What next for Bianchi in his journey from Marussia to Maranello?

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Formula 1 can be a cruel mistress at the best of times, especially when you’re scrapping at the back of the grid. Caterham’s demise and difficulties over the past few months have been well documented, but just up the grid, Marussia appears to be only on the rise.

The Anglo-Russian team has been Caterham’s closest competitor throughout their time together in Formula 1, and hadn’t really moved above them until this season. Although Marussia finished one place ahead of Caterham last year, it had trailed behind for all but three of the races; Jules Bianchi made it count when the team had the pace to secure P13 in Malaysia.

Once again in 2014, it was Bianchi who made waves for the team, scoring its first ever points at the Monaco Grand Prix after finishing ninth. It is hardly surprising that he is being linked with a move up the grid, perhaps even to parent team Ferrari.

However, it’s really a question of trying to fit in somewhere else. The Frenchman is undoubtedly a star in the making, and has his sights set on a future for the works team at Maranello. The rumors concerning the future of both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen continue to circulate, but is he really ready to make such a leap up the grid?

Maybe he is. During his test for Ferrari at Silverstone last month, he put in a very impressive display and finished the day as the quickest driver. However, as he explained to us after the run-out, he is not expecting a call-up for 2015.

“At the moment I know that it is not the plan for the next year because they have a plan for their drivers,” he said. “I will just focus on what I have to do which is Marussia at the moment and try to get good results.”

And he’s certainly been doing that. Ferrari’s ‘plan’ for 2015 is quite obvious: Alonso and Raikkonen. However, if Fernando does choose to move to McLaren, or if Kimi is given the heave-ho one year early, Bianchi would undoubtedly be in the running for a seat.

So where else could Bianchi go? He looked to be a shoe-in at Force India for the 2013 season (even in his own eyes) until engine supplier Mercedes leaned on the team to hire German driver Adrian Sutil. The only way back there may be if Nico Hulkenberg is snapped up by Ferrari as a replacement for either of its drivers, and Bianchi can secure a place alongside Sergio Perez. Of course, this is all hypothetical: Vijay Mallya has made clear that he wants to hang onto both of his drivers for 2015.

Sauber may be another option with its own Ferrari engine deal, but with five drivers already scrapping over two seats, it could prove to be a bit of an impossibility.

In reality, Bianchi’s future depends largely on how Ferrari wants to play it with Alonso and Raikkonen. The latter has already made his intention to retire after the 2015 season clear, so the long-term (well, two year) plan may be to bring Bianchi to Maranello then. You would have to feel that if either Kimi or Fernando did jump or be pushed now, it would be Hulkenberg to get the nod. He came within a signature of a seat at Ferrari last season; maybe Raikkonen wasn’t the best option after all…

Whatever his future, Bianchi looks to be on the right track to make it at Maranello. The saturation of drivers in the sport at the moment means that it can be difficult to find a seat; a happy medium for Ferrari that is a step between Marussia and Maranello.

As Marussia continues to grow and develop though, it may be the right place for him. What’s next for Bianchi? Most probably more of the same for 2015. Silly season has a knack of not being as easy to call as that, though; a surprise could yet be sprung.

NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”