to confirm what he is doing next year, be it staying with McLaren or retiring from F1, meaning that a seat with the team may be available.

Fernando Alonso is thought to be considering his future with Ferrari. The Spaniard has continually laughed off rumors linking him away from Maranello, but following another disastrous year for the team, he could not be blamed for looking elsewhere. Ron Dennis has said that he would welcome Alonso back to McLaren despite their fall-out in 2007, although Fernando has denied contacting any other teams regarding a drive.

If you were in Alonso’s shoes though, there’s only one car that you really want to drive: a Mercedes. With Rosberg on a new long-term deal and Hamilton in some of the best form of his life there, surely that’s a closed door?

Maybe for Alonso, but not for Sebastian Vettel. According to Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko, the four-time world champion has been approached by the German marque as well as McLaren.

“Of course they target him,” Marko said to Sport Bild with reference to Mercedes. “And they are not the only team. McLaren-Honda made Sebastian an outrageously high offer.”

Outrageously high? Hardly surprising, given his form with Red Bull over the past few years. Now that he is no longer in the quickest car, Vettel has seemed – for want of a better word – average. Even new teammate Daniel Ricciardo has the edge on him in 2014.

The German remained passive when asked about the rumors concerning his future.

“I think any offer has to be considered but nothing has changed,” he said. “I still don’t talk about these things. I don’t know which sources Helmut has, or doesn’t have, but they seem to vary, let’s say.”

So where would that leave Hamilton? Potentially out in the cold. He confirmed on Thursday that he is hoping to open negotiations with Mercedes about a deal soon, given that his contract runs out at the end of next season.

However, non-executive Mercedes director Niki Lauda was having none of it. Speaking to AMuS writer Michael Schmidt, he said: “We’ve never talked to Vettel about driving for us. There is no demand for new drivers at Mercedes.”

Quite clearly, silly season is really beginning to do the rounds.

So what is the incentive for leaving a team? It essentially comes down to two things: a better car or more money, with the former being more important (one would hope). It really does depend how ‘outrageous’ McLaren’s offer to Vettel was, but it would take something astonishing to pull him away from Red Bull.

We looked at the reasons behind his tame title defence earlier this year, and the idea of Red Bull losing the mojo that has yielded four straight titles wasn’t one of them. Many of the issues stem from the Renault power unit, but the RB10 car itself is still very sound. Paddock consensus suggests that a Mercedes-powered RB10 might be the best combination on the grid.

Williams is a bit of a simpler enigma to decipher, with both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa impressing the F1 world this season. Massa confirmed on Thursday that he has a firm contract for next season, saying: “Next year as well, so you cannot write what you’re thinking!” Ah, silly season…

Back to Alonso. The big question mark for him is whether he could get out of Ferrari even if he wanted to. The suggestion in the paddock this weekend is that the Spaniard may have a clause in his contract allowing him to walk away if the team is lower than third in the constructors’ championship. Currently, Ferrari sits fourth behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams. Has the blue-touch paper already been lit? Would he really be willing to hinge his hopes on McLaren-Honda being the winning partnership in 2015?

You can also look at the other teams on the grid. Lotus is a funny one, given that Mercedes power appears to be on the way for 2015. This would appear to put an end to its partnership with Total fuel to make way for Petronas, yet Romain Grosjean’s backing comes from the French company. Pastor Maldonado has unsurprisingly stayed put for 2015, but will RoGro remain at Enstone?

Toro Rosso is, likewise, about one seat. Daniil Kvyat has been very impressive during his debut season, but Jean-Eric Vergne is struggling to beat his inexperienced teammate. The Frenchman could be replaced by Carlos Sainz Jr. come the end of the year as the Spaniard looks set to win the Formula Renault 3.5 title.

At Sauber, we have five drivers – Esteban Gutierrez, Adrian Sutil, Giedo van der Garde, Sergey Sirotkin and Simona de Silvestro – vying for two seats, and the arrival of Alexander Rossi at Marussia has also put him in the running should Jules Bianchi find a seat further up the grid. Caterham is an enigma worth any guess, but Force India seems to be set unless Nico Hulkenberg is lured away; he is known to be on Ferrari’s radar.

Silly season: hated, adored, but never ignored. It’s a crazy phenomenon that cannot be avoided in Formula 1.

Jules Bianchi’s family launches legal action against FIA, F1 Group, Marussia

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 06:  Jules Bianchi of France and Marussia walks across the paddock uring practice ahead of the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 6, 2014 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The family of Jules Bianchi has begun legal action against the FIA, the Formula 1 Group and Marussia F1 Team over the Frenchman’s death from injuries sustained during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.

Bianchi suffered a diffuse axonal injury after crashing into a recovery vehicle at high-speed during the race at Suzuka in wet conditions.

The Frenchman died last July at the age of 25, nine months after the accident.

An investigation into the accident deemed that Bianchi had been driving too quickly under yellow flags, and cleared the event organizers and race officials of any blame.

However, Bianchi’s family today announced via British law firm Stewarts Law that it would be challenging these claims by launching legal action against the FIA, Formula One Group and the Marussia team.

“The family of Formula One racing driver, Jules Bianchi, has today announced they plan to take legal action in England relating to the fatal head injuries Jules Bianchi sustained in a violent collision with a mobile crane at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, 2014,” a statement read.

“Stewarts Law, the country’s largest litigation-only law firm, have this week sent formal pre-action letters of claim to:

  • the World Governing Body of Formula One, the FIA;
  • Team Marussia, who Jules was driving for at the time; and
  • the Formula One Group of companies, who control the TV and media rights for the sport.

“The letters explain why the Bianchi family feel the actions of one or more of those parties, amongst others, may have contributed to Jules’ fatal accident and invite them to accept that errors were made in the planning, timing, organisation and conduct of the race which took place in dangerous conditions during the typhoon season in Japan.

“The recipients of the letters of claim will be expected to respond in due course, to explain their actions in connection with the race and to indicate if they dispute the claim.”

“Jules Bianchi’s death was avoidable,” Stewarts Law partner Julian Chamberlayne added. “The FIA Panel Inquiry Report into this accident made numerous recommendations to improve safety in Formula One but failed to identify where errors had been made which led to Jules’ death.

“It was surprising and distressing to the Bianchi family that the FIA panel in its conclusions, whilst noting a number of contributing factors, blamed Jules.

“The Bianchi family are determined that this legal process should require those involved to provide answers and to take responsibility for any failings. This is important if current and future drivers are to have confidence that safety in the sport will be put first.

“If this had been the case in Suzuka, Jules Bianchi would most likely still be alive and competing in the sport he loved today.”

Jules’ father, Philippe Bianchi, explained the decision to launch legal action.

“We seek justice for Jules, and want to establish the truth about the decisions that led to our son’s crash at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014,” Bianchi Sr. said.

“As a family, we have so many unanswered questions and feel that Jules’ accident and death could have been avoided if a series of mistakes had not been made.”

Hamilton leads first Monaco practice as ultra-soft tire debuts

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  Sparks fly as Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton edged out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at the top of the timesheets in first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday as the new ultra-soft tire made its debut.

Pirelli announced over the winter that it had developed a fifth dry compound for 2016 that is bespoke for street circuits such as Monaco.

The purple-ringed tire has only featured in testing so far this year, but made its official grand prix weekend debut in a truncated first practice in Monaco.

Hamilton and Rosberg immediately put the ultra-soft tire to good use, heading out early for a flurry of quick laps that were already faster than the pole position time from 2015.

Hamilton ultimately won the battle, with his lap of 1:15.537 being enough for P1 by one-tenth of a second as Mercedes began its fightback from a double DNF in Spain.

The session was interrupted by four virtual safety car periods. Felipe Massa was responsible for the first after clouting the barrier at Ste Devote, before Esteban Gutierrez and Jolyon Palmer both stopped on track in the final 30 minutes of the running.

A final VSC was throw with five minutes remaining in the session after a drain cover broke free at Turn 1, causing Rosberg to suffer a left-rear puncture and then leaving Jenson Button’s McLaren with significant front wing damage. The session was then red flagged, bringing an early end to proceedings

Nevertheless, Mercedes eased clear at the top of the standings, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finishing as the best of the rest in third place, four-tenths of a second down on Hamilton.

Daniel Ricciardo put his newly-updated Renault power unit to good use to finish the session fourth-fastest for Red Bull, beating teammate Max Verstappen who continued his good form after his victory in Spain to end the session fifth.

Daniil Kvyat impressed for Toro Rosso to finish FP1 in sixth place, narrowly behind the man who replaced him at Red Bull. Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez ended the session seventh and eighth respectively for Force India, while Kimi Raikkonen and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top 10.

Shirley Muldowney surgery update: ‘Couldn’t have gone much better’

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Even though she hasn’t raced since 2003, Shirley Muldowney still has scores of fans.

And many of them, when they heard the news that she would undergo surgery today to remove her right lung due to Stage 2 lung cancer, offered prayers and well wishes on this site, as well as on social media.

Well, even though details are slim, it appears that a five-hour surgery Wednesday morning was a success for the 75-year-old, three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion and one-time AHRA champ.

Muldowney’s agent, Rob Geiger tweeted updates earlier this evening that is great news:

We plan on keeping Muldowney fans updated with more information in the coming days as she begins her recovery.

As Geiger said, “#ShirleyStrong.”

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MRTI: Freedom 100, new USF-17 launch highlight Indy oval weekend

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Mazda Road to Indy has a double dip of content this weekend with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda at the Lucas Oil Raceway short oval in Clermont, Ind., outside Indianapolis.

Both events are on Friday; the Freedom 100 airs at noon ET and local time as part of NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage. Kevin Lee, Anders Krohn and Katie Hargitt will have the call for the Freedom.

The Freedom 100 is arguably the marquee race of the year for Indy Lights, and a good springboard to the Verizon IndyCar Series – no less than 24 of the 33 starters in this year’s Indianapolis 500 field have some degree of Mazda Road to Indy experience.

That being said, the randomness of the Freedom 100 has produced a variety of winners who haven’t exactly gone on to huge things in IndyCar.

Here’s the past winners list:

  • 2015: Jack Harvey
  • 2014: Gabby Chaves
  • 2013: Peter Dempsey
  • 2012: Esteban Guerrieri
  • 2011: Josef Newgarden
  • 2010: Wade Cunningham
  • 2009: Wade Cunningham
  • 2008: Dillon Battistini
  • 2007: Alex Lloyd
  • 2006: Wade Cunningham
  • 2005: Jaime Camara
  • 2004: Thiago Medeiros
  • 2003: Ed Carpenter

That’s three past winners in Carpenter, Newgarden and Chaves who are racing on Sunday. Harvey, Dempsey and Guerrieri have a combined zero starts; meanwhile all of Cunningham, Battistini, Camara and Medeiros had less than a season of in IndyCar.

Polesitters have been random too, with some surprises including Ethan Ringel (last year) and Ken Losch (2007) of note.

Traditionally Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has fielded strong entries at the Speedway, and that puts any of its four cars – talented sophomore RC Enerson, Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia and fellow rookies Andre Negrao and Heamin Choi into contention almost from the off. Enerson, in particular, is due his first win of the year after niggling turbo issues have hampered most of his season.

Belardi Auto Racing, given its engineering strength in depth, is also a strong contender and a winner here twice previously in dramatic fashion with Chaves and Dempsey. This year they have Zach Veach, who topped the 200-mph mark during testing on Monday, and Felix Rosenqvist, who will look for a significantly better second oval start than his first at Phoenix.

Either of Enerson and Veach would make it seven winners in eight races this year. The other six thus far are, in order, Felix Serralles, Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones, Urrutia and Dean Stoneman.

Kaiser expects to be better than both he and the Juncos Racing team were here last year. Another potential surprise is Neil Alberico, who was strong in testing despite a slight incident in the first session.

Choi, replacing Scott Anderson, is the only driver change among the 16 entered for the Freedom 100. It’s the biggest field for this race since 2012, when 18 cars started – only 11 have started each of the last three years.

USF17-1
Rendering: Andersen Promotions

Arguably the more intriguing part of the weekend from the Pro Mazda or USF2000 perspective is the launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 car, which gets unveiled Friday morning, 9 a.m., at IMS.

It’s the second new car to be unveiled at IMS in recent years, with the Dallara IL-15 Mazda having been unveiled in May 2014 ahead of its race debut for 20115.

The Pro Mazda and USF2000 races occur later in the day on Friday at IMS.

In Pro Mazda, the question is whether anyone can stop the Pato O’Ward roll of awesomeness for Team Pelfrey. The young Mexican has won five of six races to date, although teammate Aaron Telitz is a past winner at Lucas Oil Raceway in USF2000. The remaining six drivers in the field will look to end O’Ward’s run of form.

USF2000 sees its field temporarily cut in half for its lone oval race of the season, down from 27 cars entered at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend to a mere 14 cars on the 0.686-mile oval.

While Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing and Pabst Racing have three cars entered apiece – Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin have propelled Cape to four straight wins this year -known oval setup ace John Walko will likely have Victor Franzoni’s car ready to go to contend.