Sunday, June 22, 2014

Massa Leads Surprise Williams Front Row Qualifying Performance in Austria

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service

After 11 years off the Formula 1 schedule, the open wheel series returns as a radically different venue. Still set on a 4.236-kilometer track as was the 2003 grand prix, the name has been changed from the A-1 Ring to the Red Bull Ring and the facility has underwent a host of enhancements.

Back in 2003, the Formula 1 racing tour was a seen where V-10 engines roared, Red Bull Racing didn't even exist and racing great Michael Schumacher was adding to what would be a career of record-breaking performances. A season that ended with a championship point standing where Schumacher won by just two points over then-McLaren driver Kimi Raikkonen, the German driver's Austrian Grand Prix victory ultimately that year served as an important piece to a his sixth of seven world drivers' titles.

This era was also the last recent period where the Williams F1 Team was a formidable front-runner in Formula 1 competition. Winning four races in 2003, the Frank Williams-founded race organization has only won two times over the course of the grand prix events held from 2004 to this season. Fighting to find the right combination of drivers, engines and support, the Williams Martini Racing team appears to have struck upon a possible podium-contending match for 2014. Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas have been making the most out of a solid car and a competent Mercedes-Benz powerplant in several races so far this season. Returning to the former A-1 Ring in Austria, the Williams Martini Racing team may channeled their past magic in Formula 1 to top everyone else in Saturday's qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Williams-Mercedes cars led a progressive surge in the three practice sessions at the Red Bull Ring. By the third and final practice session, Valtteri Bottas stood at the top of the time sheet while his highly-experienced teammate Felipe Massa was tightly nestled posting the third-fastest time. It was in qualifying where the seasoned Brazilian driver rose to deliver a commanding performance. Felipe Massa pulled off a Q3 timed lap of 1 minute, 8.769 seconds to grab his 16th career pole position and his first since the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. As a plus for Williams Martini Racing, Valtteri Bottas was less than a tenth of a second off Massa's fastest lap allowing him to start in second. The first pole for Williams since 2012, the presence of both cars on the front row has not been seen since 2003 at the German Grand Prix.

Photo Credit: Andrew Hone/ Pirelli Photo Service

While the Saturday time trial session glory belonged to the Mercedes-Benz customer team in Austria, the factory team has been celebrating for the most race weekends this Formula 1 season. The Mercedes AMG team remains fast but has appeared a little more fallible since the Canadian Grand Prix race two weeks ago. Nico Rosberg posted the third-fastest time in a session that saw the Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid race car dethroned from the top spot after grand prix qualifying this season. As for the Mercedes AMG driver Lewis Hamilton, his Q3 session was marred with mishaps. Making two attempts, Hamilton would ultimately have to scrub both runs spinning in the second run. The Brit will start in ninth place.

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

Qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix also served a mixed bag for Ferrari and Red Bull Racing. Winless since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, Ferrari and Fernando Alonso are still trying to find the final ingredient of consistent, front-running speed. Alonso posted a fourth-fastest time on Saturday but Kimi Raikkonen could only muster an eighth place starting position. Capturing their first 2014 win at the previous grand prix, The Red Bull-Renault's victory came just in time for the event on the Red Bull Ring. Red Bull Racing has been led by the team's newcomer Daniel Ricciardo through much of the season. Austrian Grand Prix qualifying at the team owner's home event has continued to result in the Australian outrunning his championship defending teammate. Ricciardo will start fifth Sunday while Sebastian Vettel missed the Q3 session for a third time this season settling for a 12th place grid position.      

Formula 1 rookies for 2014 Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat posted impressive times on the Red Bull Ring for respectable Sunday grid spots. The McLaren-Mercedes of Magnussen will start sixth while the Kvyat's Toro Rosso-Renault will roll-off seventh. Nico Hulkenberg will start tenth for the Austrian Grand Prix for Force India.

With a forecast calling for a warm and sunny Austrian Grand Prix, 71 laps around the Red Bull Ring is scheduled to commence at 2 PM local time and 8 AM eastern time.

2014 Formula 1
Austrian Grand Prix
Starting Grid

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
2 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
3 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
4 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari
5 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
6 22 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Mercedes-Benz
7 26 Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
8 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
9 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
10 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
11 22 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes-Benz
12 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault
13 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Renault
14 25 Jean-Eric Vergne Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
15 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault
16 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
17 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber Ferrari
18 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari
19 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari
20 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham Renault
21 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham Renault
22 4 Max Chilton Marussia Ferrari

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A First for Ricciardo: Red Bull Driver Wins Canadian Grand Prix

Photo Credit: Infiniti F1 Racing

Entering the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, the 2014 Formula 1 season was dominated by the Mercedes AMG team in the previous six events. Winning every grand prix before arriving in Canada, Mercedes AMG drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have paired up to accomplish a feat that proved unaccustomed to the sights of modern Formula 1 fans. The last time a single team won the first six races to start a season was in 1988 when the legendary Formula 1 pilots Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna took victory driving a McLaren-Honda for what ultimately turned out to be 11 races. Posting top speeds on Friday practice and Saturday qualifying, the Mercedes AMG cars appeared in destined to close in on the near-impossible accomplishment of 26 years ago. 70 laps around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve would be Mercedes AMG's next challenge to see if the German team could repel rivals once-again.

Completing another one-two qualifying effort for the Silver Arrows, the pole-sitting car of Nico Rosberg sat alongside Lewis Hamilton. On the start, Rosberg stormed into turn one and through the Virage Senna. However, Hamilton's launch was a little more jerky as he was forced to brake early allowing the third place-starting Red Bull-Renault of Sebastian Vettel to take the second spot.

After triumphing with their first-ever grand prix points in Monaco, the Marussia team's race in Montreal lasted for only a few corners. Drivers Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi collided with each other ending their races with severely crippled cars. The two early retirements of the Marussia cars would define the tone of the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix as Chilton and Bianchi would be the first of many vehicles not making it the full 70-lap distance around the 4.361-kilometer track on Sunday. By the end of the Canadian Grand Prix, a total of 11 cars failed to cross the start-finish line. Totaling half of the race entries, the list would also include a list of reputable race contenders.

When the race resumed on lap 7, the second Mercedes AMG car of Lewis Hamilton immediately sought to dispense of the second-place running Red Bull-Renault. On lap 10, Hamilton flew by Sebastian Vettel allowing the Silver Arrows to once-again take a customary position in the top-two spots for a 2014 grand prix race. Battles on track heated up early as the fast stretches gave the new turbocharged V-6 Formula 1 engines plenty of room to rev up to full song. The hard braking corners also provided the benefit of recharged the electrical components found in the modern Formula 1 car's powertrains. Combined with the DRS zones along the Casino Straight and the front starting stretch, the Canadian Grand Prix remained a tense but exciting challenge for drivers. The early yellow also gave teams the confidence to race without concerns to save fuel.

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

In addition to the Mercedes AMG and Red Bull Racing cars showing the way near the front of the Canadian Grand Prix field, the Williams Martini Racing team were holding their own early as Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas drove another competitive race in this 2014 Formula 1 season. Last year, the team raced in Montreal without scoring a single race point. So far in 2014, the Williams Martini Racing team had 52 points before taking to the grid at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

As the race progressed the majority of teams utilized a two-stop strategy that saw most Formula 1 runners entering the pits for the first time between laps 11 and 19. The only team gambling on a difficult pit schedule was the Force India team. With both cars qualifying outside of the top-10 on Saturday, the Mercedes-powered race machines driven by Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg addressed their pit service crews only a single time apiece. Hulkenberg was the latest one to pit after spending 41 laps on track on soft compound Pirelli tires.

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service

Fielding the first and second placed cars at the halfway point of the race, Mercedes AMG was enjoying another dream weekend as the main battle on track in Montreal was between Rosberg and Hamilton. However, it was passed the midpoint of the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix where some of the first signs of vulnerability appeared amongst the Mercedes AMG race machines. During lap 36 and 37, the cars of both leader Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton experienced a loss of propulsion. While Rosberg would be able to soldier on in his car, the #44 machine of Lewis Hamilton would be retired shortly after it started trailing smoke. The problem later attributed to the high-voltage electronic component failure among the MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic) of the Mercedes AMG PETRONAS F1 W05's energy recovery system.

In the late stage of the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg remained in the race's lead but was hardly comfortable as contenders were breathing close-by with their carbon fiber noses. Sergio Perez was vaulted into a podium spot through a daring pit stop strategy engineered by his Force India team. Stopping only once on lap 34, Perez had second place in the running order with 10 laps to go. However, the brakes and the tires on the Force India-Mercedes were beginning to surrender to the Mexican driver. While Sergio Perez was able to keep close contact with leader Nico Rosberg, the top-5 cars were tight through the final laps. By lap 66, Daniel Ricciardo snuck by the Force India car for the second place and promptly set a course towards Rosberg with only four laps remaining. With the Mercedes AMG car apparently weakened by issues with its hybrid drive system, Ricciardo's hard charge netted a big award with two laps remaining. On lap 69, the Red Bull-Renault of Ricciardo out-powered the Mercedes AMG car in front of the front spectator's grandstands.  

The final lap of the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix consisted of a scary moment resulting from a battle for fourth place. With Sergio Perez defending track position in the last turn around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, he was fending off a charge from the Williams-Mercedes of Felipe Massa. Along the start-finish stretch, Massa had gained a powerful run on Perez. Heading into turn one, Sergio Perez's Force India-Mercedes slightly weaved in front of the fast-approaching Williams-Mercedes. Resulting in contact, both cars of Massa and Perez were sent into the turn one barriers at high speeds. The impact was said to register up to 27Gs when Sergio Perez hit the wall. After a brief medical stay, Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez were discharged without major injuries from the crash. After the race, Formula 1 ruled that the accident was the fault of Perez and will move the Mexican driver back five places in qualifying at the next race in Austria.

Under a safety car period, Daniel Ricciardo sailed across the checkered flag to take his very first Formula 1 race win. Progressing from the Toro Rosso team last year, Ricciardo's potential was seen as worthy enough to be paired with reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel for 2014 as fellow Australian Mark Webber ventured back to sports car racing. Missing out on a podium finish in his first event with Red Bull Racing due to a fuel use issue in Australia, Ricciardo remained steady during the 2014 Formula 1 season to the point he earned the first-place and the accolades that came with hoisting the Canadian Grand Prix winner's trophy. Daniel Ricciado was all smiles at the top of the podium as the Australian national anthem rang over the Montreal track. The spectators who watched all 70 laps of the Canadian Grand Prix were resoundingly pleased with the exciting end and the crowning of the race's 2014 champion. The win was the first for Red Bull Racing this season and the first for a Renault powerplant.

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service 

After leading much of the race, Nico Rosberg settled with a second-place finish. "Towards the end of the race, I tried to defend against Sergio which was fine but Daniel was too fast on the straights with much more power than I had available and he was able to get past. With so much going on, I had to ask my engineer where I finished at the end as I thought I was probably about fifth or sixth. I was so happy to hear that I was in P2!" said Rosberg regarding his late race issues. The runner-up result aided the German in building his lead in the season-long drivers' standings to 140 markers overall. Following the results of the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg's lead is 22 points over teammate Lewis Hamilton. 

Before the Massa/Perez crash, Sebastian Vettel had raced around the Force India-Mercedes for the third and final podium spot. Vettel also narrowly missed being collected in the turn one wreck on the final lap. The defending Canadian Grand Prix winner is still trying to regain his championship form he had shown over the past fourth Formula 1 seasons. Scoring only his second podium in 2014, Vettel is currently outpaced by his Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the Drivers' standings after seven races.

Outside of the podium, some quiet but productive outings for Jensen Button, Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso allowed the trio to inherit fourth through sixth place. Unlike last year's race day disappointment after a solid qualifying effort on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Williams driver Valtteri Bottas parlayed his qualifying success into a seventh place spot in the final running order. Jean-Eric Vergne, Kevin Magnussen and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top-10 in the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix.

The last race for on the 2014 Formula 1 tour is a return to Austria. A return to a track now-called the Red Bull Ring, the Austrian Grand Prix is set for June 22nd.

2014 Formula 1
Canadian Grand Prix
Race Result

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault
4 22 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes-Benz
5 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
6 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari
7 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
8 25 Jean-Eric Vergne Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
9 22 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Mercedes-Benz
10 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
11 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
12 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
13 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber Ferrari
14 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari
15 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault
16 26 Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
17 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
18 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham Renault
19 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Renault
20 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham Renault
21 4 Max Chilton Marussia Ferrari
22 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Rosberg Flies the Mercedes Flag in Canadian Grand Prix Qualifying

Photo Credit: Andrew Hone/ Pirelli

Two weeks after another memorable running of the Monaco Grand Prix, the enthusiasm of the 22-car 2014 Formula 1 season has jumped over the Atlantic Ocean. The first stop in North America for 2014, the Canadian Grand Prix held on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve provides an interesting combination of long, high-speed stretches and heavy braking areas.

The 4.361-kilometer track's now regular June date is typically a point in the Formula 1 season where the have and have-not teams are aware of where they stand on the grid. While the historically strong but under-performing teams for 2014 such as Ferrari and McLaren will be re-evaluating their efforts for a more productive season moving forward, the Mercedes AMG team is at the top of the Formula 1 world entering the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix race weekend.

While Fernando Alonso topped the first practice session on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Friday, the Mercedes AMG race cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were in hot pursuit. Just 0.016 seconds off the pace of the Ferrari in the first practice, British driver Hamilton posted a 1-minute, 16.118-second to dominate Friday warm-ups. Ahead of Saturday qualifying, Hamilton bettered his own time by more than half a second in a morning session.

Lewis Hamilton parlayed his speed in practice into strong performance in Q1 and Q2 time trial sessions on Saturday. Fellow Mercedes AMG pilot Nico Rosberg kept up appearances during the first two stages of qualifying being third fastest in Q1 and second-quickest in Q2. Mercedes-Benz teams also presented some encouraging performance during Canadian Grand Prix qualifying. Kevin Magnussen posted a second-fastest time in Q1, the rookie driver wound-up 12th on the grid after a less impressive Q2 run. Magnussen's teammate and 2011 Canadian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button will start ninth in his McLaren-Mercedes. The second Mercedes-Benz customer time to showing strength on Saturday was Williams Martini Racing. Valtteri Bottas and his more experienced teammate Felipe Massa posted some strong times throughout qualifying. After Q3, Bottas is starting fourth while Massa is placed in a solid fifth place position. Last year in Canadian Grand Prix time trials, then-rookie driver Valtteri Bottas qualified third but fell quickly over the course of the grand prix. With a year of Formula 1 driving under his belt and a Williams car that his appeared better than the 2013 version, could put together a better run.

When qualifying wrapped, the factory Mercedes AMG team enjoyed the victors. However, despite holding the advantage in the conclusion of the first two qualifying sessions, Lewis Hamilton would be bested by his German teammate. Posting a 1-minute, 14.874-second lap time in Q3, Nico Rosberg captured pole. While Hamilton attempted to take the pole position in the late portion of the final time trial session, his Mercedes AMG race car was 0.079 seconds off the mark. Holding a slim four point advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton heading into the Canadian Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg have conceivably declared full-scale war against the 2014 Formula 1 field that includes, most provocatively, his fellow Mercedes AMG driver. 

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

Taking third place in qualifying on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the Red Bull-Renault of Sebastian Vettel broke a dominating session among Mercedes-Benz propelled cars. Over half a second off the pace of second-place Lewis Hamilton, Vettel is still searching for his first victory in the 2014 Formula 1 season and arrives at the Canadian Grand Prix as the race's defending winner. The second Red Bull Racing car will start from sixth place on the grid for Sunday's main event.

The 70-lap Canadian Grand Prix is set to start at 2:00 PM Eastern time. The weather forecast calls for a sunny, warm race.

2014 Formula 1
Canadian Grand Prix
Qualifying Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault
4 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
5 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
6 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
7 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari
8 25 Jean-Eric Vergne Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
9 22 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes-Benz
10 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
11 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
12 22 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Mercedes-Benz
13 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
14 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault
15 26 Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
16 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber Ferrari
17 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Renault
18 4 Max Chilton Marussia Ferrari
19 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari
20 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham Renault
21 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham Renault
22 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Marussia Scores Two Points for the Little Guy

Andrew Hone/ Pirelli

As Formula 1 cars are unleashed on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix, one team arrives having unloaded a heavy burden. More than four non-point scoring seasons, the Marussia Formula 1 organization has become a team that is now registered in the actual Constructors’ points standings. With French driver Jules Bianchi’s ninth place finish at the recent race on streets of Monaco. Despite a time penalty for actions committed under a yellow flag that cost the team an eighth place result, Bianchi’s success with scoring two championship points was greatly applauded. It was a long fight for the team that was originally founded in 2010 as Virgin Racing. A feat that was celebrated like a victory for the Marussia F1 team, the path to achieving the Monaco Grand Prix triumph was a long one for not only an individual team but for a plan to reshape the Formula 1 grid.

In 2010, Formula 1 had just gotten off several difficult seasons that saw big automotive names like BMW, Honda and Toyota leave the sport. While economic problems of the time hit the sport like almost every sector of the global landscape, Formula 1 had been reaching a point where team budgets escalated to obscene amounts. Itself a concern where high-ranking teams would attract a great deal of money to field a front-running car, a shocking truth was money did not buy the results many expected for large car companies in Formula 1. Even as the Toyota Racing team possessed the largest operating budget of all Formula 1 teams for several seasons, it did not equate to a victory in any grand prix from 2002 to 2009. Though Honda and BMW won races, both automotive companies left pondering whether they received value for their investment in the sport. For 2010, the series decided to replenish their racing grid by giving four new teams a chance to compete against the established names like McLaren and Ferrari running on a more cost-efficient model.

Supplied with Cosworth V-8 engines and spec transmissions, the four teams would be able to operate on smaller budgets. With numerous applications submitted to be part of Formula 1, the chosen group of new entrants consisted of HRT, Lotus Racing, USF1 Team and Virgin Racing. Of the four teams named to be additions to the 2010 Formula 1 grid, one never performed a competitive lap. The USF1 Team fell apart before the season begun and faded into oblivion. The three active teams were readied for the 2010 season and failed to score points. HRT spent three seasons in Formula 1 but soon buckled under the financial pressures.

While the top-10 proved elusive for the Lotus Racing and Virgin Racing, eventful management restructuring also saw the teams change greatly over five seasons. Entered as Lotus Racing and initially existing at arms-length from the British sports car brand, personalities clashed between the two entities. In 2011, when Lotus Racing announced they were going to run under the historically significant “Team Lotus” banner, Lotus officially re-entered Formula 1 through a partnership with the Renault Formula 1 organization. After some rather public sparring matches, Team Lotus renamed itself Caterham (related to a car company team owner Tony Fernandes purchased during the 2011 season). Up until the Monaco Grand Prix, it was widely speculated the Caterham F1 Team would have been more likely to score Formula 1 points ahead of Marussia.

Operating as Virgin Racing through the 2010 season, Russian sports car company Marussia Motors bought into the team in 2011. Since 2012, the group has competed at the Marussia F1 Team with drivers Timo Glock and Charles Pic. In 2013, the team signed Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton who were both graduates from GP2 competition. Posting a season-best effort of 13th place in the Malaysian Grand Prix with Bianchi and a 14th with Chilton in Monaco, Marussia F1 Team chose to keep their driver line-up intact for 2014. Switching from Cosworth to Ferrari engine power, the Marussia MR03 demonstrated itself as one of the most formidable vehicles the team has produced to date. After years of being in a somewhat bizarre class fight with Caterham, Marussia showed strength against some of the moderate teams in Formula 1. After Max Chilton recorded a pair of 13th place runs in the first three races of the 2014 season, Jules Bianchi was the driver that pushed the Marussia F1 Team passed the threshold of the top-10 in grand prix results. The point-scoring run came after 83 grand prix events under the Virgin Racing/ Marussia F1 Team banner.

After the ninth place finish in Monaco, Marussia‘s Team Principal John Booth commented on the team website on the effort saying, “Naturally we are overjoyed at today’s result and it is a fantastic reward for all the hard work and determination, not just this year, but over the past four and a bit seasons.” Booth described his team as young and did attribute their success partly to endurance over the other teams.

Now registered in ninth place in the manufacturers’ points standings, the Marussia F1 Team will try to replicate this performance.