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Is Daniel Ricciardo the superstar that F1 is craving?

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As 2014 continues to produce one of the most exciting and intense Formula 1 championships since the turn of the century, the focus continues to be on the perceived problems within the sport.

In the eyes of Christian Horner, these are being stirred by the media, but when you have the likes of Luca di Montezemolo and Bernie Ecclestone pointing at the cracks in the product, it doesn’t send out the right message. One team was reportedly subject to a takeover bid earlier this year, only for the potential buyers to pull out because they felt that the sport wasn’t going in the right direction.

When Rush came out last year, it brought back memories of a bygone era in Formula 1, when the drivers were seen as superstars. The likes of James Hunt and Niki Lauda caught the imagination of fans; Ayrton Senna did the same; to some extent, so did Michael Schumacher.

However, the recent crop of F1 drivers have been criticized for not capturing the imagination of the fans. As TV audiences fall in markets such as France and China, efforts are being made to remedy the situation: double points and standing restarts are just two of the ideas to come forward. But is the sport in need of an individual to bring in fans from outside of the sport? A Senna or a Hunt to really get people interested?

The answer could be Daniel Ricciardo, who is quickly becoming a favorite among fans despite only being in F1 for three years.

Daniel doesn’t have the playboy persona that Hunt boasted (then again, does anyone!?), nor is he the tearaway talent that Senna was in his early years. However, he is giving a human face to a sport that is largely hidden behind helmet visors and driver suits.

When speaking to Daniel in the paddock, it’s quite clear that he is two things. Firstly: highly determined and gunning to win (as is any racing driver). Secondly: a genuinely friendly person. It’s very rare to leave a press briefing with Daniel without a smile nearly as big as his own.

As with any major sportsman, there must be a certain detachment from the ‘real world’ in that they are elite; they are better at driving a Formula 1 car than you or I. However, the way to really connect with fans is to also show yourself to be like them in some cases. Social media is one of the easiest ways to achieve this. A simple retweet or reply can do wonders for your profile and popularity.

Daniel was quick to share his success in Hungary on Twitter with a few entertaining tweets, showing himself hugging his winner’s champagne and making no promises about how sober he would remain. “Wow I was hurting this morning haha…” was the tweet the next day!

And it’s tiny touches like this that are quickly making him one of the most likeable and big selling points for Formula 1. Some of the other high-profile drivers either stay away from Twitter (which they’re entitled to do) or – quite clearly – leave it to the PR departments. However, it doesn’t stir new fans in the sport. It’s nice to see drivers really connecting to the people that pack the grandstands and spend their hard-earned cash on tickets and merchandise.

Daniel has a great sense of humor, quite clearly, and this is even clear just when talking to him. He is open to a joke – even when I teased him about Australia losing to England at cricket last year, he was laughing – and hasn’t forgotten his roots. He knows how blessed he is to be doing what he is doing. He is living the dream.

This is all very good news for Formula 1. Bernie Ecclestone has said in the past that the sport needs a superstar, and Daniel could be exactly that, but not in the conventional sense. He is someone who the fans can connect to; he is a human face for the sport.

In many ways, he is following in the footsteps of his predecessor at Red Bull, Mark Webber. Also from Australia, Mark was loved in F1 for his no-nonsense attitude. When he bowed out at the end of last season, he took his helmet off for the warm down lap, quite literally showing the person that is underneath the helmet and in the car. It was an iconic shot from his swansong year.

Daniel is that much younger, though, and has quickly established himself to be more than ready to fight for wins and championships. It was missed on the FOM world feed broadcast, but when he passed Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the dying moments of the Hungarian Grand Prix, he said over the radio “that’s how you do it, ladies” – not quite “shake and bake”, but still a pretty cool thing to say after putting two F1 champions firmly in their place.

With a cool brand like Red Bull behind him, Daniel is becoming a marketer’s dream. He may not be a superstar in the conventional sense, but he is becoming one of the most popular and most respected drivers in Formula 1. Could his success aid the sport’s crusade to bring new fans in? That remains to be seen. For the time being though, let us enjoy seeing a future great growing and flourishing under the shadow of Mercedes’ domination of the 2014 season. We’ll be able to say “I was there!” when he made his debut; when he won his first race; maybe even when he won his first championship.

For all the perceived bad in Formula 1, Daniel Ricciardo is so full of good. Long may that continue.

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.”