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.

F1: Russian Grand Prix post-race interviews (VIDEO)

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The Russian Grand Prix is in the books, with Valtteri Bottas scoring his first career victory at Sochi.  Bottas had both a dynamic start and a dynamic defense for Mercedes against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win in his 81st career start, and fourth with Mercedes since changing over from Williams.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter Will Buxton caught up with a number of drivers either during or after the race. Those interviews are below.

More videos will come in the fourth and final weekend installment of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series. Stay tuned for that in the next day or so on NBCSports.com.

Anyway, Russia post-race interviews are below:

WIN. Valtteri Bottas

2. Sebastian Vettel

4. Lewis Hamilton

5. Max Verstappen

9. Felipe Massa

DNF. Daniel Ricciardo

DNS. Fernando Alonso

Hinchcliffe endures tough night in Phoenix to finish 12th

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James Hinchcliffe, off to one of the best starts he’s ever had in the Verizon IndyCar Series (certainly his best since his two wins in four races to start 2013) endured possibly the most frustrating race of his 2017 season Saturday night at Phoenix.

Down on pace to the Chevrolet cars, particularly those from Team Penske, Hinchcliffe had resigned himself to aim for “best in class,” and he had enough speed to run solidly in the top ten. However, as he explained, poor fuel mileage saw him be the first driver to pit during green flag pit stops, which elongated his final stint and forced him to make a late stop for fuel, dropping him to 12th at the end.

“Man, we just weren’t getting the mileage the other guys were. It’s too bad because the ARROW Electronics car was actually pretty strong,” he told NBC Sports. “We survived that first turn thing; it was unfortunate to see Mikhail (Aleshin) caught up in that.

“And we had decent pace, we were kind of hanging with Scott (Dixon) there in the first stint and ended up just having to pit way before anyone else. And five or six laps a stint compounding, we just never got the yellow at the right time to equalize the field and put us on the same page as everyone else. And at the end, we had to come in for that splash and go.”

Of course, the night could have been much worse, as he barely avoided the first turn pileup that collected five cars after teammate Mikhail Aleshin spun in Turn 2. “It was close, man. I saw Mikhail start to spin and come down, and then Marco (Andretti) hit the brakes and locked up and went around. I was lucky to avoid it, to be honest,” he said of the incident.

Despite finishing 12th, Hinchcliffe held onto fifth place in the standings, 39 points behind new championship leader Simon Pagenaud.

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Newgarden finishes ninth after two wing changes in Phoenix

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The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix had a promising beginning for Josef Newgarden, who rocketed up to second on the opening lap after starting fourth. However, a pair of front wing changes put paid to any chances of a win, and the Barber Motorsports Park winner was relegated to ninth at race’s end.

“It was a rough night, pretty much as rough as it can be for the No. 2 car,” he told NBCSN’s Robin Miller after the race. “The good news is I think we had speed, I think all the Penske cars did. Simon (Pagenaud) was awesome tonight so congrats to him for getting the win. It’s a victory for all of us at Team Penske, so I’m happy to see that. Will (Power) was good too, and obviously Helio (Castroneves) starting the race up front.”

It was unclear what caused the initial damage, which was on the left-front end plate and happened in the early laps. But, a lap 138 caution when Takuma Sato crashed allowed the team a chance to replace the wing.

From there, Newgarden charged back toward the front and was battling for a podium finish when contact with the lapped car of Ryan Hunter-Reay damaged the new wing, this time on the right-front end plate.

Newgarden described the incident and revealed that there was nothing he could do to avoid contact. “I was following Scott (Dixon), and I had Helio breathing down my neck. We were just trying to ride and catch a podium to recover for the day, essentially. Scott got on the inside of Ryan into (turn 3), they went two-by-two and so I followed Scott through. But as soon as Scott got clear, Ryan wanted to get back down immediately. And I just had a head of steam coming with Scott. I didn’t have any time to check up, I tried to check up and hit the brakes, but I’m in the middle of the corner, so I couldn’t really do much to miss him.”

Hunter-Reay described the view from his vantage point to NBCSN’s Marty Snider: “It’s just very frustrating. I couldn’t do anything with the car all night, because I love short ovals. Survived the start. Then we get a puncture or whatever. Dixon came up behind me, stuck his nose in, I was worried I might have turned across him. I went into the gray and two guys got by me. The car wouldn’t turn at all. Bent the right rear toe link. It was a really tough ride today. It was way too complicated.”

Newgarden pitted a second time for a new wing and ended up finishing ninth. He now sits third in the championship, 26 points behind teammate Simon Pagenaud for the lead.

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Hamilton struggles to fourth in Sochi after ‘very tough weekend’

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Lewis Hamilton endured one of his toughest Formula 1 races in recent memory in Russia on Sunday, finishing fourth at the Sochi Autodrom as Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas took his maiden grand prix win.

Hamilton qualified fourth on Saturday, almost half a second back from Bottas and the Ferrari pair of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen who locked out the front row of the grid.

Bottas was able to pass both Ferrari drivers on the first lap en route to victory, but Hamilton struggled to keep up with their pace, finishing some 36 seconds behind his teammate.

“It’s been a very, very tough weekend. I can’t remember having as difficult a weekend,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“Probably the last time I remember is Baku or something like that. Just ultimately not quick enough, not got the car where I was comfortable, and then in the race I was overheating so just had to settle for fourth.”

Bottas’ success came in just his fourth race for Mercedes, having replaced F1 world champion Nico Rosberg for 2017 following the German’s shock retirement.

Hamilton has spoken warmly of Bottas on a number of occasions, and was full of praise for the Finn after his success in Sochi.

“Big congratulations to him. He’s done such a great job,” Hamilton said.

“Fantastic teammate to work with. It’s an amazing feeling to win your first grand prix. It will mean a lot to him and his family.”

With title rival Sebastian Vettel finishing second, Hamilton is now 13 points adrift of the championship lead ahead of the fifth race of the year in Spain on May 14.