2014 Italian Grand Prix Preview

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Formula 1’s main European season comes to an end this weekend with the Italian Grand Prix at ‘la pista magica’, Monza.

The clichés used to describe this circuit have long been exhausted, with phrases such as “temple of speed” the norm in these preview articles. Frankly, it doesn’t even come close. If any single circuit can claim to bear the spirit of Formula 1, it is this one.

Since the beginning of the world championship in 1950, Monza has hosted all but one Italian Grand Prix (1980’s race was held at Imola), and the circuit has earned itself a place at the very heart of the sport. Much like Spa, it truly is an “old circuit” with just eleven corners and the fastest lap on the F1 calendar. With the new cars, don’t be surprised to see speeds get close and maybe even eclipse 350km/h.

With the beginning of fall, we must look towards the end of the F1 championship. After this weekend’s race, just six races will remain in 2014; by the end of November, we will have a champion.

This weekend’s race could prove to be pivotal in the title race. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s battle turned into civil war at the last race in Belgium, and we have since had apologies from all parties. Will these words mean much when the two Silver Arrows head into the first chicane side-by-side on Sunday afternoon?

For the locals, there is only one team that is worth their attention: Ferrari. The loyal Tifosi comes out in its droves, turning the grandstands red in support of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. The team may struggle to win at Monza this weekend, but a good haul of points – at least one that’s bigger than Williams – must be the goal.

2014 Italian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Friends, Enemies, Teammates?

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s intra-team battle boiled over at the Belgian Grand Prix last time out, resulting in a public rebuttal for Rosberg and a two-week spell that left us all pondering what will happen at Monza. Mercedes has made perfectly clear that it will not tolerate any more contact between its drivers, but if they go side-by-side into the first chicane, will we see a repeat? Having both drivers in the press conference on Thursday should make for an interesting start to the weekend.

Williams sets its sights on Ferrari

After losing some ground to Ferrari at Spa, Williams will be hoping to make up for it on the prancing horse’s home turf this weekend at Monza. The British team has a package that is well-suited to the circuit on the outskirts of Milan, and should excel. However, Ferrari has a habit of pulling a rabbit out of the hat at Monza; you can expect the home fans to lift both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen on Sunday, even if battling for a position any higher than P5 may prove difficult.

Merhi, Merhi, quite contrary

Roberto Merhi will get his first taste of an F1 car on Friday at Monza when he replaces Kamui Kobayashi for the first free practice session. The Spaniard has been plying his trade in Formula Renault 3.5 so far this year, and currently ranks second behind Red Bull junior Carlos Sainz Jr. in the championship. He will complete some running that will go towards him obtaining a superlicense in the next few weeks, at which point he’ll most probably replace Kobayashi.

Alonso’s contract conundrum

Speculation about Fernando Alonso’s future has been rife for a good while, but we do appear to be getting a clear picture that he will now be staying at Ferrari for 2015. In an interview with Sky Sports, the Spaniard insisted that he is happy with the team, and said that he wants to “finish the job that we started some years ago”. So, at Monza, in front of the home press, he will undoubtedly come under scrutiny. Quite what the future holds remains unclear, but the Spaniard is certainly the man being spoken about at this weekend’s race.

The Italian Job

For all of the history that Monza may boast, the here and now is a little less impressive. Currently, there are no Italian drivers racing in Formula 1, nor has there been since the end of 2011. The track is also at risk of being cut from Formula 1’s schedule, with races in Rome or Mugello being mooted. However, this race simply must remain a part of the sport, and we can only hope that Monza gets the required investment and work to secure its place on the calendar for many years to come.

As for the drivers? Keep an eye out for Raffaele Marciello, a Ferrari junior driver currently racing in GP2. He has the makings of something very special indeed.

Italy – Facts and Figures

Track: Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Laps: 53
Corners: 11
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:21.046 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2013 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2013 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:23.755
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:50.756
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T11 to T1); T7 to T8

TV Times

Free Practice 1 – 5/9 4am ET Live Extra
Free Practice 2 – 5/9 8am ET NBCSN
Free Practice 3 – 6/9 5am ET Live Extra
Qualifying – 6/9 8am ET NBCSN
Race – 7/9 7.30am ET NBCSN

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”