Quick Post: Driver Shuffle has begun!

Well, just like we expected! With 7 weekends left in the season, drivers and teams are already making the shuffle for 2014. Two weeks ago we learned that Daniel Ricciardo would replace ‘Mahk Webbah’ as the #2 Aussie for Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull. Now news has just broken that Felipe Massa will no longer be wearing red next year, as Ferrari announces they have signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2014 and ’15 to drive aside Fernando Alonso. Both drivers express their interest to work together, but can’t you already see the sparks flying? This marks the second time that Ferrari has ever employed too world champion drivers (previously Nino Farina and Alberto Ascari in 1953).

Raikkonen will vacate his seat at Lotus, which may give Massa a chance to stay with a top team, but more importantly… in Formula 1 at all. Ferrari has been candid of their approval and comments of Massa, however his performance has been lacking over the past few seasons. His last race win came all the way back in 2008 at his home grand prix, Brazil. More than likely, that new seat will be offered to an up-and-coming driver… who better than Nico Hulkenberg, who hasn’t had the best experience at Sauber.

We’ll see how things play out in the next few weeks. Who is the next to jump ship? Grosjean? Button? More to come in Singapore…

Vettel Wins in Italy, Midfielders Shine

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - RaceWith yet another big points haul for Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull driver puts himself further and further in the lead for his 4th consecutive world title, a title that very few fans at Monza are hoping for. The Tifosi Ferrari fans came out in droves to don their red caps and support the Scuderia as Fernando Alonso clung to a second spot on the podium, followed by Mark Webber in third, and the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa in fourth.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a Vettel fan. He’s clearly one of the best drivers on the grid, but he doesn’t have those likable faults that so many other drivers and teams possess. That being said, I think we’re starting to see a new Vettel, and honestly I don’t mind him. To make the comparison, this repeat world champion is becoming less ’92 Nigel Mansell… and more ’92 Ayrton Senna. More to come on this.

The biggest news of the Italian Grand Prix comes from the midfield once again, with some very impressive and upsetting performances. The young drivers of 2013 keep becoming the talking point as already we’ve had the huge team swap of Daniel Ricciardo in for the retiring Mark Webber. As we progress into the end of the season, we should see more and more For Sale signs popping up as drivers wish to shuffle the cards in expectation of top team #2 drives and the daunting rule changes for 2014, but back to the youngsters…

Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg may have possibly made the most important drive of his career in Italy today. Following a staggering P3 slot in qualifying, Hulkenberg held onto a fifth place finish that made his driver equity value skyrocket. Not only did he keep his Sauber on the pace behind the Red Bulls and Ferraris, he held off the major players from Mercedes, Lotus, and McLaren as well. Out of the mid level runners, I’d say Hulkenberg will be the next to find a top seat. Two spots behind him was Ricciardo in his Toro Rosso, undoubtedly putting on a drive to show he’s worth his new gig at Red Bull. Jean-Eric Vergne, Ricciardo’s teammate and another mid level runner fell out of the race early with a transmission issue. Earlier this week he discussed his unhappiness with being snubbed the Red Bull seat as he had been one point higher in the driver’s standings.

In an event common in the past few races, Force India’s Paul di Resta retired after an incident following turn one, lap one. di Resta locked the tires into turn two, and slid into the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, causing his left front wheel to come off. Bad luck seems to follow di Resta like a shadow, and whether it actually is luck or a bit of inexperience, he keeps proving that he can make dominant race decisions among Force India management gaffes. Remember his overtaking in Monaco, 17th to 9th… on the toughest street circuit in the world? He repeated with a 17th to 7th drive in Canada following another team qualifying issue, and then again in the UK from 21st to 9th. di Resta will be another driver to watch, maybe this year as there is a possibility for major team swaps, but definitely next year as he settles into the F1 drive.

Felipe Massa extends his no-win streak in the Ferrari after finishing just off the podium. Massa’s last win was in Brazil… in 2008. Rumors mount regarding Massa’s future employment by the Scuderia, and he’s responded by announcing that he will not drive at a second rate team. This could produce an excellent opportunity for Hulkenberg, di Resta, or Adrian Sutil to make the jump.

Back to the controversial comment I made before. Is Vettel one of the best (if not the best) drivers on the grid? Yes. Does he have the best car on the grid? Oh yes. Is this season changing him as a driver? I believe so. I think Vettel has been grounded by this season. He’s had some super runs of speed and has surely secured the title, but his legacy will be in question. Vettel is alone, undoubtedly distanced from fans (hence the boos and jeers) and no one wants to see this man succeed. I think next year will be pivotal in how the history of F1 looks back on the career of one Sebastian Vettel. He will need a points struggle and some adversity to get his reputation as a fighter back to where it was after races like Italy 2008. It’s obvious Vettel knows his advantages and fans will need to see a Senna-like struggle (’92) in order to regain their respect for the dominant German. Nobody likes to see a blowout on repeat for years. We certainly don’t need another Schumacher era.

Rumors mount amidst sleepy Win

Daniel+Ricciardo+F1+Jerez+Previews+B3KJrkXulxwlLocking another win away this season, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel strengthens his points lead on second place man Fernando Alonso, albeit amongst telltale “boos” signaling that nobody wants a fourth Vettel championship this year. Vettel cements his second Belgian Grand Prix win, as well as the notion that the German national anthem will end about three different times before it actually does. To round off the podium is Mercedes‘ pole sitter Lewis Hamilton.

All teams kept an eye to the sky on Sunday with dark clouds circling a remarkably dry track at Spa-Francorchamps. From start to finish we saw a remarkably unexciting display of dominance from the Red Bull of Vettel. Following turn two Vettel made his only move of the race by passing Hamilton, walking to an easy win over the next 43 laps. The comparisons to Michael Schumacher’s decade of dominance should be ever present in 2013, as the 2014 rule change seems to be the only thing that will bring racing back to… uhh… racing?

Nico Rosberg returned to pace at fourth position, following his poor result in Hungary last month. Mark Webber finished his last Formula One outing at Spa with fifth. Impressively, McLaren returns to the points with a surprising sixth position from Jenson Button. It seems the summer break has indeed brought some development to the weak performance of this historic team. Button started the race on a daring one stop strategy, pitting on lap 17 and attempting to run the last half on the hard compound. Rather oddly, McLaren reneged their strategy in favor of a two stop on the option tire.

Felipe Massa fell well behind his Ferrari teammate in seventh position with another vanilla performance for the Scuderia. Allegedly with only one race left to display his talents, the Ferrari veteran inches closer and closer to the door. Filling out the top ten is recently new parent Romain Grosjean for Lotus in eighth, the solitary Force India of Adrian Sutil in ninth, and a grinning Daniel Ricciardo for Toro Rosso.

Two big name retirements came Sunday, with brake failure for Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen and another stroke of bad luck for Paul di Resta. Coming into view of the pit lane, Williams‘ Pastor Maldonado made a foolish dash to the pit, turning right into the side of the Force India, leaving di Resta once again in poor standing after an electric qualifying the day prior.

Off the track, speculation and badmouthing are starting to mount regarding the possibility of a large driver shuffle between teams. Rumors point to young Daniel Ricciardo as the replacement for Mark Webber at season’s end. No official press release has been issued, but Ricciardo seemed a little too happy at day’s end for his tenth position finish. Button threw his name into the fray, mentioning that he may not finish his Formula One career at McLaren amid a tumultuous season.

So what to expect for Monza in two weeks? Ferrari should be very quick following great improvement by Alonso. Mercedes remains right in the thick of things with Hamilton and Rosberg, but realistically it will take a miracle for any driver to steal this championship away from Sebastian Vettel, who now holds his biggest points lead – ever. 2014 can’t come soon enough. See you in two weeks.

Hamilton tops Qualifying in Spa

450893-lewis-hamiltonA month’s time has passed since our Sunday mornings have held such excitement. The mandatory Formula One summer break has finally ended and we couldn’t be more excited to see what the second half of 2013 holds. If you’re just joining us, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel has walked out to an early mid-season points lead, but don’t give up hope on a new world champion just yet. Yesterday’s free practice and today’s qualifying show a new trend.

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton make good on summer promises with pole position Saturday, with a stunning show in Q3. With only seconds left on an already soaking Spa Circuit, Hamilton edges out pole from Vettel, pushing Mark Webber to third position and Nico Rosberg to fourth. Performance was stunning due to the conditions, but more remarkable was the tenacity of Force India’s Paul di Resta. Qualifying has been downright poor for di Resta this season, but after nudging his way into Q3, di Resta made the boldly started on the Intermediate compound – among a field buttoned up in dry tires. The tactic worked, cementing pole position for most of the Q3 duration, to be slid back to fifth as the clock ran out, tying di Resta’s best starting position.

Stroke of good luck or real progress in Woking? You decide. Jenson Button put his McLaren in sixth position following some good and bad practices this weekend. Perhaps McLaren has improved the car, but we suspect it’s just Button working at the limit. Remember, he won this race last year.

Rounding out the top ten are the Lotuses of Grosjean and Raikkonen, followed by the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa. Massa allegedly has been given his two-race ultimatum – perform or close the door on Ferrari. Stay tuned for a recap of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix at historic Spa Francorchamps.

Record-breaker in Hungary

F1-Grand-Prix-of-Hungary-Practice-2093448With near-record high temperatures in Budapest on Sunday, the stage was set for some exciting racing at the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix. MercedesLewis Hamilton walked away with his fourth win in Hungary, tying the winning record of F1 legend Michael Schumacher and surpassing the total number of laps lead, previously held by Ayrton Senna. Hamilton gained his first win of the season, braking a stale 10-race slump since his last win in Austin, Texas. The second Mercedes however was not so lucky. Nico Rosberg retired with an engine fire just 6 laps from the finish, after falling off the pace early on following contact with Romain Grosjean.

Grosjean once again showcased his talents as a young driver. The Frenchman held a top three position throughout the first half of the race until a questionable drive thru penalty set him back to finish 6th. Lotus‘ recovered a podium finish with Kimi Raikkonen, who finished second on the podium, despite Raikkonen qualifying three places behind Grosjean.

Rounding out the podium was Sebastian Vettel, who managed to maintain his points lead in lieu of an undoubtedly challenging race. Vettel battled a damaged front wing as well as KERS failure, identical to the issue which ended Mark Webber‘s Saturday qualifying. Webber rebounded from tenth position on the grid to finish just off the podium in fourth place.

Onto Ferrari, the Scuderia finishes with both drivers in the points: Fernando Alonso at fifth, Felipe Massa at 8th. Both cars seemed to be aggressive but neither could compete with the speed of Red Bull or Lotus. Is it a step back for Ferrari? Definitely not – the team has been hot and cold since Monaco and Sunday’s race builds upon Alonso’s German Grand Prix efforts.

In a strange turn of events, McLaren seem to have recovered quite a lot of speed following the new tire specifications. The Woking-based constructor finished with both cars in scoring position: 7th for Jenson Button and 9th for Sergio Perez. The tire strategy seems questionable to say the least (starting on Mediums then to Softs), but this is the best result we’ve seen from them so far this season. Force India was not so lucky today. Both of its cars were retired, Adrian Sutil very early on after a hydraulic issue and Paul di Resta with only 3 laps to go. Pastor Maldonado finishes 10th, collecting Williams’ first championship point of the season.

Rumors persist surrounding who will be appointed to the Red Bull #2 spot, vacated by Mark Webber at the end of the season. Red Bull has said that Toro Rosso‘s Jean-Eric Vergne is no longer in contention, which leaves the battle between Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo. Raikkonen topped Red Bull’s #1 man today, however Ricciardo fell from 8th on the grid to 13th at race end. Does the young Aussie have the legs to keep up with the front-runners? We think so.

Constructors will close up shop for two weeks, unable to work on the cars at all over this duration. So as they rest up for summer holiday, we hope you do as well!

There’s Monsters in the Glen

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(more pictures below)

The clock reads 7:29 AM as I pull up to the entrance, but already the beasts have awoken. These creatures have huge wings, howl like Banshees, and spit fire, but you need not look for them in the pages of a fantasy novel. No, these monsters are very much alive, and their presence means only one things – it’s race weekend at Watkins Glen.

This past Fourth of July weekend, the Sports Car Club of America hosted the Majors Super Tour at Watkins Glen International. The race marked the end of the Eastern Conference Majors schedule; a tour encompassing a 12 race series and boy was it one to remember. Clear blue skies made for terrific conditions for drivers to squeeze every last second out of their cars as they screamed around this historic upstate circuit.

Rising above Seneca Lake, “the Glen” has been home to full throttle road racing since 1948, when Cameron Argetsinger organized a twenty-three car race around the outskirts of town, which became the first American road race since the end of World War II. Following a slew of accidents, the town built an official track in 1956, and has held numerous forms of racing since such as NASCAR, IndyCar, Trans-Am, and at it’s pinnacle – Formula One. The Glen served as home of the United States Grand Prix from 1961 to 1980, revered by many as they heyday of Formula One.

Just walking around the circuit was a case of sensory overload. At every turn I could smell that unmistakable whiff of cooked brakes, burnt rubber, and the sting of race fuel. And what a symphony of motorsport! Every ensemble filled the park, with the low bark from the American V8s, the whine from Formula-style cars, the wail of a rotary Mazda, and crackle from carbureted classics. It was truly a wide-eyed, grinning ear-to-ear kind of day.

DSC_0568I caught up with Gary Hutchinson, a driver in the C Sports Racer category, who gave some advice for amateur drivers looking to compete at the Majors level of the SCCA. “Keep pursuing coaching, no matter what level you’re at.” Hutchinson has raced in BMW sedans for over 9 years before climbing into his new track day racer, a black and red Radical SR3. “People lose races by hundredths of a second, a good instructor can help you drop a few tenths – or maybe even a few seconds – in one session.”

This 2013 season also marks the inaugural year of SCCA Majors racing. The trend of the increasing number of events on the Nationals club racing calendar has contributed to fewer and fewer cars entered in each race event, which has lead the SCCA to introduce the Majors class. This class embodies the highest level of sports car racing, bringing the best of the best together to compete at the ultimate level of wheel to wheel racing in the SCCA. But don’t worry, although the Nationals and Majors race events may overlap and combine at some venues – the points gained in both are attributed to their own individual standings. National events will score points for Divisional and National Championships, while Majors points will dictate standings within the four US Majors Conferences (Eastern, Mid-States, Northern, and Western).

Although this new adjustment to the SCCA hierarchy will take some time to adopt fully, seemingly the racers couldn’t be happier. We saw lots of full heats, close racing from front-runners and between stragglers, plus lots of great bring-what-you-got racers. Not everyone in the field is going to score points, but for these guys – getting to show off their cars and lay down their best laps is the real trophy at days end. So if you’ve got a Miata (nearly every driver did – there must have been over 100) or have even the slightest inkling of interest for motor racing, come on down to Watkins Glen and check out an event!

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Vettel wins at home, Lotus excites!

vettel-german-gpThis weekend the F1 calendar took us to James May’s favorite place in the world… the Nurburgring, and what a race it was. Luckily we were spared from the Pirelli fireworks of the British GP as a new kevlar banded tire construction was used. No blowouts were a plus, especially since this drivers statement came out just before practice began. With tire tensions mounting, the weight was on Pirelli this weekend, and they delivered.

Lewis Hamilton looked good in qualifying to edge out the boys and put the Mercedes on pole, but thats about the extent of his dominance. Off the start the W04 was swarmed by the ever dominant Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber. Hamilton slowly made his way back to 5th at the end of lap 60. Sebastian Vettel finally takes a win at his home Grand Prix, but you get the sense that nobody really cared. Just a few weeks ago Vettel’s winning comments were cut short by exuberant Canadian’s chanting “A-LON-SO, A-LON-SO!”

Fernando Alonso put his Ferrari in 4th place thanks to tire strategy. Felipe Massa had another good start, but spun into the gravel and retired early. Mark Webber looked to be in good shape until a catastrophic accident occurred in the pits. Webber’s RB9 was released before his rear right tire was securely fastened and the tire broke free, impacting a cameraman. Thanks to a lengthy safety car, Webber fought his way back from last up to 7th. All the talk is about who will replace Webber at Red Bull, but Ferrari must be accepting CVs for Massa’s spot already this season. Maranello can’t be pleased with his performance.

And now the elephant in the corner. Lotus made a terrific showing on Sunday, locking out the second two podium slots (Kimi Raikkonen followed by Romain Grosjean). Whether it was down to the tires or midseason tweaking, the two E21’s looked mighty quick bearing down on the lead Red Bull. Even Vettel admitted “I’m very happy that the race ended after 60 laps and not 61 or 62.” Raikkonen closes the points gap between Alonso to 7.

McLaren begins to show some signs of life after finishing 6th and 8th (Jenson Button and Sergio Perez), largely in part to stellar driving. It looks like the days are numbered for Button at McLaren. Wonder how he’d fit in as Sebastian’s #2?

Oh yeah, Bianchi’s Marussia was on fire and rolled back across the track. Make’s you wonder what is going on in that factory…