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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.

Ricky Taylor makes his IndyCar test debut today at Homestead

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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It seems to be the winter of all-stars from other racing disciplines testing in IndyCar.

Today Ricky Taylor joined the list of those stars from the closed-top sports car or touring car world on the winter IndyCar test list, with a one-off guest test for Team Penske in defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s No. 1 PPG Chevrolet.

The older of two Taylor brothers, who completed a star turn at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona en route to delivering the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R an overall win with brother Jordan, Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon, made his maiden laps at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.

Chevrolet and General Motors extended the test offer to Ricky Taylor for this opportunity. Fittingly for Pagenaud, it’s the second time in not even a year he’s given up his seat to another member of either the GM or Penske family; Brad Keselowski made a similar out-of-nowhere one-off test at Road America last year.

“Every driver dreams to be an Indy car driver,” Taylor said, via IndyCar.com. It can’t hurt to be involved with (Team Penske); there are no negatives to that. To get to know all the guys and get to drive the car and get an actual feel for it in a low-pressure environment is a great opportunity for me. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s a big learning opportunity.”

With Ricky Taylor completing this test and with Robert Wickens and Pipo Derani set to test next week at Sebring’s short course, there’s been a sudden series of additional interest in the final few runs before the IndyCar season opens on March 12.

And with Ricky Taylor in Homestead today, it was left to Jordan Taylor and the Konica Minolta team’s new third driver, Englishman Alex Lynn, to run solo today as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship February test at Sebring’s full course. Lynn will make his U.S. race debut in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be held March 18. Ricky Taylor would be expected back at Sebring for the second day of the test, held Friday.

Alexander Albon moves up to GP2 with ART Grand Prix

2016 GP2 Series Test 3
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 2 December 2016.
Alexander Albon (THA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _X0W3990
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2016 GP3 Series runner-up Alexander Albon has announced that he will move into GP2 for 2017 with ART Grand Prix, completing the team’s line-up.

Albon, 20, finished second behind Ferrari junior Charles Leclerc in GP3 last year with ART, racking up four race wins through his rookie campaign.

The Thai youngster will now continue with ART in GP2, partnering McLaren youngster Nobuharu Matsushita through 2017.

“I am really excited to be working with ART Grand Prix for a second year. I learnt a huge amount last year and we have become one big close family,” Albon said.

“Moving up to the GP2 series is an important step in anyone’s career and I am extremely fortunate to be with a top team who already understand me.

“There’s a lot to learn coming from GP3, and the experience and method of working at ART Grand Prix is the reason they have won so many titles. I hope I will continue to proudly wear Thailand’s colours and those of my faithful Thai partners.

“I look forward to the new challenge and cannot wait for the season to begin!”

The new GP2 season will begin in Bahrain on April 15.

Sergey Sirotkin set for more F1 practice chances through 2017

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 28: Sergey Sirotkin of Russia and Renault Sport F1 in the Paddock during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 28, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sergey Sirotkin is poised to enjoy more Formula 1 practice opportunities through 2017 with Renault after the team confirmed he would continue in a reserve role.

Sirotkin, 21, joined Renault in 2016 as a test driver after previously working with Sauber and falling short in a bid to be on the grid for 2015.

The Russian enjoyed two practice run-outs through 2016 behind the wheel of the Renault R.S.16, but will enjoy an expanded program in the forthcoming campaign.

“For Sergey, stability is important and we are happy to continue the development program after a very good GP2 season,” Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul said.

“He will continue to focus on his development role as a reserve, and he will have more opportunities to run in the car on Friday.

“His attention to detail and his appetite to be at the factory, looking at the simulator, his focus and his mentality, we’re happy to maintain at the team.”

Sirotkin is yet to confirm his racing plans for 2017, having spent the past two seasons in GP2, but has his sights firmly set on an F1 race seat next year.

“I don’t think anyone would be surprised if I said that my main target for the 2018 season is to have a seat as a Formula 1 race driver and that’s what I’m working towards,” Sirotkin said.

“I’m here to learn and be an asset to the team as well as show that I am worthy of further opportunities.”

VTB Group becomes title sponsor for Russian Grand Prix

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo and the rest of the field at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Russian finance group VTB has been named as the new title sponsor for the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix for 2017, set to take place on April 30.

Russia first joined the F1 championship calendar back in 2014, with the Sochi Autodrom being constructed in the city that hosted the Winter Olympics earlier that year.

For 2017, the race will feature a title sponsor for the first time, with an announcement being made by the VTB Group and F1 officials on Thursday.

As per a statement on the official F1 website: “The company’s branding has been included in the race’s logo and VTB has obtained additional advertising, marketing and communication options.”

“The right to be the title sponsor of such a major international project opens up new opportunities for both VTB Group and the Russian round of the FIA Formula One World Championship,” first deputy president and chairman of VTB management board Vasily Titov said.

“I am confident that our cooperation will become an example of an effective sponsorship in the area of motorsport for many companies. We are looking forward to seeing everyone at the 2017 Formula 1 VTB Russian Grand Prix in Sochi on 28-30 April.”

“The 2017 Formula 1 VTB Russian Grand Prix is not only a great event to attend to enjoy high-tech sporting battles and a wide range of entertainment, but is also a business platform of the highest level,” race promoter Sergey Vorobyev added.

“We are grateful to Bernie Ecclestone for making the decisions necessary for the development of this partnership and look forward to successfully working with Chase Carey and the new Formula 1 management team.”

Carey became F1’s new CEO last month following Ecclestone’s resignation, and was pleased to confirm the deal for VTB to become the Russian Grand Prix’s title sponsor.

“We are delighted to welcome VTB into the Formula One family as it becomes Event Title Partner of the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix,” Carey said.

“VTB’s involvement will only add to the continued success of the event and we look forward to this being the start of a long and successful relationship.”