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F1 2014 mid-season report: The story so far and the story to come

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2014 was supposed to be the year that everything changed. Following an overhaul of the technical regulations and the downsize from the V8 engines to V6 turbo power units, Formula 1 was meant to be turned on its head following Sebastian Vettel’s domination of the past four world championships.

However, we still have one team dominating proceedings once again, and a German driver leads the world championship. Forget Red Bull and Vettel though; this year has been all about Mercedes.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have been given a car fit for a king, taking them to a total of nine wins and ten pole positions in eleven races. The Mercedes drivers have pulled clear of the field at the top of the drivers’ championship, but with just eleven points separating them, their championship battle looks set to rage on until the final round in Abu Dhabi.

It’s been an eventful season so far, featuring civil wars, winning smiles, flying and floundering Finns, barrel rolls, fallen champions and days for the underdog – to name but a few.

In the third and final part of MotorSportsTalk’s mid-season F1 review – find part one and part two here – we take a look at the storylines that have defined the season so far and consider what may dominate the headlines over the next four months.

THE STORY SO FAR

New year, new regulations, new order?

When the new season got underway in Australia, there were big questions about the reliability of the new cars after a difficult winter. The FIA even had to confirm what would happen if all 22 cars retired from the race. Thankfully, we’ve only seen a marginal increase in technical problems (as to be expected with a regulation change), and the new formula – whilst splitting opinion in areas such as sound – has been good. There hasn’t been a truly ‘dull’ race so far this year, so does the sport really need changing?

Does Formula 1 need fixing?

This has been one of the most annoying storylines of the season so far. Following the big change in the regulations, a number of figures within the sport – most notably, Luca di Montezemolo – have called for further action to be take. To quote the Ferrari president, we need to “correct this wrong turn”. He rocked up in Bahrain and said that the sport had been reduced to taxi cab racing, only for the drivers to put on a show under the lights. He left before the race finished.

So now attention has turned back to a possible cost cap – or, more accurately, an impossible cost cap. There is still a great gulf between the rich and the not-so-rich in F1, and it only looks set to remain. The focus on ‘improving the show’ has yielded controversial ideas such as double points in Abu Dhabi and standing restarts for 2015. Shouldn’t we let the racing speak for itself?

Mercedes dominate, but civil war comes close

As touched upon in the introduction, Mercedes has been the omnipotent force in Formula 1 so far this season thanks to the imperious W05 Hybrid car. It looks certain to win the constructors’ championship, and either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg will most likely be crowned world champion come the end of the season.

However, tensions boiled over in Monaco when Hamilton accused Rosberg of deliberately ruining his qualifying and said they were no longer friends. Then, they were friends again. Now, things appear to be bubbling under after Hamilton ignored team orders in Hungary to stop Rosberg from passing him.

Red Bull’s title defence falls apart as Dan shines

Red Bull’s hopes of a fifth straight championship double appeared to be over before we even got to Melbourne, so it comes as little surprise to see the team battling to even finish on the podium. The RB10 car itself is pretty sound, but the Renault power unit has been well down on power compared to its Mercedes and Ferrari counterparts.

As Sebastian Vettel has struggled, Daniel Ricciardo has flourished, winning two races in Canada and Hungary. The Australian may have the best smile in F1, but he is quickly establishing himself as a driver to keep an eye on as a future champion.

Ferrari flounders; Williams soars

Talk about a tale of two seasons. 2014 was meant to be the season of the works team: a straight fight between Ferrari and Mercedes. Mercedes kept its end of the bargain, but Ferrari has been anonymous for much of the season. Fernando Alonso continues to fly the flag for the team, dragging the car to two podium finishes so far this season, yet Kimi Raikkonen’s form has kept the team from battling against Red Bull; that, and the F14 T car.

As for Williams, it could not have gone much differently. The team has leaped up the standings. After Hungary last year, it had one point; this time around, it has 135. Valtteri Bottas has shone for the team, and Felipe Massa would be a lot higher up the standings had it not been for some bad luck. The team is perhaps the most likely to challenge Red Bull for second place in the constructors’.

THE STORY TO COME

Will it be Lewis or Nico?

It’s pretty clear that one of the two Mercedes drivers will be crowned world champion come the end of the season, but the question is who? Rosberg has an eleven point lead with just eight races to go, although Hamilton appears to have the momentum after his comeback drive in Hungary. As we saw there, team relations aren’t 100% happy, either; will it end in tears for Mercedes, or will the best man truly win the 2014 Formula 1 world championship?

Double trouble in Abu Dhabi

When it was confirmed that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would be a double points round, the F1 community cried out in pain. It was ridiculous; an abomination; a joke. However, it is happening. The race at Yas Marina at the end of November will see the winner claim 50 points for a race win.

Given how closely Hamilton and Rosberg have been matched so far this season, it’s likely that double points will settle things. However, it remains to be seen just how scandalous it is up and down the championship. If a driver were to win the world title because of double points alone, it would be a great shame for the sport.

The fight to be best of the rest

Mercedes may be on track to finish as top dog in 2014, but there is an enthralling battle developing just behind the Silver Arrows. Red Bull, Williams and Ferrari are all battling to finish second in the constructors’ championship, whilst Force India and McLaren look set to scrap over fifth and sixth place. All of the teams have looked impressive at one point or another this season, and it could be another battle that is settled under the lights at Yas Marina.

Marussia, Caterham and Sauber fight for the small points

P9, P10 and P11 may not appear to mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it could in fact mean the difference between millions and millions of dollars in prize money for the bottom three teams. Marussia currently leads the way after Jules Bianchi’s charge to ninth in Monaco, but Sauber has the quickest car and needs to record a top ten finish in the next eight races to avoid its worst ever season in F1.

For Caterham, the fallout following its change in ownership looks set to continue, but upgrades have been promised for Spa. It could prove to be a masterstroke or an expensive error for the new backers. Either way, the fight between these three teams is only set to continue.

Silly season should sort itself out

The driver market for the 2015 season isn’t close to being sorted just yet, but there are plenty of rumors to get your teeth into. Alonso to McLaren? Vettel to Mercedes? Bottas to McLaren? Who knows. What we do know is that by next March, we will be sure of who will be on the grid for the 2015 F1 season, although we should hopefully see how it unfolds in the coming few months. Keep an eye on the seats at Ferrari and McLaren; they’re the keys to next season’s driver market.

Josef Newgarden named honorary chairman of Rev fundraiser at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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New Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has been named as honorary chairman of the 2017 Rev fundraiser to benefit Methodist Health Foundation.

This year’s edition of Rev, which brings together luminaries including drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series, as well as fans and philanthropists, will be held May 6 in the infield of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“This is our main fundraiser which also serves to kick off the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Methodist Health Foundation Chief Development Officer Sally McGuffey said in a media release. “Rev has grown to become one of the city’s premier foodie events, with cuisine inspired by drivers and Indy’s top chefs.

Part of the festivities of the 2016 Rev at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo courtesy IndyCar)
Part of the festivities of the 2016 Rev at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo courtesy IndyCar)

“The event’s mission is to raise funds and awareness for Indiana University Health statewide trauma programs, including those that provide care for drivers and patrons at the Indiana University Health Emergency Medical Center of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Rev is presented by Fifth Third Bank and this year’s edition will see the addition of Milktooth restaurant, a well-known Indianapolis eatery that is ranked in the top 10 of Bonappetit.com’s best restaurants in the United States. Milktooth will be one of more than 60 restaurants that will be offering some of their top delicacies to Rev attendees.

Last year’s Rev drew over 3,000 attendees to IMS for not only great food, but also live music and dancing. It has become one of the premier ways for fans to interact with IndyCar drivers while also contributing to a worthy charitable cause.

Newgarden is entering his first season with Team Penske – he’ll drive the No. 2 Chevrolet – and sixth overall season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He finished fourth in last year’s final standings.

“It’s a great honor to be partner with Rev this year for a cause that does so much for the community of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Newgarden said. “The growth of this event in such a short time is a testament to the hard work everyone puts in to support Methodist Health Foundation. I’m really looking forward to helping the event continue the upward trend.”

This will be Rev’s fourth consecutive year of being hosted by IMS.

“The relationship of IU Health and Methodist Health Foundation with IMS is over 100 years old and great events like Rev help make our partnership stronger than ever, while ensuring that both drivers and fans continue to receive top-notch care,” IMS president Doug Boles said. “Josef is a fantastic addition to this year’s Rev team and will ensure the event continues to grow and serve as an excellent Month of May kickoff.”

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INDYCAR, Firestone announce long-term extension

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Firestone has extended its contract with INDYCAR in a multi-year agreement, beyond its current deal which was set to expire at the end of 2018.

The move continues INDYCAR’s relationship with the tire manufacturer, as Firestone re-entered the series in 1995 after testing all of 1994. Firestone has been the exclusive tire partner since 2000. This is another extension that follows not long after the Dallara continuation through 2020, announced last week at the North American International Auto Show.

Another key note in today’s extension is that the wishes of drivers to have red sidewall alternate tires run in practice prior to qualifying has been granted. One set will be made available for Friday practice at all road and street course races this year.

The release from INDYCAR is below:

INDYCAR announced a multiyear contract extension today with Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC (BATO), continuing its longtime partnership with Firestone as the official tire supplier of the Verizon IndyCar Series. The announcement extends the tire brand’s involvement in open-wheel racing that dates to Ray Harroun’s Firestone-equipped Marmon Wasp winning the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

“Firestone is part of the fabric of INDYCAR and its commitment to evolving performance, innovation and safety in the Verizon IndyCar Series has been remarkable,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “The Firestone brand has been part of our sport for more than 100 years and continues to be an integral partner in the growth of INDYCAR on and off the racetrack.”

Firestone has been involved in racing competitions since the early days of the automobile, particularly at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Alexander Rossi’s win at the 100th Running of the Indy 500 last May was the 67th for Firestone – more than all other tire manufacturers combined – in the iconic race. Firestone, which returned to Indy car racing in 1995 following a 20-year hiatus, has been the sole supplier of Verizon IndyCar Series tires since 2000 and provides teams with a known, stable and reliable platform for the future of INDYCAR.

“For more than a century, the Firestone brand has utilized racing as the ideal stage to showcase the trusted dependability of our tires,” said Lisa Boggs, director of motorsports, Bridgestone Americas. “This partnership is integral to our marketing initiatives as it allows us to engage with fans via the unique, multi-faceted platform that the Verizon IndyCar Series provides, and we look forward to building upon the brand’s time-tested racing legacy.”

This season, following discussion with Verizon IndyCar Series teams, INDYCAR and Firestone have added to the overall tire allotment at each event to increase the amount of on-track activity during practice sessions. Additionally, teams will be permitted to run one set of alternate (red-sidewall) Firestone Firehawk tires during Friday practice sessions at all road/street course events to better evaluate their capabilities for qualifying and the race.

In addition to its contributions to on-track competition, Firestone is a key partner in the marketing and promotion of the Verizon IndyCar Series. The season-long activation for Firestone includes sponsorship of race events, on-site fan engagement via the INDYCAR Fan Village and a national advertising campaign that spans television, radio and print/digital media outlets.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season begins with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 12

Franchitti: Ganassi to Honda ‘creates interest in manufacturer battle’

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Dario Franchitti of Scotland, driver of the #50 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda holds up his fist in celebration of wining the IZOD IndyCar Series 96th running of the Indianpolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Dario Franchitti’s most successful years in his illustrious IndyCar career came with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Honda.

The Scotsman never drove for any other engine manufacturer full-time in his run from 1998 to 2013, after Mercedes-Benz initially brought him to the United States in 1997, when he debuted with Hogan Racing.

Ganassi’s switch back to Honda power and aero kits this year after a three-year shift to Chevrolet is one of the key story lines going into the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, and Franchitti seems bullish on the prospects.

“I think it’s good for the series to have the two top teams with different manufacturers,” Franchitti told my NBC Sports colleague Luke Smith at this weekend’s Autosport International show.

“I think it creates more interest in that battle. From that point of view I think it’s good. Obviously Penske were quite dominant last year. We need to redress that balance this year.”

Team Penske asserted itself a bit further ahead of Ganassi this past season when both teams had the Chevrolet engines and aero kits. Penske won 10 races among three of its four drivers to Ganassi’s two, achieved only by Scott Dixon.

Other gaps saw Penske saw 12 other podium finishes beyond the wins, for a total of 22, while Ganassi scored only six total podiums.

In qualifying, Penske made 28 combined appearances of a possible 60 in the Firestone Fast Six on road and street courses; Ganassi made 13. Last year Penske won 11 of 16 pole positions; in 2015, that number was 13 of 16.

The balance was more even in 2015, when Dixon edged Juan Pablo Montoya for the title on a three-two win tiebreaker. Penske and Ganassi each won three races. Penske had 12 other podiums and Ganassi seven. The qualifying advantage maintained itself with Penske ahead 26-8 in Firestone Fast Six appearances.

With the manufacturer aero kits frozen for 2017 and Honda’s behind in the road and street course and short oval configurations, wizardry and engineering from the Ganassi staff will be needed to account for the performance deficits from an aero side, while Honda should be able to make strides from a power perspective.

It’s expected the Honda kit will remain ahead on the superspeedways, which gives Ganassi’s crew a better shout at Indianapolis, Texas and Pocono, places they struggled this past year.

The team’s initial test with all four cars at Sebring’s short course held earlier this month was a very productive one, according to Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the program,” Franchitti explained. “In the team everyone is working. I mean you see it all the time, everyone works hard all the time, but you see a real confidence in the workshop.

“We tested at Sebring. I was talking to Mike Hull last night (Friday) and he said that everyone was feeling really good about things. Everyone is working on all aspects of our program and working really hard to improve it.”

Ganassi’s title success, bar Dixon’s 2015 triumph, have come exclusively with Honda. Last year marked the 20-year anniversary of the team’s first title with Jimmy Vasser, which set sail for the team’s first of two four-in-a-row title runs in a CART era of open chassis, manufacturer and tire competition from 1996 through 1999 with Vasser, Alex Zanardi and Montoya.

A further run of four followed once Franchitti rejoined IndyCar in 2009 after one year in NASCAR. Dixon scored his second of four titles (2008) to kick off that run in what became the all-spec Dallara-Honda period in IndyCar, and Franchitti followed with three storming runs in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

The 2011 title was Franchitti’s fourth and last of his career, with his final win coming a year later in dramatic fashion at the 2012 Indianapolis 500. The series introduced the new Dallara DW12 chassis and the new engine formula of 2.2L V6 turbocharged engines.

It’s been funny to see Franchitti as the lone individual wearing a Chevrolet shirt at Honda hospitality the last few years so with Ganassi back at Honda, the humorous moments are resigned just to the conversations now.

“Every race I won was with a Honda, so I still have a lot of friends there. It was always a bit awkward when I went for lunch at Honda with a Chevy shirt on! But the Chevy guys with Ilmor as well, they were great guys to work with.”

Kevin Magnussen arrives for first visit to Haas F1 headquarters

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and Renault Sport F1 talks in the Drivers Press Conference during previews for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 1, 2016 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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On Monday, it was a day of confirmations – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Felipe Massa (Williams) and Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) – all became official after weeks of speculation.

One driver confirmed much earlier, Kevin Magnussen to Haas F1 Team, has now made his first official visit to Haas F1 Team’s United Kingdom headquarters in Banbury. He’ll be there for a couple days to complete most of the preseason marketing and media-gathering tasks.

The Dane will enter his third full-time season in Formula 1 with his third different team, as he joins Haas for 2017 and beyond after a year apiece at Renault (2016) and McLaren (2014).

Magnussen has gone through HQ and the Haas F1 social team has taken us along for the ride. Here’s a few pics:

Magnussen’s former team, Renault, was up to the task of bantering as Haas welcomes Magnussen to HQ.