F1 2014 mid-season report: Grading the drivers so far

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Following on from our review of the teams’ performances in the first half of the 2014 Formula 1 season, we now move onto the drivers that have competed in a race so far this year.

Of course, the runaway leaders have been Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes drivers have been in a class of their own at the front of the field with the W05 Hybrid car, and their tussle for the title is set to continue for the rest of the season.

Further back, we have seen a number of breakout performances and results for some of the younger drivers, whilst some have underperformed and struggled to make much of an impact. Here are our rankings for the year so far.

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – Grade: A+
He may not lead the championship, but Lewis Hamilton is certainly giving it his all to secure a second world title this year. Five wins and two incredible comebacks in Germany and Hungary leave him just eleven points behind Rosberg at the top.
Highlight so far: His monster defence to keep Rosberg back in Bahrain.

Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) – Grade: A+
When Daniel joined Red Bull, few gave him a hope in hell of beating Sebastian Vettel. However, after half a season, he has won two races and is 43 points clear of his four-time world champion of a teammate. Quickly proving himself to be the real deal at Red Bull.
Highlight so far: His moves on Hamilton and Alonso to win in Hungary.

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – Grade: A
Like Lewis, Nico Rosberg has excelled with the W05 Hybrid, but he hasn’t quite had that killer instinct his teammate has shown. Nevertheless, he leads the world championship with eight races to go and is in the box seat to win a first world title.
Highlight so far: Winning on home soil (twice) in Monaco and Germany.

Valtteri Bottas (Williams) – Grade: A
Maybe we’re being generous with the A grades here, but Bottas deserves one just as much as the others. The flying Finn has led Williams’ charge in 2014, and is quickly establishing himself to be a star for the future.
Highlight so far: Charging from a Q1 dropout to second place at Silverstone.

Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – Grade: B+
This might be a bit harsh to grade Alonso like this, but B+ is still a great score given the state of the F14 T car. He continues to fight on his own, dragging the car to two podium finishes and enjoying some awesome battles on the way.
Highlight so far: Nearly winning the Hungarian GP with a genius strategy; eventually came home second.

Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) – Grade: B+
Yet again in 2014, Nico Hulkenberg is proving to the bigger teams that he deserves a seat with them. He has led Force India’s charge, scoring points in all but one race, and surely must score that overdue podium finish in the second half of the year.
Highlight so far: Battle with Perez for the podium in Bahrain, even if he did come fifth in the end.

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – Grade: B
Seb didn’t stand much chance of defending his world title with the troublesome Renault power unit, so the real marker is his teammate. The fact that he is trailing Ricciardo and wasn’t the man to score both of the team’s wins proves that he is struggling in 2014 (if you were in need of proof…).
Highlight so far: Keeping Rosberg in sight in Malaysia before finishing third.

Felipe Massa (Williams) – Grade: B
The popular Brazilian has looked like a new man since leaving Ferrari. With Williams, he is happy and he is quick. He has suffered some rotten luck this year, and would otherwise be higher than ninth in the standings.
Highlight so far: Shock pole position in Austria ahead of Bottas and the Mercedes cars.

Jules Bianchi (Marussia) – Grade: B
As we said in the teams’ review, it’s difficult to grade the backmarkers. However, Bianchi has been a revelation for Marussia, scoring its first ever points in F1 at the Monaco Grand Prix. A successful test with Ferrari has also helped his stock to rise, but will a bigger team come calling for 2015?
Highlight so far: Points in Monaco, a remarkable result for all at Marussia.

Jenson Button (McLaren) – Grade: B
It’s been an okay season so far for Jenson Button. 2013 was a disaster, and although 2014 started with a podium-by-default in Australia, the Briton hasn’t done a great deal more. Some good one-off results, but lacks the spark of his earlier years with McLaren.
Highlight so far: Coming so close to the podium at the British GP as Silverstone turned Pink for Papa.

Kevin Magnussen (McLaren) – Grade: B-
It has been a similar story on the other side of the McLaren garage. Magnussen hasn’t done a great deal of note since his podium in Australia, but has been consistent if not spectacular. Again, his abilities seem to be masked by the MP4-29 car.
Highlight so far: Second place on debut in Australia after Ricciardo’s DSQ.

Sergio Perez (Force India) – Grade: B-
A good start to the season for Perez following his McLaren sacking, with the podium finish in Bahrain being Force India’s first since 2009. However, we have seen a few mistakes cost him big results (Canada for example). A good start to 2014 all the same.
Highlight so far: Third place in Bahrain after seeing off the Williams drivers and Hulkenberg.

Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) – Grade: C+
Not a bad start to life in Formula 1. With a bit more luck, Kvyat may have scored more than his current haul of six points. Appears to have had the edge on Vergne despite his relative inexperience and has been strong in qualifying, but will want more points in the final eight races.
Highlight so far: P9 on debut in Australia; qualifying in Austria another good result.

Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) – Grade: C
Vergne leads Toro Rosso’s charge with eleven points to Kvyat’s six, but he hasn’t done a huge amount to prove to the team he is worth keeping for 2015. Will need more races like the one in Hungary to stand a chance of staying on for next season.
Highlight so far: Running second in Hungary and keeping the Mercedes cars at bay; finished ninth.

Romain Grosjean (Lotus) – Grade: C
RoGro has transformed himself from a crash kid into a star for the future over the past year, and eight points is a commendable haul given the torture that the E22 car has given Lotus. He is doing very well to keep the team’s flag flying this year.
Highlight so far: Eighth in Spain after qualifying fifth for Lotus.

Adrian Sutil (Sauber) – Grade: C-
In a terrible year for Sauber, Adrian Sutil has struggled to even get close to the top ten. When he has looked to be in with a chance, mistakes have been made (such as the spin in Germany). A very average season so far from the German driver.
Highlight so far: 11th in Hungary when the car didn’t look as bad.

Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – Grade: D+
If Sauber is the most disappointing team of the season so far, then Kimi Raikkonen is the most disappointing driver. The so-called ‘superteam’ he formed with Alonso at Ferrari hasn’t delivered – or, more accurately, he hasn’t delivered. 27 points and a best finish of sixth is just embarrassing.
Highlight so far: Sixth in Hungary, and still he remained anonymous for much of the race.

Max Chilton (Marussia) – Grade: D
Perhaps the most average driver out there, Chilton hasn’t done a huge amount to set the world on fire in 2014. He did enjoy the measure on Bianchi to begin with, but has since fallen back behind. Most notable moment was taking his teammate out in Canada.
Highlight so far: 13th in Bahrain. Not really much more to add.

Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) – Grade: D
Just like Sutil, Gutierrez has struggled with the Sauber C33 car, but he too has made some costly errors. In Monaco, points were on the cards until he spun the car and couldn’t get it back going, and otherwise the Mexican has been very quiet all season. Needs a change soon.
Highlight so far: Hungarian GP weekend when points looked possible; sidelined by a problem on the car.

Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham) – Grade: D
It’s been a tough year for Caterham, but Kobayashi hasn’t set the world on fire with his performances. Brought in for his experience, the signs are that it could be him who gets the chop if a pay driver comes knocking. Nothing really of note for the popular Japanese racer.
Highlight so far: His reaction to a question about the World Cup in a press conference, saying “I don’t care!” and claiming that Japan are rubbish at football.

Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) – Grade: E
The jokes about Pastor Maldonado this season have only continued. Crashes in qualifying for the Chinese and Spanish Grands Prix didn’t do him much good, nor has the fact that he hasn’t matched Grosjean for pace when the car has been going.
Highlight so far: Confirmation of a seat with the team for 2015. Yes, really.

Marcus Ericsson (Caterham) – Grade: E
Put Ericsson in the same box as Chilton marked “average”. Nothing special this year, has rarely looked like scoring points even if he did come close in Monaco. Unlikely to stick around for 2015 if bigger bucks can be found by the new owners.
Highlight so far: P11 in Monaco.

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan:

FIA WEC reveals restructured TV commentary team

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One of Audi’s flagship drivers, Allan McNish and veteran TV hosts Martin Haven and Toby Moody join Louise Beckett and Graham Goodwin as part of the restructured television commentary team for the FIA World Endurance Championship, ahead of its 2017 season.

McNish retired from active driving at the end of the 2013 season and the two-time Le Mans winner and 2013 WEC LMP1 champion with Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval has remained an ambassador for Audi in the years since. He’ll be at six of the eight WEC rounds this season (Le Mans considered separately, although under the WEC umbrella).

Moody has been a familiar voice for his bike coverage and in the U.S., for Red Bull Global Rallycross broadcasts on NBC Sports. He’ll be on for the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the 6 Hours of Nürburgring and the 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Haven is well known to sports car fans and will be on for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, 6 Hours of Mexico, 6 Hours of COTA, 6 Hours of Fuji and 6 Hours of Shanghai.

Beckett continues in the pits and paddock with DailySportscar editor Goodwin also back as part of the team; he’s been the lead analyst alongside John Hindhaugh the last couple years.

Hindhaugh won’t be on the TV side, instead having announced earlier this week on his own he’d be focusing on Radio Show Limited’s audio productions for WEC shows. Le Mans is treated as a separate entity from a broadcast and production side compared to the rest of the WEC season.

Renowned for his radio calls, Hindhaugh will be in his true area of passion throughout this season, as he also is Stateside for IMSA Radio’s coverage of IMSA championships. RSL has also recently announced it will broadcast VLN coverage this season (more here via DailySportscar).

“Thankfully the busy endurance racing schedule has only a couple of clashes so that means that for most of the WEC events I will be joining the established team providing live commentary for RSL radio,” Hindhaugh said in a release.

“For the WEC events I’m covering for the RSL radio service, we’ll be adding live audio coverage of qualifying to the regular full race broadcast.”

In the WEC release, series CEO Gerard Neveu thanked Hindhaugh for what he’s brought to the TV side the last couple years while also looking forward to the new arrivals to this year’s broadcast team.

“We believe that one of the reasons for the WEC’s current success in today’s motorsport world is that we try not to rest on our laurels; we are always looking to innovate and re-energize the championship in every area.

“John Hindhaugh, who has been our lead commentator until now, has decided to return to his first love of radio commentary, and we want to thank him for the great job he has done, and for his contribution to the championship. We are sure we will have an opportunity to work together again in the future but, for this year, we are very enthusiastic about our new broadcast team and the season ahead.”

The WEC season kicks off with the Prologue test next week in Monza before the season itself starts April 16 at Silverstone.

With aesthetics fixed, F1 chiefs turn attention back to engine sound

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Following the first official on-track running of the 2017 Formula 1 season in Australia on Friday and the first chance for the majority of fans to see the new-style cars in action on TV, what we already thought we knew became fact.

The new technical regulations for 2017 are awesome.

The drivers had already given the quicker cars a big thumbs up after testing, with the quicker lap times and more physical nature of their chariots only increasing the challenge and satisfaction on offer.

But now the fans have seen that as well. Typical on-board cameras and classic corner angles make for easy comparison through the years. Watching on TV, it looked to some as though they’d hit the ‘1.5 x’ fast-forward on their remote. The cars were that quick.

They look good too. After finding big gains over the winter, the bulkier, angrier look that all 10 chassis offer – combined with the fatter tires provided by Pirelli – has made F1 look sexy again. It’s been a big, big success for the sport.

As necessitated by the nature of competition, F1 doesn’t simply go ‘job done’ and put its feet up. Instead, attention turns to the next fix that is required: the sound.

Since the introduction of the V6 turbo power units in 2014, the sound produced by the F1 field has been a huge point of contention. F1’s push down a greener, more efficient route – as requested by car manufacturers looking to keep with the times – came at the expense of its iconic, piercing chorus of V12, V10 and V8 engines.

It was a matter up for debate in Friday’s team principals’ press conference in Australia, with a number of F1’s biggest players hitting the same note: something has to change.

“I think that rather than focus on the looks I would prefer to focus on the sound,” Red Bull chief Christian Horner (pictured above) said.

“I think the best sounding car we have here this weekend is a 12-year old Minardi [show car] that 12 years ago had the worst sounding engine in it and was hopelessly uncompetitive.

“I think that when you hear the acoustics of a V10, you’ve only got to go and see the faces around the circuit to see what it embodies in fans of Formula 1, so I would be far more focused on addressing that element than the aesthetics of the cars at the moment.”

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff added: “Like Christian says, if we can work on the sound of the car and if we look into a future generation of engines that is something that needs to be considered.

“There wasn’t enough emphasis on the sound in the past and if we can combine great technology, affordable technology with a lot of horsepower and a good sound, that would be really ticking a box.”

On a weekend that has seen F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, enjoy a strong presence in the paddock through the sport’s CEO and chairman Chase Carey, commercial chief Sean Bratches and sporting managing director Ross Brawn, the future path for the sport has been debated frequently.

A number of team chiefs came together for a Strategy Group meeting earlier in the week, where a number of issues were discussed as Liberty begins to settle in.

For Ferrari’s Maurizio Arrivabene, the constant discussions are an important process on the way to making meaningful change to F1, particularly when it comes to cost control, on-track performance and the series’ entertainment.

“Reducing the cost and increasing the performance, they are the two key factors,” Arrivabene said.

“Then, of course, it’s an entertainment, what we are doing here. It’s part of the entertainment business. Everybody, they’re open to discuss and talk about new ideas in the appropriate places.

“At the moment we have governance, so talking to everybody to help the sport to grow is fine until we are all aligned to the actual governance. Or, if we want to change it, we have to sit and discuss about this.”

The focus on entertainment was something Horner welcomed, believing F1 to have become too technical in its ways, risking confusion among fans.

“I personally think there is far too much emphasis on technology at the moment and we’re spectacularly bad at communicating that,” Horner said.

“I think the average fan and viewer understands very little about the technology that’s in a Formula One car which, as Maurizio alluded, is enormously expensive.

“So, I think the Commercial Rights Holder, it’s their business at the end of the day. They have to decide what they want the sport to be and, if the route is fan-attraction and creating a really exciting product, and at the end of the day they want to create great content on TV then it’s vital they come up with an outline of what their vision of Formula 1 is.

“And then, obviously, the FIA have a regulatory position and the teams need to be involved in that process. We have a process that that can be achieved in if two of the three parties agree.”

The next few years are set to feature plenty of political jostling as the teams, Liberty and the FIA all put forward their visions for the future of F1.

While there will be disparity, consensus will likely be found on the engine front. Although the V6 turbos are hardly unpleasant, as F1 seeks to rediscover its glory days – something it has made positive progress in via its changes for 2017 – a revision or tweak is surely on the cards for 2020.

Quite what form it will take? There lies one of the big battlegrounds for F1’s leaders to compete on in the coming years.