McLaren

2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 1

The IMSA WeatherTech Championship fires back into life in 2018 with its longest race kicking off the season. The Rolex 24 is an event that has been growing in stature every year since the American sportscar community merged in 2014. This year the race is set to yet another classic, with arguably its strongest ever field competing tooth and nail for victory.

The race is usually decided by a matter of seconds, and this year twenty high-quality prototype entries will be fighting it out for the victory. There are some off-season driver changes from the top returning teams and some very strong new entries along with a host of top international teams and driving talent descending on Daytona International Speedway this week. Let’s take a look at the prototype entry first.

#2 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ryan Dalziel/Olivier Pla/Scott Sharp

Extreme Speed Motorsport return to IMSA competition this year with another two-car entry. This #2 entry of Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp is returning from last year, but they have a new partner for their Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. Frenchman Olivier Pla is world renowned for being seriously quick in Ligier LMP2 entries, and it was him that set the quickest time for the team at the pre-race Roar Before the 24 tests, although it was still 1.7 seconds off the ultimate pace of the Cadillac’s.

The team appeared to focus on endurance runs throughout the test, with their fastest lap only good enough for 15th overall. All three have plenty of experience of the IMSA series, although the Nissan Ligier DPI will need to be at its best to match the seemingly dominant Cadillac DPI entries. It will be interesting to see if the team can improve their ultimate pace during the race week, with rumours of some team’s sand bagging at the Roar.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Dallara-Cadillac DPI: Filipe Albuquerque/Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi

This #5 Mustang Sampling Action Express entry has proved one of the leading entries in IMSA competition for the past several seasons. They were usurped by Wayne Taylor racing last season, but look to reclaim their crown this year.

On the driving front the team have made a minor change with the Portuguese Audi factory driver Filipe Albuquerque replacing long-term driver Christian Fittipaldi for the full season. Fittipaldi has scaled himself back to NAEC entries only, so for the Rolex 24 at least nothing has changed.

Albuquerque set the cars fastest lap at the test, a 1.36.135, which put him third overall. Since the new rules came into effect last season the Dallara-Cadillac DPI entries have dominated the series, and based on the Roar this doesn’t look likely to change. If the other teams cannot make improvements expect this #5 entry to be fighting it out for the victory amongst the other Cadillac DPI entries, despite attempts from IMSA to peg back the dominant Cadillac’s.

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#6 Acura Team Penske Oreca-Acura DPI: Dane Cameron/Juan-Pablo Montoya/Simon Pagenaud

Team Penske are a giant of American motor racing, and this season have branched out into the IMSA WeatherTech series with a factory Acura DPI programme. The arrival of Penske and Acura is a real coup for the series and has drawn plenty of attention to the Rolex 24.

The team have enjoyed a good winter testing programme, but a 24-hour race for a debut is going to be very difficult. On the driving front the team have lured Dane Cameron away from Action Express, after he shone in the #31 Whelen entry last year. Partnering him for the year is the well-known Juan-Pablo Montoya, who returns to full time racing after losing his Indycar seat last year. Current Penske Indycar racer Simon Pagenaud is the team’s endurance rounds driver and this is a formidable driving trio. A debut victory may be very tough to achieve with a new car that was 1.1s off the fastest laps at the test, but if any team can do it’s Penske.

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#7 Acura Team Penske Oreca-Acura: Helio Castroneves/Ricky Taylor/Graham Rahal

The other Team Penske entry is this #7 car, with both cars proving tough opponents for their rivals. All three drivers in this car completed over 50 laps across the three days of pre-race testing, with Ricky Taylor setting the cars fastest time, although it proved 0.3s off his team mates fastest lap and 1.4 seconds off the pace of the Cadillac DPI entries.

On the driving front the team recruited 2016 champion and undisputed qualifying king Ricky Taylor away from his family Wayne Taylor racing team, to partner Helio Castroneves for the season. Castroneves has called time on a long and decorated Indycar career and although he was in the bottom half of fastest times at the test, expect him to make major improvements every time he gets in the car. Joining the duo for the endurance rounds is fellow Indycar racer Graham Rahal, who completes another top-quality entry in this stacked prototype field.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Dallara-Cadillac DPI: Ryan Hunter-Reay/Jordan Taylor/Renger Van der Zande

The Wayne Taylor racing crew return this year as defending champions after a dominant championship year in 2017. The team won the first five races so return as defending Rolex 24 winners, although this year has seen some changes on the driver front for the team.

Wayne Taylor’s two sons Jordan and Ricky were a dynamic duo for several seasons but have now been split up with elder brother Ricky defecting to the new factory Acura Team Penske entry.  Younger brother Jordan is now partnered for the year by the very quick Dutch driver Renger van der Zande. He set the cars fastest time at the test with a 1.36.481, 0.6 of a second off the fastest lap. Completing the line-up is Indycar racer Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has plenty of Rolex 24 experience with this likely being his best chance of victory. All three drivers set fastest laps within the top seven, which shows that this WTR Cadillac DPI entry once again looks very strong contenders for victory.

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#20 BAR1 Motorsport Riley Mk30-Gibson: Marc Drumwright/Eric Lux/Alex Popow/Tomy Drissi/Brendan Gaughan

Former PC team BAR1 Motorsport have made the step up to the prototype ranks, with the only Riley chassis in the field. The team acquired the ex–Keating Motorsport car and with new evo updates to the car it will be an improvement from a difficult debut season last year.

The team have finalised their driver line-up at the last minute, signing experienced PC runner Marc Drumwright, former PC class champion and PWC front runner Eric Lux, former Rolex 24 front runner Alex Popow, Trans-Am racer  Tomy Drissi and Nascar racer Brendan Gaughan. All five have plenty of experience however the team may struggle to match the ultimate pace with a silver and bronze rated driver crew. Compared to the platinum and gold crews in this class a good result for the team would be a clean run and a top eight finish in class.

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#22 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier-Nissan DPI: Pipo Derani/Johannes van Overbeek/Nicolas Lapierre

This #22 entry is the second Extreme Speed motorsport car entered, and just like their #2 entry has a strong chance of victory this year. The team have proved themselves in IMSA and were winners of the Rolex 24 only two years ago. The team have maximised their Nissan DPI package although they struggled for ultimate pace at the Roar test.

On the driving front the team have a full season pairing of Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek. Derani is returning to the team where he made his name two years ago thanks to blistering pace and van Overbeek brings a wealth of experience to the team. They are joined this year by Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre, a very distinguished prototype racer who has previous experience at the Rolex 24. The team are the most likely team to challenge the Cadillac DPI teams dominance, but may need a pinch of luck along the way if they want overall victory.

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#23 United Autosport Ligier-Gibson: Fernando Alonso/Phil Hanson/Lando Norris

United Autosport go into this race with the highest amount of press attention surrounding them, thanks to the presence of double F1 world champion Fernando Alonso. The Zak Brown affiliated team have used his connections to entice McLaren racer Alonso to the team for his sportscar debut, in likely preparation for a crack at Le Mans 24 Hours victory in the coming years.

United Autosport were front runners in the European Le Mans Series last season, and are amongst an influx of very impressive international one-off entries for this race. Partnering Alonso is young sportscar talent Phil Hanson and single seater racer Lando Norris. Hanson has impressed with the team in the ELMS last year, and Norris claimed the FIA European F3 Championship at his first attempt. Although this is an inexperienced line-up they have enough quality to pressure the Cadillac DPI entries, although they may struggle for ultimate pace with their LMP2 spec Ligier-Gibson.

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#31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Dallara-Cadillac: Felipe Nasr/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Stuart Middleton

This #31 entry is the Whelen backed Action Express entry, and may prove a surprise winner at the Rolex 24. Despite an off-season that has seen some driver changes this crew aced the pre-race Roar test, setting the fastest overall lap and unofficial lap record with a 1.35.806 from Felipe Nasr.

Nasr replaces the departing Dane Cameron in this #31 entry, partnering Eric Curran. The team have also signed Mike Conway and Stuart Middleton to bolster their driver line-up. Nasr is a former F1 racer with Sauber and along with Toyota LMP1 driver Conway they will be the quickest two drivers in this car. Curran brings a wealth of experience and Middleton is the winner of the Whelen Sunoco challenge, which grants the most successful British club racer with this coveted Rolex 24 seat. Whilst Curran and Middleton may lack the last tenth of pace compared with Nasr and Conway with such a strong package this team can absolutely win this race.

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#32 United Autosport Ligier-Gibson: Will Owen/Paul Di Resta/Bruno Senna/Hugo de Sadeleer

This #32 entry may not have the ultimate star power of its sister #23 entry, but the second United Autosport car is another promising one-off entry for the race. The team will be learning the nuances of IMSA racing with every session they complete, and they are a threat to the established order on track.

The team have brought in two high-profile racers in former F1 drivers Paul Di Resta and Bruno Senna. Di Resta is making his sportscar debut but has the talent to adapt well in the car, with Senna being the current LMP2 WEC champion. He set the cars fastest lap at the test, and was just under a second quicker than his team mates. Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer are two young drivers who were very impressive in the European Le Mans series last season. The team lacks in overall IMSA experience but have enough talent to have other teams worried going into the race.

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That wraps up part one of my prototype class preview for the Rolex 24, who are your favourites for victory? Let me know in the comments section below and a very big thank you for reading this article. A final massive thank you must go to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality photos which grace this page. For all the latest motorsport news please visit their website here Motorsport.com . You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and if you liked this article then stay tuned for part two of my preview of the prototype class at the Rolex 24!

Fernando Alonso News A Throwback

It’s not often the motorsport world is collectively left in shock by a piece of news, but that’s exactly what happened this week. Formula One legend Fernando Alonso announced he would miss the Monaco Grand Prix to instead contest the Indianapolis 500. Both races are prestige events in the world of motorsport, and this exciting news shows Alonso is in touch with the history of this sport.

One of the key reasons Alonso gave for wanting to do the race is so he can attempt to win the triple crown of motorsport. He has already won the Monaco GP twice, in 2006 and 2007, and has already made his intention to try to win the Le Mans 24 Hours in the future widely known, therefore the Indianapolis 500 was the only race left to win.

It appears that the initial idea for contesting the race came as a light hearted joke from McLaren executive director Zak Brown about doing Indy together. It appears from here the idea settled and began to grow in the mind of Alonso, before crunch talks at last weekends Chinese Grand Prix solidified the idea.

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Alonso and McLaren exec director Zak Brown at his Indy 500 announcement. Can the Spaniard win first time out? Photo: LAT.

 

Within the Indycar series there appears to have been a lot of support for the idea, with Stefan Wilson parking his own Indy 500 plans to accommodate Alonso, along with huge support from Indycar, Honda and the Andretti Autosport team that will run Alonso on behalf of McLaren. A weird coincidence is that Andretti Autosport team principal Michael Andretti drove for McLaren during the 1993 season.

The reason why this news was so shocking to many motorsport fans is because of the speciality of modern drivers.  In the modern age drivers are usually regimented in one series, especially at the top levels of racing. Whilst it’s not uncommon for drivers to do on-off races like this in other series, that is largely true in Sportscar or American racing rather than F1.

Alonso taking part in this years Indy 500 will make him the first driver to compete in the race and F1 in the same season since Brit cult hero Nigel Mansell halted his Indycar campaign for a late part-season at Williams in 1994. Whilst German driver Nico Hulkenberg surprised the racing world by first confirming and then winning the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours with Porsche, this did not generate as much headlines as Alonso.

24 Hours of Le Mans

Nico Hulkenberg celebrating with teams mates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber in 2015. Photo: Motorsport.com

 

Whilst Indycar has risen in popularity and prestige since the American open wheel reunification in 2008, the series is still no where near its previous popularity of the early 1990’s when Mansell was racing in the series. A lot of shock will have likely been the fact that a lot of people would not have thought Alonso would want to compete in the race. He has not mentioned his dreams of winning the triple crown a lot and no body would have predicted he would miss the Monaco GP to compete in the race.

A big reason why a lot of F1 drivers in the modern era do not compete in other races is because their teams are very regimented in what they allow them to do. Teams worry about another disaster situation such as what happened to Robert Kubica in 2011, where a big rally crash badly injured his hand and effectively forced a early retirement from F1. Many would have thought McLaren would have prevented Alonso from skipping the Monaco race for Indianapolis, but perhaps this is an attempt to appease a man unhappy with the current performance of his McLaren-Honda package.

This news is very exciting for motorsport fans because its a chance to see someone many people call the benchmark driver in F1 compete against the best American open wheel racers. The news will also remind many fans of a bygone era in F1. From the beginning of F1 in 1950 right up until the early 1990’s drivers would routinely add races such as the Le Mans 24 Hours to their F1 schedule.

It was not uncommon for drivers to compete in several different types of car throughout the season, and this diversification with F1 drivers is what fans loved to see. This is why the news is so exciting, as for the first time in a long while we will get to see a F1 world champion competing with the heroes from another series.

All fans of motorsport are winners with this latest news, with the announcement undoubtedly raising the profile of both Indycar and the Indianapolis 500 internationally. Hopefully the buzz surrounding this announcement and his performance in the race will convince some more F1 drivers to branch out and try the big events such as the Indy 500 or the Le Mans 24 Hours in the future. One thing is for certain however, as a fan I cannot wait to see how Alonso fares next month.

Any thoughts on this article? Please feel free to give your opinion in the comments section below and a huge thank you for reading. Follow me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Initial Observations From F1 Pre-Season Testing Part 2

This is the second part of my initial look at the Formula One grid after the first test of the 2017 season. As I mentioned yesterday this year has seen a seismic change with the rules as the cars have been given bigger tyres and more aggressive aero, with the intention of increasing lap times significantly.  (more…)

Lando Norris on Way to The Top

 

What a twelve months it has been for young English driver Lando Norris. This time in 2016 he was still basking in the glow of his dominant Toyota Racing Series triumph. With this and a MSA Formula title to his name, he had cemented himself as one of Britain’s best young drivers. In the space of a year he has gone from this to an internationally recognised talent with a reputation which has now caught the attention of the Formula One paddock.

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Where Next For Kevin Magnussen?

5th October 2015. Kevin Magnussen was celebrating his 23rd birthday. But a good day very quickly turned into a very bad one when he checked his emails. He noticed one from McLaren team principal Ron Dennis’s personal assistant Justine Bowen. He was being told his services as McLaren F1 reserve driver would not be required in 2016 and his contract would therefore not be renewed. Even for the famously business orientated Dennis this seemed a very harsh move.

Magnussen had grew up and developed with the team since he joined their young driver programme in 2010, reaching the pinnacle with a second place in his debut for the team at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Magnussen showed well against experienced former world champion team mate Jenson Button. But then the big names became involved. Honda were partnering with McLaren from 2015 onwards, and very quickly Fernando Alonso fell out of love with Marco Mattiacci and Ferrari, rendering him suddenly on the market for 2015.

This brought about a scenario which seemed impossible in 2008. Fernando Alonso would reunite with Ron Dennis and McLaren. This seemed impossible after their very bitter and public falling out in their first spell together in 2007. But I guess times change and money talks in F1, all of this leaving Magnussen battling Button for the remaining race drive for 2015.

Magnussen racing his way to the Renault World Series title in 2013. The future seemed bright for him at McLaren, but this would soon change. Photo copyright Motorsport.com

What followed was a very drawn out waiting game for both Magnussen and Button as months passed whilst McLaren tried to make their decision. Whilst it’s believed many in the team favoured the younger Magnussen, it appears at the last minute experience won out and the team announced their driver line up of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button in early December.

With very little time to find himself another drive in a competitive series, Magnussen had little other option than to accept the role of McLaren reserve driver for 2015, before finding a race seat for 2016. One thing was clear. Kevin Magnussen still wanted to race in 2015. He was in the advanced stages of securing a Indycar drive for the year so he could continue to race. Then Fernando Alonso got in his way again.

In the later stages of pre-season testing Alonso mysteriously crashed his McLaren-Honda, and whilst the initial assessment was not a serious one, it was quickly discovered Alonso had suffered a concussion and was unlikely to make the opening Australian Grand Prix several weeks later.

Magnussen was forced to end talks of an Indycar drive as he was called into action to replace Alonso in Australia. What followed was a hugely disappointing grand prix weekend where both McLaren drivers were plagued with issues surrounding the new Honda power plant. Magnussen qualified last and didn’t even start the race as his engine failed before the start to complete a miserable weekend for him and the team.

Magnussen in pre-season testing for McLaren this year. His lack of racing would prove a huge frustration to him during the year. Photo copyright McLaren/LAT.

Fast forward nine months and Magnussen is now looking for a race deal in 2016 after largely being sat on the sidelines for 2015. He came close to joining the new Haas F1 team for 2016 but lost out to first choice Romain Grosjean, and has recently tested for World Endurance title winning Porsche 919 for the team.

Magnussen will surely be a driver high in demand for 2016 with his talents, it’s now whether he wishes to try and continue in single seater series such as Indycar/Super Formula or whether he changes tack and moves over to sportscars or GT racing.

Surely Magnussen will get another chance in F1 soon, he’s too talented to only have one season at the pinnacle of motorsport. Only forces beyond his control can stop him. Yet where does the young Dane go from here? He’s looking to bounce back in big way next year after being an after thought at McLaren this year. Add the extra fire surely provided by the process of his dismissal from the team and he will be looking to prove a point next year.

He was close to an Indycar drive this year, so could he cast his eye back to the series for next year. The only top line drive available appears to be the final Chip Ganassi Racing entry, a car he could seriously impress with next year. Should he take up this seat he would surely be a dark horse contender for race victories throughout the year.

For now another possibility that hasn’t been ruled out is joining the Super Formula series in Japan. It’s highly competitive with a top quality grid which would keep Magnussen race sharp as he looks towards a return to F1. Whilst it will make it harder to gain the attention of Formula One in Japan, the series would be every bit as good as Indycar for him right now. Whilst nothing has been mentioned and it seems unlikely, it cannot be ruled out.

Or could he be eyeing sportscars next year? The WEC is building in prestige and popularity every year, with an increasing influx of young single seater drivers making the move to become professional drivers. With the level of technology in the current leading LMP1 these prototypes are arguable more advanced than current F1 cars.

Magnussen posing before testing the WEC title winning Porsche 919 Hybrid at Barcelona. Will he be racing the car in 2016? Photo copyright Porsche AG.

After testing the Porsche 919 Hybrid at Barcelona, he raved about the car calling it “the most advanced race car in the world”. Should the European Grand Prix in Baku remain clashing with the Le Mans 24 Hours, that would leave a seat available in the Porsche team for their warm up events and the 24 Hours itself. Porsche say their considering several drivers, could Magnussen be one of them?

He would make a big impact for the Porsche team and would likely prove very fast in the WEC next year. The series would also be the perfect shop window for him to try find a way back into F1 when he feels the time is right. Porsche won both the championship itself and the marquee Le Mans 24 Hours, an opportunity to make your debut for Porsche contending for victory would be a dream for Magnussen.

From here who knows where Kevin Magnussen will be racing in 2016. The only thing we know is that whatever he’s driving, he’ll be going flat out and racing at the front.

Where do you think Magnussen will be racing next year? Let me know in the comments section and thank you for reading.

Speculation Builds Around Jenson Button Again

For Jenson Button this recent speculation over his future with McLaren for next season must feel like a really bad case of deja vu. This time last year he faced the same mounting speculation over his future, which was not settled until early December. This time around he will be pleading with the McLaren team to make a decision as to his future a lot quicker than last year.

It seemed very much in the balance last winter as the McLaren team exhaustively deliberated who would be the best choice to partner the incoming superstar Fernando Alonso. With the new Honda engine package for this year, it was decided that the vast experience and great relationship Button has with Honda swung the drive in his favour. This forced promising rookie Kevin Magnussen into the reserve driver role for this year, however with Belgian protege Stoffel Vandoorne blitzing the GP2 field McLaren now has a serious driver logjam on it’s hands.

Whilst the team has the most high profile driver line up in F1 outside of AMG Mercedes and Ferrari, the McLaren pairing of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will not be a cheap option for the team. This is becoming increasingly important as McLaren has struggled to return to race winning form since the end of 2012. McLaren team principal Eric Boullier commenting recently how the team’s struggles this year will hugely affect their future revenue streams.

The team are currently ninth in the F1 constructors standings, which will represent a drop of $15 million dollars compared to their fifth place finish last year. Their lack of results will also make it a lot harder to attract potential sponsors. This is something the team has struggled with since it lost title sponsor Vodafone at the end of 2013.

The McLaren-Honda car for this year, noticeably devoid of major sponsors once again. Photo credit thanks to McLaren.com and BBCsport.com .

Jenson Button reiterated his commitment to F1 last season when he took a pay cut to re-sign with the team for 2015 and 2016. Therefore it seems strange that speculation is still mounting recently as to his future when he has a contract in place for next year. Also Button will be kept up to date with any negotiations with Vandoorne as he co-manages the young Belgian driver.

With Fernando Alonso still the best overall driver in F1 McLaren are not going to drop him any time soon, this leaves Button on the hot seat should McLaren feel they need an injection of youth in their driver line up. Whilst this may prove to be an illogical move at this present time with Honda’s inexperience with these new, highly complex power units. Surely Honda will need the vast experience of both Alonso and Button to help in their mission to catch up on the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari who have several years head start on them in terms of these power units.

If Button is retained for next year this leaves McLaren with another issue. What can they do with Magnussen and Vandoorne? Magnussen showed good promise in his rookie year last year, and has a stellar junior single seater record. Magnussen has already stated earlier this year he cannot do another year of not racing and sitting on the sidelines. This will likely force McLaren to try and find him a drive with another F1 team, which will prove very difficult.

The team faces the same issue with the GP2 champion elect Stoffel Vandoorne. He has impressed in every junior racing category so far, and has exceeded McLaren’s expectations for him to win the title this year. He’s dominated the field with consistent podium placings, and he currently sitting a whopping 108 points ahead of fellow F1 hopeful Alex Rossi in 2nd. Surely Vandoorne will be in F1 next year, it’s simply a case of which team he will be driving for.

Stoffel Vandoorne in action in a dominant GP2 year for the champion elect. Thanks to Motorsport.com for the high quality photo.

For McLaren they face a very tough decision over the coming months, as they have four legitimate F1 drivers yet only two seats to house them. With Fernando Alonso a cert for next year they now must decide if they are to honour Jenson Button’s contract for next year and retain his vast experience and speed. Or will they instead go with the young contender who appears destined for F1 in Stoffel Vandoorne. Kevin Magnussen is also waiting in the wings, although for McLaren, two of their drivers are likely to be disappointed by the time the new F1 season is rolling around next year.

Who should McLaren retain? Give your thoughts in the comment box below.

McLaren have best driver problem in F1

Whilst teams like AMG Mercedes try to work out how best to keep their drivers in line next year, and others like Red Bull and Ferrari adapt to new driver line up’s, McLaren currently have the best driver problem on the grid for the next few years. Whilst today’s announcement of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will lead to questions as to how the two, and especially how Fernando Alonso and Ron Dennis can work together effectively after a tumultuous 2007 season. The team now has an extensive amount of experience which will greatly help the Honda engineers in their debut season, with two very quick young drivers waiting in the wings for the future.

Alonso returning to McLaren for next year would have been laughed at before the 2014 season, however this shows how crazy a season it was as Alonso managed to escape a Ferrari team in transition, with a return to McLaren providing promise of potential wins and further championships for the 33 year old Spaniard. His return to a McLaren team once again spearheaded by disciplinarian Ron Dennis will be an interesting sub-plot to the 2015 season, however both have matured and changed since 2007 therefore a return to the days of a broken relationship between the two is unlikely to occur.

As for Jenson Button, he was forced to sit on the sidelines and wait for an extraordinary amount of time as McLaren deliberated over whether to retain his experience for a crucial first year for the new Honda engine next year, or whether to start planning for the future by placing promising rookie Kevin Magnussen alongside Alonso. This morning McLaren finally announced their decision to retain Jenson Button, although it appears he’s been forced to take a pay cut for next year and it’s rumored the team have signed him to a one year deal.

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All smiling faces at today’s announcement as Alonso and Button are confirmed at McLaren-Honda next year.

Whilst both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will be thrilled everything is finally confirmed, meaning they can now fully focus on the 2015 season and the beginning of a new works partnership with Honda, McLaren will also be rubbing their hands with glee over both their current plans extending into the future. For the next few seasons, the team arguably has the best driver line up in F1 with three world championships and 27 years of F1 experience between them going into the 2015 season. This experience and competitive determination will greatly benefit the development of the new Honda turbo next year.

Going into the future with a driver line up comprising 33 year old Fernando Alonso and 34 year old Jenson Button, McLaren have clearly been forced to plan for the future when these two incredible drivers decide to retire from Formula One. This is the brilliant problem McLaren have as they already have two very quick young drivers on their books who could adequately carry on the McLaren-Honda project in the future.

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Kevin Magnussen in action for McLaren during the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last month.

Kevin Magnussen had an impressive debut season in F1 this year, and whilst we rightly feel hard done by that he’s not on the grid next year, will be aware of the wider implications and the opportunity he has at McLaren if he stays in his current position for a year or two more. Alongside Magnussen McLaren also supports the highly promising young Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Whilst that name won’t mean anything to the majority of casual F1 fans, Vandoorne has impressed in every category he’s raced in, including a hugely impressive 2nd in the standings during his debut year of GP2 racing this year. A second season in GP2 looks the most likely option for him with his objective surely to dominate and win the title. From here a reserve driver role with McLaren is likely until either Alonso or Button is replaced by Vandoorne to partner Magnussen.

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Stoffel Vandoorne in action for McLaren-Honda during the post season test in Abu Dhabi last month.

For all concerned it seems today’s driver announcement is the start of a new, successful era as firstly McLaren and Honda both benefit in the short and long term. The experience Alonso and Button will bring will be invaluable, whilst the team has two quick young drivers to replace them when the timings right. For Alonso and Button it gives them fresh hope about a revival at McLaren after two unsuccessful year with the promise of wins and championships enough to keep both motivated.

Finally for Magnussen and Vandoorne it gives them hope regarding the potential of the team they are both likely to drive for in the next few years. Both will miss the development phase of the project and will likely both come in when the team is ultra competitive. Put simply, with today’s press announcement, McLaren may have just revealed it’s plans for F1 success for the next 10-15 years. The 2015 season will now be even more eagerly anticipated.

Photo credit goes to :

Announcement photo – Photo credit goes to http://www.Mclaren.com with extra credit going to http://www.Motorsport.com also.

Kevin Magnussen photo – Photo credit goes to XPB images, with special credit going to http://www.Motorsport.com.

Stoffel Vandoorne photo – Photo credit goes to XPB images, with extra credit going to http://www.Motorsport.com also.

Alonso saga finally coming to a close

Ever since Fernando Alonso publicly made disparaging comments about his Ferrari car after the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix, speculation has abounded as to his future with the fabled Ferrari team. Whilst Alonso had previously commented on his wish to remain at Ferrari for the rest of his career, and had signed a long term deal tying him to the team until the end of 2016, it appeared increasingly likely he could leave the team as their cars failed to provide with championship opportunities.

At age 33 and coming closer to the end of his career, Alonso was increasingly motivated to add more world titles to his two already from his years at Renault in 2005-2006. Alonso should have won the 2010 world title in his first season with Ferrari, although a strategic error in the final race in Abu Dhabi meant he was stuck behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov, and was forced to watch Sebastien Vettel steal his first world title from him.

From here 2011 was a lean year as Ferrari struggled and Red Bull dominated, although 2012 saw Alonso wring every last ounce of performance from his once again poor Ferrari car, to take the championship title fight into the final race in Brazil. Despite leading the title fight for a majority of the year, Alonso once again was beaten by Vettel at the final race for the title.

Alonso fighting for the world title at the 2012 Brazilian GP

In 2013 Ferrari once again struggled with a poor car as Red Bull and Sebastien Vettel once again dominated, something Alonso grew increasingly frustrated with. After his response from a reporter asking what he would like for his upcoming birthday in the aftermath of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso sarcastically responded with “someone else’s car.” These were ill timed comments from Alonso as there were persistent rumours at this time that Alonso and his manager were talking to Red Bull about potentially him joining the team to replace his great friend Mark Webber for 2014.

From here Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo warned Alonso about his F1 conduct with regards to his comments, with a statement from this time stating “There is a need to close ranks, without giving in to rash outbursts that, while understandable in the immediate aftermath of a bad result, are no use to anyone. That was a reference to the latest comments from Fernando Alonso, which did not go down well with Montezemolo, nor with anyone in the team.All the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own.”

Fernando Alonso in action during the fateful 2013 Hungarian GP

After the prospect of an unlikely Red Bull move was quashed after Daniel Ricciardo was announced as their new driver, it seemed Alonso was stuck with Ferrari until the foreseeable future. This was not entirely a bad thing however, as many tipped Ferrari to benefit most from new 2014 regulation which saw a switch to turbo V6 power. The fact Ferrari would be the only team other than AMG Mercedes producing both their own cars and engines, which suggested they would have an advantage with the design of their 2014 car and engine.

After a mixed testing period, once the season started it quickly became apparent AMG Mercedes would be dominant as the Mercedes engine was clearly the most powerful, with some even suggesting an 60-80bhp advantage over the Ferrari powerplant. It was also apparent the AMG Mercedes and Red Bull chassis were much better than the Ferrari F14T. Alonso once again performed heroics to drag the car onto the podium with a 3rd at the Chinese Grand Prix, it was clear however Alonso would once again miss out on the world title in 2014 as the two AMG Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated the season.

Heads began to roll at Ferrari as team principal Stefano Domenicalli resigned after the Bahrain Grand Prix, to be replaced by the CEO of Ferrari North America, Marco Mattiacci. Despite having very little racing experience Di Montezemolo felt his success with Ferrari North America could help provide a fresh impetus to Ferrari. It was clear now that the relationship between Alonso and Di Montezemolo was strained. As the season wore on and Alonso struggled it also became clear Mattiacci felt Alonso could be deemed expendable as his frustrations and lack of commitment to Ferrari increased.

This therefore provided a very unlikely initial rumour which quickly grew much larger. Honda were to join F1 in 2015 with McLaren, and it soon became clear Honda would provide an open chequebook to sign a top line driver. Whilst Sebastien Vettel laughed off the rumours, it soon became clear Alonso was seriously considering the offer. The news that long term Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo was to leave the team at the Italian GP did little to persuade Alonso to stay.

Alonso and Di Montezemolo embracing at the 2014 Italian GP

This ongoing saga reached critical mass at the 2014 Japanese GP, where it became apparent in the build up to the weekend that Alonso and Ferrari had reached an agreement to terminate his contract after the 2014 season. In the next few days the bombshell was announced that Sebastien Vettel was to leave Red Bull, with their team principal Christian Horner letting the cat out the bag by announcing he was to join Ferrari. This development left Alonso in a weakened position as it now became obvious his only options for 2015 were to either join McLaren or take a sabbatical.

After brief talk of Alonso potentially taking a year off and desperately trying to get himself into an AMG Mercedes seat for 2016 was shot down by the team, it became clear Alonso would likely sign for McLaren. Whilst the team has struggled in the past two years, and also Alonso’s turbulent season with the team in 2007, it appears fresh impetus from Honda will give Alonso a greater chance to be competitive and add the world titles his craves to his resume. McLaren with Honda will likely by Grand Prix winners within two years, whilst Ferrari are talking of several years of re-building before becoming dominant again.

This is why Alonso was so keen to leave the team, as sticking around for several years of re-building will not leave him enough time to win any more world titles. This optimism is something McLaren can provide with their’s and Honda’s winning pedigree. An official announcement on Alonso’s move to McLaren is likely to come later this month, with the next big decision for the team being whether to retain either experienced Brit and key ally of Honda Jenson Button or the team’s young rookie Kevin Magnussen. Plenty of people in the paddock with be relieved when all the confirmations are revealed, as Alonso looks forward to developing the McLaren-Honda package in 2015.

Photo credits go to :

Alonso 2013 Hungarian GP – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2013/07/28/alonso-faces-investigation-over-drs-breach/

Alonso 2012 Brazilian GP – http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1080651_vettel-picks-up-third-f1-world-champion-after-brazilian-gp

Alonso Di Montezemolo photo – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/09/06/hamilton-ends-pole-position-wait-monza/gp-italia-f12014-23/

F1 financial crisis long time coming

Last week’s build up to the United States Grand Prix was dominated by the devastating news within the space of a few days that the lowly Caterham and Marussia teams had both entered administration, and were going to miss at least the next two races if not more. The reaction amongst the F1 paddock is exactly why these two teams went into administration in the first place.

Whilst the top teams and personnel such as Bernie Ecclestone believed it was unfortunate that both went into administration, they also felt there was little they could do to change the spending culture of F1. On the other hand, midfield teams such as Sahara-Force India and Sauber have used both teams as an example of why the revenue streams within F1 need to be changed to make it more sustainable for the lower teams. The only exception at the top calling for change in F1 is FIA president Jean Todt, someone who made known his frequent frustration with failed attempts at a cost cap, something which he feels F1 needs to reduce it’s budgets by roughly 30-40% to make F1 sustainable.

After brief talk of a potential protest from some teams to further highlight the need for fairer revenue streams for the teams, Sahara-Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley had strong words for the media in the run up to yesterday’s Grand Prix. He was quoted as saying by BBC Sport that ” F1 is at a crossroads. There is clearly an agenda, Two teams have been forced out. How many need to be forced out before they achieve the goal they are looking for? We have missed an opportunity in F1 to be able to get it sustainable, That is passed us and there is no point looking back.”

The strong words show the frustration of the midfield teams as they have been working tirelessly for a long time hoping to achieve some agreement from all the teams for a significant cost reduction in F1. In the last few days however some high ranking F1 personnel have slightly changed their tune and appear now willing to help ensure a cost reduction in F1. F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has recently favoured a move to third cars from the top team being loaned out to midfield teams for them to run, yet now appears to show some remorse for the way F1 has gone recently. He is quoted as saying “There is too much money being distributed badly – probably my fault. Like lots of agreements people make, they seemed a good idea at the time. I know what’s wrong, but don’t know how to fix it. ”

This statement from Ecclestone does seem a slight understatement, as it’s believe last year Ferrari earnt $200 million, $90 million of which was fully guaranteed before they even turned a wheel, yet Marussia received only $14 million for completing the whole season as Caterham earned nearly $28 million dollars. For there to remain a steady stream of teams in F1 this clearly needs to be rectified, especially as F1 keeps pushing this green initive starting with vastly more expensive engines for this year.

The uneven revenue structure for the teams currently in F1 only enhances the vicious circle of F1 whereby the best teams get the highest money from FOM, therefore they usually produce a faster car because of their larger budget, which then ensures they further enhance their prize money awarded by FOM. This is only making the performance gap from the top to the midfield teams even bigger, with the likes of Sahara-Force India and Sauber struggling to keep racing competitively this year.

This vicious circle goes back to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, when manufacters such as Mercedes, Ferrari,BMW, Peugeot, Honda, Renault and Toyota all invested heavily in Formula One. This constant drive for success led to a spending war to which F1 is only just reeling from. Despite most of these manufacters leaving the sport by 2010 the biggest teams such as Ferrari, McLaren,Red Bull and AMG Mercedes have regularly spend over £185 million pounds a year to retain their competitive advantage. With teams like Sauber operating on a budget of £90 million, it’s easy to see why they struggle so much to match the top teams.

This financial model has been in place for several years now, however it’s only this year that it’s rearing it’s ugly head on a large scale. Whilst the demise of the Hispania team after the 2012 season was soon as no more than a backmarker team running out of money, the sudden demise of both Marussia and Caterham has finally showed F1 has a huge financial problem on it’s hands in the next few years. The introduction of highly expensive new turbo engines for this year has ramped out costs, which alongside a constant struggle to find sponsorship in F1 after the financial crisis in 2008, has led to the current situation where half the grid are struggling to pay the bills as the other half refuse to take any significant steps to stop this.

If F1 continues to use it’s current revenue model, we could very soon be seeing a grid of 14-18 cars of which Ferrari,AMG Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull all supply the rest of the grid with third of even fourth cars. All the while the likes of Sauber, Sahara-Force India and Williams will be consigned to the history books as teams who simply ran out of money. As a passionate fan of F1 this would be a huge shame for the sport if we were simply to have three or four manufacters supplying the whole grid, which somehow doesn’t carry the same appeal of a grid containing 9-10 teams such as Sauber. Still, it would make a lot of money for the teams in extra sponsorship and give them a better portion of the teams prize money so their main priority would be boosted. That’s a crying shame for what is described as a sport, if it’s eventually money which strangles the sport, leaving hundreds of millions of fans and thousands of employees feeling lost.

2014 Canadian GP Race Report

After a surprise pole for AMG Mercedes man Nico Rosberg, the race promised to be a thrilling battle between the two AMG Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton out front. After a contentious Monaco GP weekend the team was simply hoping for a much calmer race this time around.

As the red lights went out it was Hamilton who initially made the best getaway, appearing to have the momentum to out drag Rosberg on the outside going into Turn 1. Yet unfortunately for Hamilton the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has one of the shortest GP straights of the year, allowing Rosberg to tough it out with Hamilton and unintentionally force him wide going into Turn 2. From this fast starting Sebastien Vettel grasped this opportunity to jump past Hamilton for 2nd.

The action continued at Turn 3 as Max Chilton slid wide in his back marking Marussia, consequently sliding into team mate Jules Bianchi, who then violently slammed into the wall, removing most of his rear end in the process. With oil and debris spread across the track the Safety Car was quickly scrambled as the efficient marshals set to work. The Safety car peeled in at the end of lap 7, as Hamilton immediately started challenging Vettel for 2nd. After DRS was enabled Hamilton used it to breeze past Vettel in the inferior Renault powered Red Bull on the back straight before the final chicane on lap 10.

Daniel Ricciardo in the other Red Bull was the first of the top 6 to stop on lap 13, a strategic move that many around him soon copied to cover him. Rosberg was the first of the AMG Mercedes to pit as he came in from the lead on lap 18, with Hamilton responding with a slower stop a lap later. For Sebastien Vettel the first round of stops were the start of a frustrating afternoon as he was now stuck behind the one-stopping Nico Hulkenberg in his Sahara-Force India. Finally on lap 23 he tried a desperately late dive to the inside at the Turn 10 hairpin, before over-shooting wide and allowing Hulkenberg back through again.

Back at the front, the leaders battle was heating up too as Hamilton reduced a 2.1 second lead after the pit stops to less than a second in 4 laps. Hamilton’s new found pressure on Rosberg appeared to force a mistake as the leader locked his left front heavily braking for the final chicane, before straight lining it and carrying on. The contentious issue with this however, was the fact Rosberg opened a 0.6s gap and set his fastest lap during the process. This usually results in a penalty and the AMG Mercedes team expected the worse once it was announced the stewards were indeed looking into this move.

Back in the pack, some long awaited poetic justice was served as Williams driver Felipe Massa breezed past Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari with the help of DRS going into Turn 1 for 8th on lap 26. The significance of this move stems from Felipe’s time with Ferrari, where he spent the previous 4 seasons behind outpaced by Alonso, who used team orders to take victory in the 2010 German GP, in the process cementing the infamous “Fernando is faster than you” radio message into the contentious history books.

Hamilton meanwhile settled behind Rosberg as the stewards deliberated giving Rosberg a time penalty. Once is was confirmed he wouldn’t receive a penalty on lap 32, Hamilton soon began challenging again. Just behind them Sergio Perez in the other Sahara-Force India finally pitted from 3rd, after making his Super Soft tyres last an amazing 34, when other were averaging 15-18 laps. With Perez re-joining 8th this freed the train behind Hulkenberg consisting of both Red Bull’s and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas were now fighting over the final podium position.

The queue of cars behind Hulkenberg was depleted somewhat as Bottas strategically pitted for the second time on lap 36, hoping to jump Vettel in the process. Vettel was called in the lap after to cover this and comfortably re-joined in front of the Williams. Thing’s were not all brilliant for Vettel however as team mate Ricciardo pitted a few laps later and subsequently jumped him for the final podium place.

Back at the front the drama was only just beginning for the AMG Mercedes twins as both drivers started complaining of a loss of power. Their times suddenly rose from 1.19 laps to high 1.22 laps, several seconds a lap slower than those behind them. Hulkenberg finally released those behind him as he stopped on lap 41, although the Red Bull’s now had Perez’s Sahara-Force India in front of them. Both AMG Mercedes cars pitted on laps 44 and 45, with Hamilton jumping Rosberg for 2nd after stopping a lap later.

It appeared both cars had suffered ERS energy recovery failure’s, leaving them 160bhp down on their usual output. From here things got a lot worse for Hamilton as he now began suffering with severe braking problems, which quickly allowed Rosberg through again into 2nd on lap 46. A lap later and it was all over for Hamilton, as his car had now completely cooked it’s brakes, leaving him no choice but to trickle into the pits to retire, his second of the 2014 season.

With the various issues for the AMG Mercedes cars, this left Felipe Massa alone out front, although he appeared unlikely to be able to last the rest of the race without needing another tyre stop. This mantra was proved correct as Massa needed another tyre stop on lap 47, dropping him to 7th but with the benefit of much fresher tyres. With Rosberg now appearing a sitting duck this left Perez, Ricciardo and Vettel fighting for a likely victory behind them. Perez was struggling mightily with much older tyres things weren’t getting any better as he now had a DRS issue, which left him really struggling to overtake Rosberg for the lead.

In the next gaggle behind Perez and the Red Bull’s, Valtteri Bottas showed an unintentionally kind side to team mate Massa as his dive inside Hulkenberg for 5th meant Massa could jump them both and retain a slim chance of winning the race. Things got worse for Bottas a few laps later as Alonso used DRS into Turn 1 to depose him from 7th. By lap 63 Massa had caught Vettel and the train in front, yet appeared frustrated as the inherent lack of rear traction in the Williams gave Massa little chance of passing Vettel.

With Rosberg appearing increasingly comfortable in the lead things were hotting up behind him as Ricciardo finally passed Perez for 2nd with a demon outside move into Turn 1 using DRS, in fact he carried so much speed he barely stopped the car in time for Turn 2 , just about managing to hold of Perez and the rest behind him. He quickly caught Rosberg in front and used DRS on the back straight before the final chicane to steal the lead with only a few laps left.

For Ricciardo an unlikely first victory was secured on the final lap, as behind him Massa used DRS to gain a run on Perez for 5th, yet on-board camera’s appeared to show Perez jinked slightly to cover this move, with the unfortunate end result being a heavy collision for them both with both needed mandatory hospital visit’s afterwards, although both were later pronounced perfectly okay.

The final lap Safety Car left Ricciardo free to take a unexpected yet highly popular first win from the wounded Rosberg in 2nd, who expertly controlled the second half of the race to collect a great points haul, putting him 22 ahead of Hamilton now. Completing the podium was the other Red Bull of reigning champion Sebastien Vettel. After a demon second stint of the race Jenson Button rose from no where to claim 4th for McLaren. Nico Hulkenberg collected solid points in 5th, from a low-key Fernando Alonso in 6th for Ferrari.

Valtteri Bottas salvaged 7th and some points for Williams in a frustrating missed opportunity for them, whilst Jean Eric Vergne quietly raced on to 8th for Scuderia Toro Rosso. Completing the points were McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen in 9th and finally a below-par Kimi Raikkonen in 10th.

After a truly thrilling Canadian GP, which contained it all with high amounts of on-track drama alongside a popular first time winner in Daniel Ricciardo, the revived Austrian GP has a lot to live up to in two weeks. The Red Bull team will be looking for another good result at the home race for their team, but it appears AMG Mercedes will be back on top barring any more mechanical maladies. One thing that appears certain is that this Canadian GP will be remembered as by far the best race of the 2014 F1 season.

Thank you for the great images they can be viewed at these websites below.
http://o.canada.com/sports/autoracing/ricciardo-gives-red-bull-first-f1-win-with-victory-over-rosberg-in-canada
http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/06/09/2014-canadian-grand-prix-tyre-strategies-pit-stops/
http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/06/06/mercedes-back-top-ahead-red-bull-ferrari/