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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.


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’.


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.

Inside the deep data dive at Red Bull Racing (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s Steve Matchett caught up with Red Bull Racing’s Paul Monaghan, Chief Engineer of Car Engineering, and Bill Moseley, Director of Marketing Communications at AT&T, for a deeper drive on data and sensors and how it’s all transmitted from Red Bull Racing at the track back to the team headquarters in Milton Keynes in England.

In the above video shot last week at Circuit of The Americas for the United States Grand Prix, Matchett finds out about the sensors on a car, how the sensors transfer data to the team and the impact of their findings.

You can watch this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday; a full list of times for the weekend is linked here.

Vettel surprises Mercedes by leading second Mexican GP practice

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 28:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 28, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel sprung a surprise on Mercedes in the second Formula 1 practice session ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix by topping the timesheets for Ferrari on Friday afternoon.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton led the way in opening practice, and was expected to run at the front once again with teammate Nico Rosberg when teams switched to qualifying simulations in FP2 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

However, it was Vettel who laid down the pace on the super-soft tire for Ferrari, setting a benchmark lap of 1:19.790 for Hamilton and Rosberg to follow mid-way through the session.

Neither Mercedes driver could get ahead, despite both attempting two flying laps on their super-softs, with Hamilton (below, talking to NBCSN’s Townsend Bell) getting within just 0.004 seconds.

Rosberg slotted into third place, almost half a second further back after struggling during his qualifying run.

Kimi Raikkonen followed in fourth place for Ferrari ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg, the latter finishing an impressive sixth despite setting his fastest time on the slower soft tire.

Max Verstappen was seventh in the second Red Bull, bouncing back from his troublesome morning session, with Valtteri Bottas in eighth. The Spanish pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10 places in FP2.

Mexican drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez ended 15th and 22nd, respectively. Perez caught up with NBCSN’s Townsend Bell on Thursday and that video is below.

The session was notable for the difficulty that drivers had making their super-soft tires last. Few drivers were able to keep on pace for more than a handful of laps before taking big chunks out of the tire, suggesting that the soft and medium compounds will be favored for the race.

Qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 2pm ET on Saturday.

Flying Lizard double news: Porsches in PWC, Toyo Audi at Thunderhill

Photo: Porsche AG
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It’s been a busy week for Flying Lizard Motorsports, with a pair of program announcements. One venerable chassis and two new ones have been announced for the Sonoma, Calif.-based team.

Earlier this week, Flying Lizard confirmed the return of its Toyo Tires partnership in the Toyo-shod and liveried No. 45 Audi R8 LMS ultra at NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Program manager Darren Law and team veteran Johannes van Overbeek are back, with past Lizard drivers Dion von Moltke and Mike Hedlund set to replace Guy Cosmo and Tomonobu Fujii as the other two drivers.

The Toyo Lizard Audi dominated last year’s race, winning overall by some 35 laps.

“We look forward to the challenges of this year’s 25-Hours, and are returning to prove once again that Toyo Proxes Slicks are the tires to have for drivers looking to dominate in any form of road racing,” said Marc Sanzenbacher, senior manager, motorsports, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.

“The race conditions at this event are notoriously unpredictable and we welcome the various technical challenges it presents our engineers. We have some new cool weather and intermediate rain tire options to evaluate for this event and we look forward to gathering important development data while pursuing another overall victory.”


Meanwhile on Friday, Flying Lizard has also confirmed a two-car GTS class entry in Pirelli World Challenge with longtime manufacturer Porsche.

As part of that class and series’ new GT4-spec wave in the category – it will be all GT4-spec in 2018 with a final one-year run for existing previous non-GT4 machinery – Flying Lizard will run two of the new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR entries. Those cars debuted at the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this year with GMG Racing.

Flying Lizard’s continued relationship with Porsche Motorsport North America (PMNA) will strengthen the effort, becoming a part of the North American Young Driver Development program.

“This just feels right to see Flying Lizard Motorsports back again with a Porsche program,” said Program Manager Darren Law. “We have had so many successful and memorable races with Porsche. Much of my driving career has been with Flying Lizard Motorsports, so I am happy that we will have the opportunity to join forces with Porsche for the upcoming season.”

INDYCAR set to sanction Mazda MX-5 Cup from 2017

Photo: Mazda Motorsports
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INDYCAR, not IMSA and not SCCA, will sanction the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires from 2017.

This sees the SCCA take a step back operationally from running this series, while INDYCAR – which has occasionally had sports car components on race weekends – will get into the business of sanctioning a sports car series for the first time.

Mazda Motorsports and Andersen Promotions announced today that the parties have reached an agreement for INDYCAR to sanction the Mazda MX-5 Cup series beginning with the 2017 season. The Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires is the signature spec series for the Mazda Road to 24 (#MRT24), the sports car counterpart to the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires (#MRTI).

In both programs, series champions earn a Mazda Motorsports scholarship to advance their racing careers. The MX-5 Cup season champion earns a $200,000 scholarship. New for 2017, the MX-5 Cup Rookie-of-the-Year will earn a $50,000 scholarship. In total, MX-5 Cup pays more than half-a-million dollars in prize money and scholarships.

“This sanctioning agreement with INDYCAR for the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires is based upon our long and productive relationship with Dan Andersen, Andersen Promotions and INDYCAR,” said John Doonan, director of motorsports at Mazda North American Operations.

“We have worked closely with them to grow the Mazda Road to Indy into the finest open-wheel ladder in the world. Now, we are striving to grow this series, which is the first step of our sports car ladder known as the Mazda Road to 24. In only one year, we have sold more than 120 of the newest generation of MX-5 Cup cars and have seen starting fields of up to 40 cars.

“By teaming with INDYCAR, we believe the series will thrive. Mazda strives to provide value to our customers, and to present our race teams with this race schedule today is a big step forward. They will have the opportunity to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, plus other iconic circuits in the U.S. and Canada.”

In 2017 the MX-5 Cup will consist of a 12-race schedule held on a total of six event weekends, plus the second annual Global MX-5 Cup Invitational, a non-points-paying event for Mazda racers from around the world. Four of those event weekends will be held during Verizon IndyCar Series events – Barber Motorsports Park (April 20-23), Road America (June 23-25), Toronto (July 14-16) and Watkins Glen International (September 1-3). The series will also compete on the road course of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the SVRA event (June 15-17) and twice at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (Sept. 22-24 and the Global Invitational, Oct. 13-15).

“The Mazda MX-5 Cup race car is such a terrific package and the MX-5 Cup championship already has shown what great racing this car and its drivers can provide,” said Dan Andersen, CEO of Andersen Promotions, which will oversee operational aspects of the series.

“Andersen Promotions is very excited to expand its Mazda involvement and move into the Mazda Road to 24 sports car ladder to complement what the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel ladder has already accomplished. We are all about developing drivers for careers in racing, and we expect to bring our experience to MX-5 Cup and enhance the training that drivers receive to better enable them to climb the sports car ladder. INDYCAR is the best sanctioning body and has such exciting events on its calendar, and I can’t wait to add MX-5 Cup to some of these weekends and wave the Mazda flag even more.”

The MX-5 Cup series is considered the best value in sports car racing. The cars are sold as a ready-to-race, turnkey package for $58,900. Because of the parity of the cars, the racing is always close, hard-fought and great fun for fans. The series is entering its twelfth season of action.

“When Mazda approached us regarding MX-5 Cup, we felt it would be a great opportunity for INDYCAR to expand upon what we’re already doing with our involvement in the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “This agreement also allows us to enhance our overall platform with Mazda Motorsports and Andersen Promotions, who have been great partners of INDYCAR.”