F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Race

2014 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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Following the three-week summer break, Formula 1 makes its long-awaited return this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps has a special place in the heart of the sport’s following, being one of the few truly classic tracks left on the calendar. From the fearsome Blanchimont to the behemoth that is Eau Rouge, this is a circuit that rewards the brilliant and the brave.

Spa not only heralds the return of F1, but it also begins the run to the end of the season. Over the next fourteen weeks, there will be eight grands prix in three different continents before culminating with the probable championship decider in Abu Dhabi – double points and all.

Championship leader Nico Rosberg will be hoping to extend his advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton this weekend, but the Briton has a good record at Spa. That said, Mercedes may not quite have it all its own way if Williams makes the step forwards that many are expecting. “Valtteri Bottas, grand prix winner” has quite a good ring to it, no?

Further back, we have a wonderful subplot developing as Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Force India duke it out for the positions following Mercedes and Williams (assuming Williams does indeed excel at this low downforce circuit). Daniel Ricciardo will still be beaming after his victory at the Hungaroring, but can Sebastian Vettel bounce back in the final eight races? It may be now or never for the defending world champion.

This weekend also marks the F1 debut of three-time Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer. From a story that came from left field, the German driver will deputize for Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi this weekend. He completed some work in the team’s simulator on Monday, but his first run-out in the car will come in free practice one. It will be interesting to see if he can live up to the hype and impress in this one-off appearance.

2014 Belgian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Hamilton hopes to get back on top

After fighting from the back of the grid in the last two races, Lewis Hamilton undoubtedly has the momentum heading to Spa. If he can pick up his second victory in Belgium, and if Nico Rosberg comes unstuck, he could move back into the lead of the drivers’ championship. The gloves will be off at Mercedes for the final eight races of the season, and following the team orders debacle in Hungary, neither driver will be giving anything away.

Can the Iceman find his feet?

Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari has been a bit of a failure so far. With just 27 points to his name from the opening eleven rounds, he has done very little to justify his reported €22m yearly wage. However, Spa is ‘his’ circuit. He has won four times in Belgium, with his 2009 victory coming in Ferrari’s last truly awful year; it was against the odds, but he pulled through. Can Kimi rally here to secure his best result of the season so far? Keep an eye on the Finn this weekend.

Twelve months later, Seb’s in a very different position

At last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel comfortably claimed his fifth win of the season and sparked his nine-in-a-row streak that lasted until the end of the season. One year later, he has just two podium finishes to his name in 2014 and everything is very different. Vettel will be hoping to find his feet at Spa to make up for the lost time and get himself back in business for 2014. Easier said than done, though…

Lotterer’s lottery

As mentioned above, Andre Lotterer’s surprise F1 debut came out of nowhere. It was a story that few predicted would kick start the second half of the season (and indeed silly season), but he now faces one simple question: why? This can go one of two ways. If Lotterer does indeed outperform Marcus Ericsson after only stepping in the car in FP1, then serious questions will be asked of the Swede. If he doesn’t, he’ll be thanked for his time before returning to his WEC commitments with Audi. This isn’t something Lotterer needs to do, but it’s most certainly something he wants to do.

F1 2014’s litmus test

Ever since the new cars and regulations were brought in for the 2014 season, many have pondered just how they will fare around Spa. Will Eau Rouge no longer be a flat corner? If indeed it is not, it will make the sport’s most famous turn the ultimate challenge once again. This will be the race at which many fans make their final decision on whether or not they like the new Formula 1. Let’s hope that they serve up a thriller on Sunday.

Belgium – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Laps: 
44
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2013 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2013 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 2:01.012
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:50.756
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T19 to T1); T4 to T5

TV Times

Free Practice 1 – 22/8 4am ET Live Extra
Free Practice 2 – 22/8 8am ET NBCSN
Free Practice 3 – 23/8 5am ET Live Extra
Qualifying – 23/8 8am ET CNBC
Race – 24/8 7.30am ET NBCSN

Exclusive: Austin Coil returns to ‘help’ John Force in 2016

Austin Coil is coming back to 'help out' at John Force Racing in 2016.
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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The man most responsible for John Force’s career success – other than Force himself – is coming back to John Force Racing.

Force exclusively confirmed to NBCSports.com that former crew chief Austin Coil is coming out of retirement and returning to the JFR fold for 2016.

“Coil said to me, ‘You’ve managed to screw this up, but I can help you’,” Force said with a laugh during a phone interview from NHRA preseason testing in Phoenix. “He’s helping me, to help the people with me, to look at the things we need to get this thing right.”

First joining forces in 1986, Force and Coil went on to become the winningest driver-crew chief combination in NHRA history, earning 15 Funny Car championships and 132 national event wins together.

Coil abruptly retired one day after leading Force to his 15th NHRA Funny Car championship in 2010.

Since the breakup, Force has won just one additional Funny Car championship (2013) and 11 national event victories. The veteran driver is coming off an especially tough 2015 season, one he calls “my worst season in 25 years,” finishing seventh in the standings and recording just two wins (Las Vegas 1 and Epping, New Hampshire).

And even though Force is now 66 and Coil is 70, they believe they can regain some of their old magic together. Force has also brought back former tech whiz Ron Armstrong into the JFR fold.

“We’re putting the old band back together,” Force said with a laugh.

As for what Coil’s role will be exactly, Force was quick to point out Coil will not return to his old crew chief role, nor will he be considered a “consultant” or “advisor.”

Rather, Coil simply wants to be “help out,” Force said.

“Coil, I want to be clear, is not going to come out here on the road, he doesn’t want to do that,” Force said. “But he’s helping us with stuff.”

Coil will not have an office at JFR and will work at his own pace, Force said. But given that Coil called the shots for 24 years before, Force is more than happy to let his old buddy “help out” in any way he sees fit.

“I’m really excited to have him on board,” Force said. “Just talking to Coil, for me, we’ve only had three or four lunches together, but just talking helps get my heart back right. He made me who I am and I’m never going to forget that.

“I asked Coil what did I do wrong? He said, ‘You’ve been on overload. You had good people and you lost some. What you have to do is get back on track.

“He told me to split the team in half, start building the dragster side (with 11-time Top Fuel champion Alan Johnson overseeing the team with Force’s daughter, Brittany, behind the wheel), and on the other side, build the Funny Car side, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Coil had resisted prior efforts to return to the JFR fold. But when Force came calling over the winter, Coil apparently had a change of heart.

“Over the winter, Robert (JFR president and Force’s son-in-law Robert Hight) and I got together (with Coil) and said, ‘Let’s talk about things,’” Force said. “We knew there were issues. He quit, he walked away, he said he just didn’t want to do this anymore. I thought he might be going to Schumacher (arch-rival Don Schumacher Racing), but that’s not where he went.

“He said, ‘I’ve done my thing, I’ve won’ and we really were best of friends. He said to my face, ‘I love you, Force, I always have. But I’m in a different mode in my life of what I want to do. I’m in retirement, I can’t run to the airports like I used to.’

“He’s the one that put me here 25 years ago. Thirty years ago, we started building it. People give me the credit for it, but no, it’s the people I put around me like Coil, Armstrong, Mike Neff (crew chief for Hight and director of operations for JFR) and with AJ (Alan Johnson) coming in here and Brian Husen (as Brittany Force’s crew chief).”

With Johnson now running the Top Fuel side of JFR, and with Coil’s return, Force is very optimistic about his four-car organization’s chances in 2016.

“I always listen to Austin Coil,” Force said. “He says let Alan Johnson run that dragster, he’ll put your kid in the winner’s circle, and let Mike Neff run that Funny Car. He’s won championships for you and he’s going to build those Funny Car teams to where they need to be.

“So, I’m excited about it. We’re going to be okay. We’re going racing now.”

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Bird: Buenos Aires Formula E win ranks among career best

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 06:  Sam Bird of DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team celebrates at the podium after winning the Buenos Aires ePrix as part of 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship at Puerto Madero Street Race Track on February 06, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
© Getty Images
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird believes that his victory in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix ranks among the very best in his racing career after he fended off championship leader Sebastien Buemi in the final stages of the race.

Bird led the majority of the race from pole position, but came under intense pressure late on from Buemi who was bidding to complete a last-to-first comeback.

A mistake in qualifying had resigned the Swiss driver to the back of the grid, yet he was crawling all over the back of Bird’s DS Virgin Racing car with a few laps to go.

However, Bird managed to produce a superb defensive display to keep Buemi back and secure his third win in Formula E, which he believes ranks among the best in his career.

“I think it’s up there, I think it’s really good,” Bird told MotorSportsTalk. “I enjoy all the victories. I look back on all of them with fondness but considering we were fighting with two cars that are really good at the moment, to come out and beat them hands down feels very nice.

“We’ve learned a lot from Punta del Este, like I’ve told everbody and we put that into good practice and we did the best we could. We maximized everything and we’ve come away with 28 points so really happy.”

Despite sitting third in the championship standings, Bird does not believe that he is in a position to mount a challenge for the title this year.

“Hare and the tortoise and all that, that’s what I’ve said, hare and the tortoise,” Bird said. “It’s way too early. There are two guys out there that are just so fast. If I can take it to the end, great. I’m not even thinking about it to be honest.

“There are so many decent drivers in this championship that one minute you might win, the next minute you might be P10. So we need to wait and see. Consistency is the key. The two guys ahead of me, they’re relentless, so beating them will be tough.”

Sam Bird takes memorable Formula E victory in Buenos Aires

Bird 62a
© Formula E
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird emerged victorious from one of the most thrilling Formula E races in the short history of the series after fending off a charging Sebastien Buemi in the closing stages to bag his third win.

Championship leader Buemi started the race from the back of the grid after making a mistake in qualifying, leaving him with a mountain to climb to even score points, let alone win the race.

However, the Swiss driver produced a driving masterclass and was aided by a safety car period to come into contention late on, only for Bird to produce an equally-excellent display and keep his cool to win in Buenos Aires.

Bird led all but one lap of the race, dropping down to second when Nelson Piquet Jr. went one lap longer during the pit window, and managed to see off challenges from Nicolas Prost and Antonio Felix da Costa in the first half of the race.

Da Costa’s hopes of repeating his victory in Buenos Aires from 2015 were ended just before pitting when his car came to a halt, prompting the stewards to send out the safety car which bunched the field.

Buemi had fought his way up into the points from 18th on the grid by the time he came in to swap cars, and made light work of Stephane Sarrazin before setting his sights on perennial title rival Lucas di Grassi in second place.

An exquisite move into the hairpin saw Buemi move into P2, and despite appearing to have a pace advantage over Bird in the closing stages, the Briton put up an impenetrable defence to keep the Renault e.dams driver back on the final two laps.

Low on power, Buemi had to drop back at the final few corners, giving Bird the breathing room to take his third Formula E win and the first since the start of the DS Virgin partnership.

Di Grassi was unable to join the leading pair at the front for the last fight, dropping back to save power, but managed to finish third. Sarrazin finished fourth for Venturi ahead of Prost and Loic Duval, while Nick Heidfeld’s return from injury went well as he finished seventh.

Robin Frijns enjoyed a good start in the Andretti, running as high as fourth early on, but ultimately dropped back to finish seventh. Oliver Turvey and Bruno Senna rounded out the points in P9 and P10 respectively.

Jean-Eric Vergne bounced back from food poisoning overnight to finish 11th, narrowly missing out on points, while Nelson Piquet Jr. ended the race P13. Daniel Abt and Simona de Silvestro enjoyed quiet races en route to 13th and 14th, while Mike Conway blew his chance of points on debut with a late spin, dropping him to P15 at the end. Jerome d’Ambrosio was the last classified finisher in 16th place.

Manor WEC program launched

Photo: Manor
Photo: Manor
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One of the intriguing elements to come out of yesterday’s entry list reveal for the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans was the confirmation of Manor in LMP2.

Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth hinted something new was up not long after the final Grand Prix of the season, when the pair took their bows from what had been the Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

That “something” was revealed on Friday as an Oreca 05 Nissan in the stacked LMP2 class – a 10-car class – with Tor Graves, a past Manor driver, confirmed as the first new driver for the effort.

“We are delighted to be joining the World Endurance Championship. It is a fantastic series that visits iconic tracks all over the world. The level of competition is very high and we are really looking forward to racing again,” Booth said.

“The LMP2 class is specifically designed for teams independent of manufacturers and/or engine suppliers which places the focus firmly on how the team performs.

“I can’t wait to see the car running now. We have lots to do but we have a great team of people to get it all done.”

The team might be out before the Prologue test at Paul Ricard end of March, but it’s likely that test will mark the team’s first significant running. It should have its driver lineup settled by then, as well.

Lowdon, who’s been bit by the sports car racing bug, expanded on the announcement.

“It’s really great to be racing again and the FIA World Endurance Championship provides a fantastic challenge for us,” he said

“Preseason testing starts soon and there is a lot to do but we have never been afraid of a bit of hard work.

“There is a real buzz within the team at the moment, we have enjoyed great support from the fans over the last few months and we are very keen for them to get fully involved in what we are doing. We all have a great passion for motorsport and we are keen to share that passion.”