With Vettel, Alonso, Mercedes and Renault all on the move, Abu Dhabi will mark the end of an era in F1


ABU DHABI – When the 2013 Formula 1 season came to a rainy end in the November of last year, it was seen as the end of an era. Gone were the V8 engines and technical regulations that had existed in F1 since 2005, with 2014 marking a new dawn for the sport.

And yet one year later, we are saying the same thing. This Sunday’s race will mark the end of an era for Formula 1, for we are about to see one of the greatest shake-ups to the driver market since the days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the early 1990s. With a number of other movements behind-the-scenes in terms of personnel and engine suppliers also taking place, the landscape of Formula 1 is set to change for 2015.

If last year marked the end of the era for the technical side of F1, we are about to embark on the sporting revolution. The winds of change are blowing through the sport right now.

Today saw two of the biggest rumors – perhaps even open secrets – in the sport finally become fact. Sebastian Vettel has been confirmed as a Ferrari driver for the 2015 season, following in the footsteps of Michael Schumacher and making the move across after huge success with his second team. As a result, Fernando Alonso has confirmed that he will be leaving Maranello at the end of the year. To quote him: “as of Monday, I am a supporter of Ferrari”, most probably ‘cheering’ (or not) from the seat of a McLaren car in 2015.

Let’s start with Vettel. The similarities to Michael Schumacher are clear for everyone to see: a young, German star that comes in and shakes up the sport by winning, but then turns his back on the team that gave him the success by joining an ailing Ferrari with a long-term plan to return to the top. This was a big factor in Vettel’s decision to leave Red Bull, the team that has, in many ways, made him the man he is today.

Vettel’s association with the Red Bull brand began in 1999, when he was just 12 years old and racing go-karts. By the time he was 19, he had already taken part in a race weekend, and was a grand prix winner at the age of 21 when he claimed a shock victory for Toro Rosso at Monza. It was a titanic result that firmly announced his arrival on the world stage. A move to Red Bull soon followed, with four championship wins between 2010 and 2013 establishing Sebastian as an all-time great in the sport.

So perhaps that is the driving force behind Vettel’s decision to quit Red Bull: he has done all he can and proven all he can with the team. Driving for Ferrari is often seen as the pinnacle for drivers in F1, something all of the greats must do at one point. Schumacher did it, Prost did it, Lauda did it, and even Senna probably would have done it if he had the chance.

Vettel now has a chance to firmly put himself up in the same realm as these drivers. If he can lead Ferrari back to the very top of Formula 1 and lay down a Schumacher-esque record, few could dispute his status as a great.

However, he enters Ferrari with the same kind of kick in his tail as Alonso did back in 2010. Much like this announcement, it wasn’t much of a surprise when his departure from Renault was confirmed, and Alonso was predicted to be the team’s savior after a disastrous 2009 campaign.

It so nearly came good at the first attempt, with the Spaniard losing the championship at the final race of the year to – of all people – Vettel. The same thing happened in 2012 in a year that saw Alonso battle with the troublesome F2012 car and win three races, only to fall three points short at the final race in Brazil.

Since then, a state of stagnation set in at Ferrari. Now without a win in eighteen months and showing few signs of a breakthrough any time soon, big changes were needed. Gone is Alonso, gone is former team principal Stefano Domenicali, and – perhaps most importantly – gone is marque president Luca di Montezemolo. The Ferrari at the end of the 2014 F1 season is very different to the one that started in Australia in March.

Alonso is widely expected to move back to McLaren for 2015, having spent one turbulent year back at Woking in 2007. The arrival of Honda engines is expected to reinvigorate the team and give it a fighting chance of winning the championship once again, having gone over two years without a win.

It may seem strange that both Vettel and Alonso are taking steps down in terms of the F1 pecking order, but both are hoping that they can be the final piece in jigsaws at their new teams in a bid to become world champion once again. This weekend’s race in Abu Dhabi will be an emotional one for both drivers, but a brighter future may be on the horizon.

One man whose future is foggy at best is Jenson Button. The 2009 world champion will finish the season without knowing whether he will remain in Formula 1 next year, meaning that it could prove to be the final race in an extraordinary career that has taken him from the front of the grid to the rear, and then back again, enjoying dizzying heights with Brawn just months after plummeting with Honda.

And it would be a shame for his career in F1 to end without a proper send off. Button is one of the most respected individuals in the sport, and he deserves better than to be left in dark. If he were to retire from Formula 1, it would only be to the sport’s detriment. The third-longest career in the history of the sport would come to an end, and so would another era. The only drivers left from the early 2000s would be Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa – it’s enough to make you feel old.

Besides the drivers though, a big era is ending for McLaren. Just as Ferrari has been overhauled in the past few months, so has McLaren, with the process starting far earlier. The removal of Martin Whitmarsh as team principal after a disappointing 2013 campaign set the tone for the rest of the year, with Ron Dennis’ return to the top of the team making one thing abundantly clear: failure cannot be tolerated any longer.

2015 is meant to be the year for McLaren, not least because of the arrival of Honda. The Japanese manufacturer returns to F1 after six years away, exclusively powering McLaren for the first year at least. Despite reportedly being behind schedule, the first Honda engine was available for a filming day at Silverstone last week, and the interim car will run again in Abu Dhabi at the end-of-season test.

However, this move does mark the end of a long-term partnership with Mercedes that started way back in 1995, and brought great success to Woking. Drivers’ championships were won in 1998 and 1999 with Mika Hakkinen before Lewis Hamilton’s victory in 2008, and until the arrival of the works Mercedes team in 2010, McLaren was the main focus for the Silver Arrows. Yet again, another long era is ending in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Stretching back just as long is Renault’s partnership with Team Enstone, now known as Lotus. The Enstone base has run under a variety of different names since first putting a Renault engine in the car in 1995, but was then known as Benetton and had Michael Schumacher behind the wheel of the car, powering to his second world title ahead of his move to Ferrari. Two titles followed for Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006 when the team was a Renault works outfit, but as Lotus, it is now set to switch to Mercedes power for 2015.

All of this is enough to make one rather nostalgic. We are being treated to a superb title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg that will be settled once and for all under the lights on Sunday, and it is a race that should go down in the history books as a great title decider.

However, be sure to recognize the wider impact of this race. Just as this year’s Australian Grand Prix marked the start of a new era for Formula 1, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix sees several come to an end.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top


As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.

Dylan Ferrandis finished on the podium in his first race back after experience a concussion in Supercross Round 4 at Houston. – Align Media

It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.

Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.

Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

MORE: Jett Lawrence wastes no time, wins first 450 race

After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.

Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.

Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.

450 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Jett Lawrence (26) 93.33 NA
2. Chase Sexton (1) 92.36 1 -1
3. Dylan Ferrandis (19) 89.00 NA
4. Adam Cianciarulo (8) 82.89 5 1
5. Aaron Plessinger (5) 81.20 9 4
6. Justin Hill (9)
Not racing MX
79.75 8 2
7. Ken Roczen (4)
injured | Not racing MX
79.13 3 -4
8. Jose Butron (30) 75.67 NA
9. Lorenzo Locurcio (29) 75.00 NA
10. Eli Tomac (2)
74.50 2 -8
11. Dean Wilson (10)
Not racing MX
72.88 7 -4
12. Cooper Webb (3) 71.17 6 -6
13. Jerry Robin (32) 70.33 NA
14. Justin Barcia (6)
70.00 4 -10
15. Kyle Chisholm (15) 65.36 11 -4
16. Dante Oliveira (36) 65.00 NA
17. Shane McElrath (11)
Not racing MX
63.63 12 -5
18. Ryan Surratt (38) 63.33 NA
19. Josh Hill (13)
Not racing MX
62.38 13 -6
20. Justin Starling (20)
Not racing MX
62.13 19 -1

Motocross 450 Points

A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.

Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.

Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.

Motocross 250 Points

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan scored a second-place finish in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.

Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.

250 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Hunter Lawrence (1) 89.56 2 1
2. Justin Cooper (42) 84.67 NA
3. RJ Hampshire (3) 83.67 3 0
3. Haiden Deegan (4) 83.67 8 5
5. Jo Shimoda (16) 82.33 7 2
6. Guillem Farres (46) 79.33 NA
7. Levi Kitchen (6) 79.11 5 -2
8. Max Anstie (5) 77.83 12 4
9. Max Vohland (8) 77.50 14 5
10. Enzo Lopes (10) 76.00 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg (13) 74.25 16 5
12. Carson Mumford (19) 71.22 17 5
13. Jordon Smith (7) 70.56 9 -4
14. Ryder DiFrancesco (48) 70.33 NA
15. Chris Blose (12) 67.00 13 -2
16. Chance Hymas (27) 66.00 19 3
17. Tom Vialle (9) 65.78 18 1
18. Jett Reynolds (55) 63.33 NA
19. Michael Mosiman (28) 62.33 20 1
20. Garrett Marchbanks (64) 59.00 NA

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 13 AT ATLANTA: Justin Barcia leapfrogs the Big 3
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 11 AT SEATTLE: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT DETROIT: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Eli Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage