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

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Following last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the Formula 1 community now has a month off to regroup and refresh for the second half of the season.

Whilst the break is only to the detriment of race-hungry fans, it is an important aspect of the sport. Not only does it give the drivers and teams a chance to prepare for the final eight races of the season, but it also allows them to reflect on the year that has been so far.

It also gives MotorSportsTalk a chance to look back on what we have seen in 2014. In the first half of our mid-season review, we’ve graded all of the drivers and teams on their performances so far. Who is getting a gold star and who needs to stay behind for extra classes? Find out below…

RANKING THE TEAMS

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team – Grade: A
Quite simply the dominant force in Formula 1 this season. A mix of the best power unit, the best complete car and two determined and talented drivers has helped the German marque on its way to one of the best ever starts to a season in the history of the sport.
Highlight so far: Any one of the six one-two finishes, with the battle in Bahrain a particular favorite.

Williams Martini Racing – Grade: A-
Did anyone really see this coming? After a year from hell in 2013 that yielded just five points, the British team has bounced back in style in 2014. 135 points after just half a season, and a breakout year for flying Finn Valtteri Bottas. With the tracks coming up set to suit the car, it could get better still for Williams.
Highlight so far: Front-row lock-out in Austria before tailing the Mercedes cars home in the race.

Infiniti Red Bull Racing – Grade: B+
It may seem odd to give the defending world champions such a high grade given that the title defence has been tame, but given where Red Bull was after pre-season testing, we’ve seen a remarkable turnaround. Two race wins is so much more than Christian Horner and co. could have expected back in February.
Highlight so far: Daniel Ricciardo’s win in Hungary on a level playing field with Mercedes.

Sahara Force India F1 Team – Grade: B+
Force India is just eleven points shy of its best ever season in F1, and we’re only halfway through 2014. The line-up of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg has excelled, and the team is now ready to fight with Williams, Ferrari and McLaren at the top-end of the standings.
Highlight so far: Sergio Perez scoring the team’s first podium in five years at the Bahrain GP.

Marussia F1 Team – Grade: B
It might be difficult to give the lower ranking teams high grades, but Marussia has flourished in 2014. Jules Bianchi scored its first ever points in Monaco, but this has been underlined by great qualifying results in Great Britain and Hungary. A breakthrough year for the Anglo-Russian team.
Highlight so far: Bianchi’s charge to ninth in Monaco.

McLaren Mercedes – Grade: B-
After such a good start to the season in Australia, McLaren hasn’t fared much better since. The memories from its 2013 nightmare still linger, but both Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen have ran well on occasion. It has been better for McLaren, but it is still the lowest ranking Mercedes-powered team.
Highlight so far: Double podium in Australia.

Scuderia Toro Rosso – Grade: C+
Another pretty so-so season for Toro Rosso so far, with Daniil Kvyat producing some good results in his rookie year. Jean-Eric Vergne’s seat may be at serious threat for 2015, but he has shown some good pace and still leads the team’s charge. A gulf between the team and the top six exists, though.
Highlight so far: Both drivers in the points at the Australian Grand Prix.

Scuderia Ferrari – Grade: C
Maybe it’s a bit harsh to give Ferrari such a low grade, but the team appears to be all at sea. Changes behind the scenes are aplenty, yet there have been few signs of improvement on track. Fernando Alonso continues to drag the F14 T kicking and screaming into the points, but will the novelty wear off for 2015?
Highlight so far: Alonso’s valiant attempt at wining the Hungarian Grand Prix before coming second.

Lotus F1 Team – Grade: C-
Like Red Bull, Lotus was in a torrid state of affairs during winter testing and has done well to get even eight points. Unlike Red Bull, there have been few signs of a great deal changing. Romain Grosjean continues to plug away, but question marks still hang over Pastor Maldonado’s ability even if his place with the team is secure for 2015.
Highlight so far: Grosjean’s eighth place finish in Spain (slim pickings here).

Sauber F1 Team – Grade: D
Oh dear Sauber. The Swiss team has been the biggest disappointment of the season so far, scoring zero points and trailing Marussia in the constructors’ championship. The car is a pig, no doubt about it, but when points have been possible (e.g. Monaco), big mistakes have been made.
Highlight so far: Sutil finishing 11th in Hungary when the car didn’t look too bad…

Caterham F1 Team – Grade: D
As we said with Marussia, it’s hard to grade the backmarkers, but Caterham’s season has been a bit of a disaster. After starting with such promise in pre-season, the on track results have been very average whilst a soap opera has unfolded behind the scenes following the sale of the team. All a bit of a mess in truth.
Highlight so far: Marcus Ericsson’s 11th place by default in Monaco… and little else.

Grosjean unveils new helmet design for first F1 season with Haas

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© Romain Grosjean
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Romain Grosjean has revealed his new-look helmet design ahead of his first Formula 1 season with Haas in 2016.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas won the race to get an F1 team on the grid back in 2014, and has spent the past 18 months meticulously planning its arrival in the sport.

Haas F1 Team’s full debut is now just five weeks away, with the first on-track test of its new car coming on February 22 in Barcelona.

Grosjean walked away from Lotus at the end of last year to join Haas for the new season, where he will race alongside former Ferrari reserve Esteban Gutierrez.

In a post on his Twitter account on Saturday, Grosjean unveiled his new helmet design for the 2016 season, featuring plenty of Haas signage.

Grosjean also revealed earlier this week that he would be racing with a tribute to Jules Bianchi on his helmet, who died at the age of 25 last July.

Mario Andretti: 21-race calendar no bad thing for F1

FONTANA, CA - AUGUST 29:  Racing legend Mario Andretti during qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship Race at the Auto Club Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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1978 Formula 1 world champion Mario Andretti believes that having a 21-race calendar is no bad thing for the series as it caters to the demand for grands prix around the world.

The 2016 schedule is set to be the longest yet, featuring 21 races after the return of the German Grand Prix and the addition of the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Such a packed calendar has been met with mixed responses by the F1 community, with some expressing concern over the lack of breaks between races.

FIA president Jean Todt said in January that a 21-race calendar should be seen as a “privilege” by those in F1, and Andretti echoed his comments when speaking to El Pais.

“It does represent an extra burden for the teams, but they must also appreciate that it provides greater exposure to the brands,” Andretti said.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for F1 because you have an incredible demand and 21 occasions to showcase the sport.

“Plus the drivers are willing to run more races, so that calendar’s not a bad thing in my opinion.”

Andretti also spoke of the need to safeguard the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, which remains subject to confirmation for 2016 amid concerns about its financial stability.

“After all the investments that were made on this fantastic venue, all people involved need to make sure we have a grand prix,” he said.

“I think F1 needs the US and vice versa. When you look at the sponsors in every team, you see that all of them are global and most do business in America.

“It is believed that the Mexico race has taken some of the spectators away, but as time goes by, both events will help each other because people are keen to see F1.”

2016 MotoGP calendar finalized by FIM, Dorna

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 25:  The MotoGP riders start from the grid during the MotoGP race during the MotoGP Of Malaysia at Sepang Circuit on October 25, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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The calendar for the 2016 MotoGP season has been finalized by the FIM and Dorna ahead of the first race of the year in Qatar next month.

The last provisional schedule issued in November featured 18 races with just one chop-and-change as the Indianapolis Grand Prix was dropped to make way for an event in Austria.

This calendar has been given the green light by governing body FIM and commercial rights holder Dorna, finalizing the dates for the coming season.

Officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to a mutual agreement with Dorna to terminate its contract for the MotoGP race early following the last race in August.

As a result, the only American round on the MotoGP calendar is the race at the Circuit of The Americas in April.

2016 MotoGP season calendar

1. Qatar – March 20
2. Argentina – April 3
3. USA – April 10
4. Spain – April 24
5. France – May 8
6. Italy – May 22
7. Catalunya – June 5
8. Dutch TT – June 26
9. Germany – July 17
10. Austria – August 14
11. Czech Republic – August 21
12. Great Britain – September 4
13. San Marino – September 11
14. Aragon – September 25
15. Japan – October 16
16. Australia – October 23
17. Malaysia – October 30
18. Valencia – November 13

NHRA: After rough 2015, Courtney Force hopes the force is back with her in 2016

Courtney Force (Getty Images)
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It would be great to borrow a line from Star Wars and to tell NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, “May the Force be with you.”

Unfortunately for the youngest daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, the force wasn’t even close to being with her in 2015.

In 2014, Courtney was one of the most successful drivers in Funny Car. She won a career-high four wins (out of a career total of seven wins), became the winningest female in Funny Car history, and earned the 100th win by a female driver in NHRA history.

It was a dream season as Force finished a career-best fourth in the standings.

But as good as everything went in 2014, it was the complete opposite in 2015. She failed to win a race, never could mount any type of consistency, and failed to reach the Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career.

Force ultimately finished a career-worst 11th in the final Funny Car standings.

Even worse, in 24 races, she was eliminated in the first round an unheard of 15 times.

Courtney Force in action (Richard Shute/Auto Imagery)
Courtney Force in action (Richard Shute/Auto Imagery)

But heading into this weekend’s season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., there’s only one direction for Force to go, and that’s up.

“Last year was definitely tough,” Force told NBCSports.com. “There’s really nothing I can point fingers at, but I definitely think it’s going to make us feel a little bit better going into this year. We’re staying positive.”

Force started off positive in Friday’s first day of qualifying, as teammate Robert Hight had the quickest run at 3.942 seconds (at 322.19 mph), while Courtney Force was second-quickest at 3.945 seconds.

 

Much like her famous father, there was a significant amount of change that occurred for the overall John Force Racing operation in 2015.

There was a manufacturer change (to Chevrolet after nearly 20 years with Ford), a primary sponsor change (to Peak AntiFreeze and Lubricants after more than 30 years with Castrol) and just a whole different mojo than she and everyone in John Force Racing had never experienced.

Not so much in 2016, Courtney Force said.

“I feel like the pressure’s off a little bit for all our teams right now,” said Force, a big fan-favorite in the NHRA world. “With Chevy coming on board, Monster, Peak Antifreeze and Lucas (Oil) as sponsors, it was huge for us.

“To have them all really behind us definitely kind of puts us back to having comfort and knowing that we have support out here.”

Now in her fifth full season in the NHRA Funny Car ranks, as well as with primary sponsor Traxxas, Force is ready to forget about 2015 and look forward to a big leap forward in 2016.

“We definitely had a little bit of a rough year last year, but there were a few things we were trying out with the car and I think it just took us a little longer to figure it all out,” she said.

Perhaps the most significant change for Force this season is having two new co-crew chiefs: Dan Hood (husband of sister and former racer Ashley Force Hood) and Ronnie Thompson, who came over from sister Brittany Force’s Top Fuel team.

“I think the two of them are going to work well together and I’m excited,” Courtney Force told MotorSportsTalk. “We brought in a couple of other new people and switched a few positions.

“We’re definitely in our routine again, and the test at Phoenix (last weekend) definitely helped. We’re really just keeping a positive attitude going into this year.”

Father John Force expects big things this season from both Courtney and Brittany.

“I want this to be a big year for my girls,” Force told MST. “I want both Courtney and Brittany to have a big year.”

While that may put extra pressure on someone, knowing it’s your father who has high expectations, Courtney looks at it a bit differently.

“I think there’s always a little bit of pressure because he is my dad, but not really so much from him, maybe just more on myself,” she said. “I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself since I started racing. I push myself hard out here because I really love being in these cars and this opportunity, I’m just trying to take full advantage of it and really show these sponsors what we’re capable of.

“After a rough year like we had last year, I’m ready to get these things turned around and get back to how we used to be. We’ve won a lot of races, we know how to win and having the support of my dad, no, he doesn’t put that pressure on me, which is nice. I’m very lucky that I get to stay on as a driver for his team. I put pressure on myself more than anything.”

If there was one key to last year’s dismal season, it was missing the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, a six-race playoff that begins after the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Heading to Indy, Courtney was still within striking distance of making the Chase, but things didn’t work out the way she hoped they would.

“It was hard, for sure, every week, we went out there,” she said. “At the start of the season, we were like, ‘No, we didn’t have it this weekend, but we’ve always got next weekend.’ The time window to get in there started to get smaller and further away.

“(Not making the Countdown) was definitely a shock. We had Indy to try to make some magic happen and it was out of our hands. We couldn’t do much about it. We went out and that was just the way it was going to be.

“We just kind of had to take it, learn from it and move on. It was definitely a bummer. Since my rookie year, I’ve been in the top 10 every year. But I think it will only make us stronger for this year, which is probably the most important thing that came out of it.”

But now Indy and the entire 2015 season is and will remain in Force’s rearview mirror. It’s full speed ahead in 2016, starting with this weekend’s 56th annual edition of the Winternationals.

“I can’t wait to get back in the swing of things at the start of the season, at my home track in Pomona,” Force said. “I think 2016 will be a great year for our Traxxas Chevy Camaro team and we are ready to make it our year.”

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