Melbourne – The 2014 season is here! Watching the live television feed through NBC Sports and the F1 timing app on my phone, I can tell you that practise down in Melbourne has been quite interesting, and possibly a cache full of interesting signs for Sunday’s race.
The first session began at 20.30 Chicago (16.30 Melbourne, 01.00 London), and was characterised by a mix of mechanical issues, good runs, and the lack of a completed lap for 4 of the drivers, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton (GBR), Catheram’s Kamui Kobyashi (JAP), and Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado (VEN) and Romain Grosjean (FRA).
Out of all the teams, Lotus had the most trouble. Frenchman Romain Grosjean didn’t make it out of the pit, whilst his Venezuelan teammate Pastor Maldonado did make it onto the track, only to continually slide and skid off of it before having the Lotus pit crew meet him in the Pit Lane carrying fire extinguishers with 8:00 minutes left in the session.
Likewise, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton made it out of the pit, but didn’t stay on the track for long, according to BBC Sport having oil pressure issues. His teammate, Germany’s Nico Rosberg finished FP1 in 6th at 0.764 seconds behind leader, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (ESP). Also from Germany, reigning world champion Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel did fairly well in the session, however he was called back to the pit with 1:30 remaining due to some worries of mechanical issues.
My favourite team, McLaren, did fairly well for themselves in Free Practise 1, with veteran Jenson Button (GBR) coming in second with a time of 1:32.357, and Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen finishing in 8th with a time of 1:32.847. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished at the top of FP1 with a time of 1:31.840.
Free Practise 2 began at 00.30 Chicago (16.30 Melbourne, 05.30 London) with Sahara Force India’s Adrian Sutil (GER) being the first out onto the track. He was followed 3 minutes later by Hamilton, who at last managed to get a lap in. Soon there after an equally unlucky driver from FP1, Romain Grosjean of Lotus, made his way onto the track, however with 1:24:00, the Frenchman was reporting power steering issues, in particular using the words “force neutral” with his car. Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel came out at 1:22:00. Interestingly enough, at the start of FP2, according to the lads at NBC Sports, the top speed in the speed trap at Albert Park is 7 mph faster than in 2013.
For most of the first half of FP2, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg (GER) was on top in regards to lap time. To give an example of the speeds being reached on this track, Vettel, with 1:15:00 left, went around Turn 1 in his Red Bull at around 140 mph. There certainly is some concern among Red Bull fans this year, as well stated on NBC that, “If Red Bull manages to win the race on Sunday it’ll be a minor miracle.”
Ferrari had a set of issues around the hour mark, with both cars overheating. Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen (FIN) ended up having to be pushed back to the pit from the lane’s entrance. At the same point, Red Bull’s Daniel Riccardo (AUS) set the fastest time at the 1:00:00 mark. Soon there after, Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) became the first driver of the session to switch to the soft tyres. Meanwhile, by 00:58:00, all of the drivers save Caterham’s Kamui Kobyshai (JPN) and Lotus’ previously ill-fated Pastor Maldonado (VEN) had yet to leave their respective garages. Caterham continued to have issues when their only driver to leave the pits on Friday, Marcus Ericsson returned to the garage with, according to the team radio, hydraulic issues. Another rookie, 19 year old Russian Daniil Kyvat of Scuderia Toro Rosso had his own troubles, radioing in that, “It is impossible to warm the tyres.”
On the lighter side, Caterham’s new nose design is “pretty cool,” at least according to NBC Sports’ David Hobbes. Pit commentator Will Buxton said of the new designs, “I love this season because not all of the cars are the same in the pit lane.”
The great tragedy of the end of the session came when Lotus’ Romain Grosjean began to have issues at around 27:00, when his wheels began to lock up around T1. Meanwhile, most of the drivers in the top half of the table were working on their longer runs, in particular Massa and Bottas at Williams. Grosjean’s troubles came to a head when he hit the barriers at Turn 6, which snapped his rear suspension, initial observations according to the BBC said that it was the right side, whilst their friends at NBC said it was the left. Luckily, Räikkönen was able to avoid any sort of collision with the debris from Grosjean’s car.
At the chequered flag, Briton Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG Petronas finished on top with a 1:29.625. In general at the end of Friday’s run, the major issue for all the teams was dealing with overheating. These new cars are certainly something to get used to, as comically pointed out on Twitter by one Brian Hambling, “Fantastic visual spectacle but the cars sound like Mopeds??” Generally, Lotus and Caterham are in the deeps, having trouble even getting cars out on track. Meanwhile, Caterham’s main competitor Marussia stands a decent chance of doing better in this race than in the past, perhaps even scoring their first point. Their driver, Briton Max Chilton said on the topic that, “There’s a lot more there for us to use.”
Free Practise 3 began at 22.00 Chicago (14.00 Melbourne, 03.00 London). This round ended much the same as the prior one, with Mercedes on top, only this time Nico Rosberg being the leader followed by the McLaren of Jenson Button and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. The session was also noted for three drivers: Williams’ Valtteri Bottas (FIN), Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez (MEX), and Lotus’ Romain Grosjean (FRA) remaining in their garages for the duration of the practise session due to various mechanical issues. Grosjean’s teammate Pastor Maldonado did make it out, only to break down whilst on a lap. This session was Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) first time out on the track of the weekend, during which he completed 19 laps, finishing 16th out of 22.
Looking at the practise information, I’d say that qualifications will be a fairly open field. I’d imagine that either Mercedes or Ferrari will take the first 2 rows on the starting grid with McLaren and Red Bull close behind. As for the rest of the field, it’s still pretty open and unsure to say just what will happen.
Qualifying starts at 01.00 Chicago (17.00 Melbourne, 14.00 London), and will be broadcast here in the United States on NBC Sports. Seeing as it’s starting so very late my local time, my upcoming article on qualifying will be out a few hours after the actual event. If you would like an online readable feed of what is going on at Albert Park in Melbourne, see this link to BBC Sport’s Formula 1 section.
Kansas City – Happy New Year to all! 2014 officially began about 9 days and 13 hours ago here in the Midwestern states. With a new year comes new excitement and new opportunities, and as every other year since 1950, a new season of the Formula 1 World Championship! Though the season doesn’t properly begin until the Australian Grand Prix (14-16 March), the teams and many press writers (myself included in a freelance capacity) are hard at work preparing for the lights to go out and the race to begin in Melbourne.
So, what should we expect for 2014? If you want to start with the big question of “Who will win the 2014 championship?” odds are that that answer could be Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel (GER) for the fifth time in a row. After his strong 9 race winning streak at the end of 2013, I would not be surprised if the Newey, Vettel, Horner team outmatch all the other drivers like they did last year. No doubt the new engines will lessen the power of the RB10 in comparison to its immediate predecessor the RB9, but with the design skill of Newey, and the stamina and skill of Vettel, I would be surprised if anyone else took the crown this year.
How about second and third then? In terms of constructors, my guess is another repeat of Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG-Petronas, however the prediction as to who will get second and who will get third between the pair is still up for grabs. No doubt the Alonso Räikkönen pair will be one to watch out for, as both are world champions and just fantastic drivers all around, but at the same time the Mercedes team has done quite well in their own right, with Rosberg and Hamilton performing very well for themselves throughout this past season. Considering the fact that Mercedes has lost Ross Brawn, at least only for this season if Niki Lauda has anything to say about it, I could see an off chance of them suffering from what I’d call sudden loss of leadership syndrome, though perhaps not as badly as Manchester United has so far this season. In this light I’ll go for Ferrari taking second in the constructor’s championship, with Alonso and Räikkönen both performing equally well.
With the top three out of the way, it comes down to the rest of the field. Despite their poor performance in 2013, McLaren’s acquisition of Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen could help bring them back to strength. Having won the 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 Series with 274 points, earning pole in nearly all of the races, not to mention never finishing below second place, Magnussen could help reinvigorate the lads from Woking. Frankly though, I was sad to see the team drop Sergio Pérez (MEX), especially considering how promising the end of the season was for him in regards to his on track performance.
Whilst on the topic of Pérez, I do think he’ll has a promising career ahead of him at Force India. In fact, this could be the season when Force India takes their first win. With the combination of Hülkenberg (GER) and Pérez, they certainly seem stronger than the next competition, Lotus, who I think will be lucky to end up higher than 6th. True, Romain Grosjean (FRA) has been showing great potential with the team, especially at the end of the 2013 season, but I tend to doubt Pastor Maldonado (VEN) will do anything that spectacular this season, though I do expect him to have a few points winning finishes here and there.
The 7th and 8th places in the constructor’s championship could very well go to Sauber and Williams. The Swiss team’s choices of Mexican Esteban Gutiérrez and German Adrian Sutil seem quite suited to the team’s strengths. Though I don’t expect Sauber to win any Grands Prix this year, they could have a decent shot at a few pole positions in the next few years plus a win or two. Williams on the other hand does seem to be on the verge of something good. Though perhaps not the glory of the ’90s so fondly remembered by their Brazilian driver Feilipe Massa, who has left Ferrari after 7 seasons driving for the Italians, Williams’ future is still quite bright. Between Massa and his Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas, Sir Frank’s team could very well bring in a win or two here or there. I especially admire the resilience of the Williams team, the sort of everyman of F1, who has stuck with the sport, with their passion, despite their generally dismal performance since the team’s last podium at the 2008 Australian Grand Prix.
Finally, in regards to the three teams that I’ve yet to mention: Scuderia Toro Rosso, Marussia, and Caterham, I’d imagine they will stay in that order. True, Toro Rosso’s new young Russian driver Daniil Kvyat did a fantastic job in GP3 this past year, especially for someone who’s only 19 years old, but honestly I don’t see him making much of a mark in Formula 1 for a couple years still. Now, if he does I’ll eat my words right away. Meanwhile his French teammate, Jean-Éric Vergne, doesn’t seem to be setting himself up for anything spectatular either, looking at his 17th place finish in the 2012 tables and 15th place the following year. In any case, Vergne could do some damage to the other teams standings, particularly to Sauber and Williams, but overall I am skeptical.
The big question remaining for the lineup is just who will take the last remaining seat at Marussia and just generally who will be driving for Caterham? Last I checked, Marussia has only confirmed Frenchman Jules Bianchi as one of their two drivers. Judging by his 19th place inaugural performance in 2013 in Formula 1, I could see him staying in about the same area. It really is too bad in that my most striking memory of him from 2013 was when his car caught fire in Germany and proceeded to roll out onto and across the track, taking out a UBS sign on the way. Caterham on the other hand is still a fairly big question. The names proposed on 8 January in an article on F1.com were Frenchman Charles Pic, Dutchman Giedo van der Garde, Finn Heikki Kovalainen, Britons Max Chilton and Paul di Resta (whose name has also come up in Indy Car speculation), Swede Marcus Ericcson, and Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi. Whatever the case, the races between Caterham and Marussia will be as enjoyable as usual.
In any case, these are all just my own musings and predictions based upon what I saw in 2013. If you want to see another angle on predicting the 2014 championship, look no further than Ladbrokes’ 2014 F1 Drivers’ Championship Odds, in which the chances for winning the crown go from Vettel’s 10/11 odds all the way down to Jules Bianchi’s 1000/1 chance. Click here to see the full listings from Ladbrokes, and do gamble responsibly.
Thats’ all for now for my F1 writing. I’ll be back for certain in a few weeks, probably after NBC Sports has their annual season preview broadcast.
Kansas City – I returned a couple mornings ago from a holiday of a lifetime. For a couple Christmases worth of gifts, my Mom bought my Dad and I weekend passes to the F1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. And what a fantastic weekend it was! As first-timers at going to an F1 race weekend, I thought we did a good job. Considering that the sport itself is worth a few billion, it makes sense that the prices were awfully high for most everything – the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team hat that I bought cost me a week’s wages, and the little 6″ personal pizza was $4.00 more expensive than the local Texas wine at the concessions, we did a good job at that ever present necessity known as “money management”.
The grand prix weekend itself began on Friday with Free Practices 1 and 2 (FP1 & FP2 for short).
The first of the two was delayed by about an hour because of heavy fog in Greater Austin, covering the circuit and downtown alike, which made it impossible for the medical helicopter to travel between the venue, Circuit of the Americas, and the local hospital where causalities as my British and Irish friends would say (injured people in American English) would be taken. It was a fairly sensible problem, though I rather liked the fog, and wouldn’t have minded if cloud cover remained throughout the weekend. However, the fog lifted, and the Texas sun began to shine, thus the necessity for purchasing that hat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice hat, quite good at keeping my face out of the sun, though it does mean that I’m advertising for Vodafone whenever I wear it, which is a slight problem as my UK mobile is with O2. Of course, since the 2013 F1 season has ended as of this past Sunday, Vodafone is dropping its’ naming sponsorship of McLaren Mercedes.
Our tickets were for the bleachers at Turn 12, at the end of the long straightaway that starts at Turn 11 with the DRS zone. Approaching our corner down the straight, the cars were travelling at around 200 mph (321 km/h), however to make the hairpin turn at our corner they had to decelerate to around 65 mph (104 km/h) . For the first day or so we saw more of the Catheram’s and Marussia’s than any other team. However, as the practise sessions ran down and the qualifying sessions commenced, the Red Bulls, Ferraris, Lotuses and McLarens appeared in full glory. From the hairpin at Turn 12, the drivers have to make a u-turn up at 13 and again at 14 before going around 15 and into the wider turn around the base of the observation tower, which leads into the latter turns and the starting grid.
One of the major highlights of the weekend was getting to see one of my favourite drivers, Mark
Webber, on his penultimate Formula One weekend as a driver. Not only is he a fantastic man, no matter what the luck may say, but he is also a fine driver. I’ve enjoyed watching him race for Red Bull more than his now-former teammate, 4 time champion Sebastian Vettel, because Webber has seemed, since I first starting watching F1 3 years ago during the Belgian GP, a sort of everyman of F1. He has been a driver that everyone from the English-speaking world can relate to, as long as that Australia-New Zealand rivalry doesn’t come into play.
The weekend came to a head with Vettel’s 8th consecutive win, which further secured his place as 2013 World Champion. Though I have said that I have preferred Webber to Vettel, it would be foolish of me to pass by Vettel without giving him praise for what he has accomplished. And on top of that, the fellow has shown his humility in interviews and over the team radio. He is truly a master at F1, at driving that awesome Adrian Newey creation that is the RB9. This is truly a historic time in the world of motorsport, and I’m honoured and amazed to say that for 3 days I was able to see the fastest man in the world express those terrific talents in person.
If you have a chance to go down to Austin in 2014, I’d highly recommend doing it. Though our
seats were at Turn 12, I also enjoyed standing on the berm just opposite the pit lane exit at Turn 1 and also from the berm at the base of the observation tower. Our Turn 12 tickets for Sunday were US$249 per person, whilst the local NBC morning news programme said that Sunday general admission tickets were around US$79 per person. Or, if you’re looking at going posh, I heard from a Ferrari owner on the bus that a weekend pass to the Ferrari club was in the US$4,000 range. They also had a couple of other nicer venues from whence to watch the Grand Prix, including a Legends Club, where such notables as Sir Jackie Stewart and Al Pacino were seen on Sunday. Someday, after I win my Oscar, I’ll look into one of the main grandstand seats. Though by that point I’ll be living in the UK, so Silverstone it is.