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
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

Raikkonen: No secret to qualifying charge in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Kimi Raikkonen says that there was no secret behind his late charge to third place in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but remains realistic about his chances in Sunday’s race.

After seeing teammate Sebastian Vettel drop out in Q1, Raikkonen led Ferrari’s charge at the Yas Marina Circuit by finishing third behind the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Raikkonen managed to edge out Force India driver Sergio Perez for P3 with his final lap in Q3, but the Finn said that there was no secret to his late charge.

“No real secret,” Raikkonen said. “Obviously the car has been handling pretty well all weekend.

“The laps haven’t been ideal many times. Even the first run, it was OK the lap, but I knew there was quite a lot of room to improve so I just tried to make one a bit better lap and it was enough.

“Obviously still a bit of a way off from what these guys can do but we did our best today.

“The Mercedes have been very quick today and yesterday, in the lap times they are a bit faster than us, but the race is tomorrow, so let’s see.

“I did my maximum today. Tomorrow is another day, we can only do our best and see where we’ll end up. We’ll try to make a good start and then see how it pans out, going from there and making the right decisions.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Porsche confirms unchanged line-up for 2016 WEC season

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
© Porsche
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Following Audi’s press conference earlier today confirming its plans for the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season, Porsche has followed suit by announcing it will be retaining all six of its existing LMP1 drivers for the new campaign.

Porsche enjoyed immense success in 2015 as Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard took the drivers’ championship in dramatic fashion at the 6 Hours of Bahrain, adding to the manufacturers’ title the marque had won three weeks earlier in Shanghai.

The 919 Hybrid LMP1 car took pole position for every race in 2015, and also won Porsche’s first 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1998 with the third entry of Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.

However, Porsche confirmed that it will be only racing with its two regular WEC entries at Le Mans next June, reflecting Audi’s move to help cut costs.

Porsche will once again run the same two line-ups, with Webber, Hartley and Bernhard set to defend their championship together with the no. 1 car. Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas will team up for a third successive year in the second 919 Hybrid.

“The advice of ‘never change a winning team’ is spot on,” LMP1 vice-president Fritz Enzinger said.

“Both our driver trios didn’t only perform brilliantly on track, but have also been with us since the beginning of the programme and have significantly contributed to the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s development.

“We are very proud of these six top drivers, and very pleased all of them are on board for the 2016 world championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

The decision to not run a third car at Le Mans not only ends Hulkenberg’s already-faint hopes of defending his title, but also will leave Tandy and Bamber looking for drives elsewhere.

It also puts an end to speculation that Juan Pablo Montoya could be set to bid for the Triple Crown and race at Le Mans, having tested with Porsche in Bahrain last week.

GP2: Vandoorne breaks win record, Rossi secures P2 in championship

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Saturday 28 November 2015.
Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL9548
© GP2 Series
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Stoffel Vandoorne claimed a record-breaking 11th GP2 Series victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after seeing off challenges from Pierre Gasly and Raffaele Marciello at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Starting second, Vandoorne made a good start but was unable to pass Gasly on the first lap, forcing him to settle down in P2 for the opening stages of the race.

Vandoorne made his move for the lead on lap four, diving down the inside of Gasly at the turn seven hairpin before establishing an advantage over the field.

Gasly dropped down the order as the option tire runners began to lose grip, prompting an early round of pit stops and allowing Raffaele Marciello to hit the front as the lead driver on primes.

Marciello retained this advantage until stopping at the end of lap 26, but emerged from the pits behind Vandoorne. The Italian was just ahead of Mitch Evans, leaving him to battle for second place in the closing stages against the prime-shod Russian Time racer.

Vandoorne was able to ease home at the front to record his seventh win of the year and 11th in GP2, beating Pastor Maldonado’s existing record of ten to become the most successful driver in the history of the series.

Marciello fended off Evans to finish second by less than one second, while American driver Alexander Rossi closely followed them home in fourth.

The result ensures that Rossi will finish the year as GP2’s vice-champion behind Vandoorne in the final standings.

Tomorrow’s sprint race will see Alex Lynn start from pole position for DAMS after finishing eighth on Saturday. Rio Haryanto will start from P2 by virtue of his seventh-place finish, with Jordan King and Gasly filling the second row of the grid.

New Audi R18 e-tron quattro unveiled; two cars only for Le Mans

Photo: Audi
Photo: Audi
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Audi Sport has revealed its new Audi R18 e-tron quattro, the latest generation of diesel-powered TDI which now will run with a 6 mJ battery hybrid.

The new LMP1 car was unveiled at the annual Audi Sport Finale in Munich, among several other key announcements of note.

Audi will retain its same driver lineup, the lead trio of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler in one car with Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis back as well. After the successive retirements of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello the last three years, Audi now has the same lineup for consecutive years, for the first time in years.

However, and while the third car trio of Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Rene Rast was on stage with the six others, Audi confirmed both it and sister brand Porsche will run two cars only at next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, rather than three as each did this year.

It was a jointly agreed upon decision; both operate under the VW Group parent company. It effectively rules out the same trio of Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg repeating as a trio, although Porsche will announce the program for its own drivers next month.

“We stay with the TDI, 50 percent more hybrid power,” said Chris Reinke, Head of Audi LMP1. “Battery storage and high focus on aero as you can see. We are on our way to challenge for WEC and Le Mans wins.”

Here’s a few photos from the reveal, below: