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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.

Bird, Stanaway and Evans receive LMP1 rookie test invites

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 28:  English driver Sam Bird of Virgin Racing during first practice on the second day of the 2015 FIA Formula E Visa London ePrix Championship at Battersea Park Track on June 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Sam Bird, Richie Stanaway and Mitch Evans have been invited to the end-of-season LMP1 rookie test in Bahrain following impressive outings in the FIA World Endurance Championship this season.

As part of the series’ drive to nurture and develop young talent, a single day of testing is scheduled at the Bahrain International Circuit one day after the 2015 WEC season ends, and will be attended by Audi, Toyota and Porsche.

In a statement issued by the WEC, it was confirmed that Bird, Stanaway and Evans had received the invites for this year’s LMP1 rookie test after “having shown the best performance, determination and race skills during 2015.

“Each of the prototype manufacturers will test with at least one LMP1 car, and each of the drivers chosen will be given the opportunity to complete at least 30 laps with one manufacturer. The LMP1 manufacturers may also use the time on track to test additional drivers if they wish.”

Bird has enjoyed a successful 2015 season, winning races in both the WEC with LMP2 team G-Drive and in Formula E with Virgin Racing. The former Mercedes junior driver will test with Toyota in Bahrain.

Stanaway has also been mixing single-seater and endurance duties this year, racing in both GP2 and the WEC with Aston Martin Racing in GTE Pro. He will step up to test with Audi.

Despite only taking part in two WEC rounds this season, Evans has made enough of an impact to grab the attention of the series promoter and earn an invite to the rookie test. The New Zealander has been Mark Webber’s protege for some time, making it somewhat unsurprising that he will now test with Porsche alongside his mentor in Bahrain.

“This first rookie test is a fantastic opportunity for these three up-and-coming endurance drivers to test an LMP1 prototype, the most technologically advanced race cars in the world,” WEC CEO Gerard Neveu said.

“We looked in depth at drivers from within the world of endurance racing before making the selection, and believe that Sam Bird, Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway fully deserved the opportunity to demonstrate their talent and potential.

“This rookie test will give drivers an added bonus to their season, and forms an important element in the progressive career path available within the endurance family.”

The rookie test takes place on November 22, one day after the end of the WEC season.

Sainz airlifted to hospital following practice crash

xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Carlos Sainz Jr. has been airlifted to hospital after a big crash during the final free practice session for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday morning.

Under braking at turn 13, Sainz lost the backend of his Toro Rosso car, causing him to hit the left-hand wall before slamming into the TecPro barrier at the end of the run-off area.

The session was immediately red flagged as medical crews tended to Sainz, taking 20 minutes to extricate him from the Toro Rosso car due to how it had pitched under the barrier.

FIA media delegate Matteo Bonciani told reporters: “The driver is conscious and is still in the process of being extricated. When we know something, we will let you know.”

After being extricated from the car, Sainz was taken away on a stretcher before being placed in an ambulance, giving a thumbs up to let fans know that he was okay. He is also reported to have been talking to doctors in the medical centre after the crash.

Sainz has now been airlifted to hospital for further checks, and is set to miss qualifying later today, with Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost telling BBC Sport: “To sit him in the car immediately seems a bit risky, but we will wait and see.”

Toro Rosso has now issued the following statement:

“Following Carlos Sainz’s accident during FP3 today in Sochi, the driver is perfectly conscious and was able to talk to the extrication team. Once out of the car he was taken to the circuit Medical Centre, where he underwent an initial assessment of his condition.

“He has now been taken by air ambulance to the Sochi Hospital 4. Investigations on the reasons for the accident will take place once the car is back in the team’s garage.

“Further information will be released by the team and the FIA to the media when it is available.”

Sainz sent out a tweet from hospital confirming that he was okay following the shunt, and is now working to get back onto the grid for tomorrow’s race.