Now or never for Nico

Nico Rosberg must defeat Lewis Hamilton this weekend, lest his title bid will lie in tatters.

Bahrain is just the fourth event of a nineteen-race calendar, yet it is imperative Rosberg gleans a result of substance prior to the European season commencement. This doesn’t necessarily entail victory, rather, outperforming his team-mate in convincing fashion.

Contemplating his post-China outburst, this is unlikely. The German cast a psychologically tormented soul during the press conference, accusing Hamilton of “thinking about yourself with the pace in front… compromising my race.” Hamilton deftly upheld his belief that “it’s not my job to look after Nico’s race. My job is to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and as fast as possible.”

Unless Rosberg is willing to leave everything on the race track, he’s going to go home empty handed on each occasion. Working on the assumption that Hamilton was indeed backing into Sebastian Vettel, it is mystifying that Rosberg didn’t counter with an offensive attack on the reigning champion, and not the one which came during the press conference. The Briton remarked as much,”if Nico wanted to get by he could have tried but he didn’t.”

The points margin separating the pair is immaterial so long as one doesn’t have the belief they can win. Hamilton first and Rosberg second at Bahrain would render a 24-point gap – the equivalent of victory. On paper, the deficit could be neutralised by a Hamilton DNF and Rosberg victory at Spain, yet from a momentum perspective, coming home behind Hamilton on a fourth successive occasion would have lethal consequences for the intra-team dynamics, if they’re not already skewed heavily in his team-mate’s favour.

Rosberg engaged in his own set of gamesmanship at Monaco little under 12 months’ ago when he ran off the circuit in the dying stages of qualifying, triggering yellow flags and thus denying Hamilton a chance to claim pole position. The German harvested the momentum in spite of a seething Hamilton – who went so far to say he’d contemplate Senna-Japan ’90 tactics as retribution, to enjoy victory.

The Monaco 2014-prototype Nico Rosberg has been missing since the infamous collision at Belgium –  itself borne from tense wheel-to-wheel combat with Hamilton during the previous race at Hungary, from which point the momentum has been squarely with the Briton. Indeed, the German has prevailed over Hamilton just once in the subsequent ten events.

Rosberg made the magnanimous gesture of limping to the chequered flag at the Abu Dhabi season finale, in the knowledge that Hamilton would be champion. It is apparent that this microcosm of their year-long rivalry has manifested into tacit acknowledgement by Rosberg that Hamilton is the better driver even if he refuses to admit as much.

Twelve months ago, Rosberg got his elbows out and in unison with his team-mate, provided one of the season’s spectacles with a battle spanning the duration of the race. Though he didn’t prevail, Rosberg was afforded much respect on that evening. If ever there was a time to rediscover this brand, it is now, Lewis Hamilton doesn’t need to be asked twice whether he wants to win.

Ferrari is enjoying rapid progress – as it stands, Vettel leads Rosberg in the standings. The German doesn’t want to find himself trailing the four-time champion by Monaco, otherwise the inevitable call will be made for all attentions to be diverted to Hamilton’s campaign.

There will be no race for Hamilton to compromise if he doesn’t have to worry about Rosberg – who in a supporting role would be assigned to compromise the Ferraris, so the time has come for Rosberg to make Hamilton worry, it’s now or never.

 

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Hamilton quits F1 for rap career

*APRIL FOOLS! – NOW IF HE REALLY WERE TO DO THIS, IMAGINE THE CHAOS!*

Lewis Hamilton has stunned the world following news that he is retiring from Formula One in order to pursue a career in rap.

The announcement comes in spite of recent speculation that the reigning champion would renew his Mercedes contract for a further three seasons, with the Briton citing the disappointment of second place at last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix as a catalyst for the about face.

“This will be my final season as a Formula One driver. It hasn’t been an easy decision, but after Malaysia I had plenty of time for soul searching and coming second isn’t what makes me happy, making music is. “, Hamilton said.

Having competed in his 150th Grand Prix at Malaysia, the 30-year old boasts 34 victories and a formidable 72 podiums, complemented by 40 pole positions.

Hamilton made his debut with McLaren in 2007, enjoying a spectacular campaign which saw him stand on the podium at each of his first nine races – delivering his maiden victory at just his sixth start. Though he squandered the drivers’ standings lead in dramatic circumstances at the final event, the Briton quickly atoned, becoming the sport’s then youngest World Champion twelve months later.

Four subsequent seasons at Woking failed to deliver the promised second title, with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel claiming all before them, yet the announcement of his switch to Mercedes from 2013 was greeted with derision.

As McLaren floundered in his absence, Hamilton silenced critics with an imperious 2014 campaign, and despite a hotly-contested intra-team battle with Nico Rosberg, eleven victories left no doubt surrounding the legitimacy of his second championship.

Hamilton later tweeted “It’s been a blessing to enjoy so much support since I came into the sport, so many memories. Two titles, who knows, maybe a third? #blessed.”

A second consecutive title and a further seven victories throughout his final campaign would draw Hamilton level with the three championships and forty-one victories enjoyed by childhood idol, Ayrton Senna.

Despite being two races into a nineteen-event season, attention will undoubtedly turn to the identity of Hamilton’s replacement. The most coveted berth in recent history, Fernando Alonso immediately springs to mind, with the Spaniard presently mired in an unhappy reunion at McLaren and speculation regarding the true nature of his pre-season testing accident still rampant.

Valtteri Bottas has been mentioned in the past, and come November, the Finn will be prepared to rise to another level following three seasons at the forefront of the Williams resurrection. Nico Hülkenberg could finally be afforded the opportunity to advance from the midfield with a strong campaign.

The German marque’s reserve driver, Pascal Wehrlein, would represent a left-field internal promotion, yet a refreshing show of faith and statement of intent from the Mercedes powerholders that its’ commitment to Formula One is unwavering in the wake of Hamilton’s exit. The German acquitted himself sufficiently during pre-season testing duties for both Mercedes and Force India at Barcelona.

There are seventeen races left to admire Lewis Hamilton the racing car driver. He certainly won’t be lost the spotlight – once his music career ignites, he will become more prolific than imaginable had he remained in motorsport. There had never been a character quite like him in Formula One prior to his arrival, and there is unlikely to be one following his departure.

Red Bull – shut up and drive

The time-honoured threat to abandon Formula One in the face of defeat has again manifested, with Red Bull – not for the first time, issuing the ultimatum “if we are totally dissatisfied we could contemplate an F1 exit.”

Following Mercedes’ dominant 1-2 at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, where Daniel Ricciardo was forced to settle for sixth, and Daniil Kvyat a non-starter following a gearbox issue on a reconnaissance lap, motorsport advisor Helmut Marko has warned that the patience of the energy drink giant’s owner, Dietrich Mateschitz, is wearing thin.

“The danger is there that Mr Mateschitz loses his passion for F1”, the Austrian remarked, claiming the present 1.6 litre, V6 power units “are the wrong solution… we would say this even if Renault were in the lead.”

The Milton Keynes outfit is evidently struggling with the notion of their gradual decline from its’ halcyon days, having swept all titles between 2010 and 2013.

Failure to collaborate adequately with long-term engine supplier Renault has compromised the operation’s competitiveness since the current regulations took effect ahead of the 2014 season, yet there’s no excusing their repeated persecution of the French marque each time a Red Bull isn’t victorious.

Adrian Newey’s notoriously tight packaging doesn’t permit much scope for the powertrain, and perhaps it has reached a level where a fresh design philosophy needs to be considered – this might be the case as the technical guru takes a step back.

It is true that both parties share a responsibility to attain synergy, for that to work, transparency is essential. To that end, Renault’s resentment regarding the lack of credit received throughout the golden era – with praise lavished almost exclusively on Newey, is completely understandable.

Reports that Viry-Châtillon wants to restore its’ factory status – having retreated from ownership of the Enstone operation now known as Lotus in 2009, through the purchase of a current outfit, with Red Bull owned Scuderia Toro Rosso a front-runner, ties in with this.

Mercedes sacrificed short-term success for the fruits they are now enjoying, absorbing heat for recruiting “too many cooks for the kitchen” in Wolff, Lowe, Lauda and Costa. Each has been pivotal to their current prosperity, the German marque has no reason to feel as though it needs to be supporting a push to equalise proceedings.

Ferrari parted with team principal Stefano Domenicali as well as his successor Marco Mattiacci, parted with long-term chairman Luca di Montezemolo and ultimately parted with Fernando Alonso. Everybody was saying Ferrari were no longer relevant. One pre-season and a race into their new chapter, and the Italian marque is – albeit a considerable distance behind Mercedes, ostensibly the best of the rest.

Newly appointed team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has been a breath of fresh air for Maranello. The former Philip Morris man has transcended expectations that he’d adhere to the beliefs of the old guard, that if Ferrari isn’t winning, it’s up to Formula One to change it.

In contrast, Arrivabene possesses a disarmingly realistic vision for success. He forecast two victories as success this season, rather than yesteryear’s tiresome “this year, we win” rhetoric. In the wake of Sebastian Vettel’s third place at Melbourne, rather than bemoan how far the German trailed behind the Mercedes duo and lodge some form of protest, Arrivabene has promised to take the fight to the Silver Arrows, stating “we need to start to be a bit more convinced about ourselves” rather than relying on incendiary measures to reign in the Brackley operation’s superiority.

Williams’ head of vehicle performance, Rob Smedley – formerly of Ferrari, is complimentary of Mercedes’ dominance, remarking “I’m not going to bitch and moan that they are quicker than us.” The cynic would say that as a customer of Mercedes, Smedley is obliged to sign their praises, however the Briton readily acknowledges that he was once privileged to be in such a position “I think Formula 1 is about levels of excellence.” This line epitomises the sport, at least what it should – it’s just a shame this is lost almost exclusively to those who are winding down from a sustained period of success.

Formula One is cyclical in nature, and seldom have teams whose long-term dominance has come to an end departed the sport. Williams is still here – approaching two decades since their previous title, McLaren is still here – despite only one title to show from their past sixteen campaigns, whilst Ferrari is still here, for all of their sportscar posturing under the di Montezemolo regime.

As much as Red Bull’s primary motivation is to sell cans of Red Bull, this shouldn’t mean it’s time to bail the moment things get tough. They’d certainly win over many if they recommitted to the sport, especially in the midst of yet another set of regulation changes in 2017. Newey arrived at Red Bull in 2006, yet it wasn’t until the revolutionary changes ushered in ahead of the 2009 season that they were propelled into race-winning status, and one year later, champions.

You’d love to believe they’d back themselves to achieve these heights again, but ultimately it’s their call if two or three seasons on the receiving end is too much to handle.

What’s more, we’re one race into a nineteen, perhaps twenty-event season. Enough of the insurrection from day one – if this is the philosophy now, imagine how it’s going to be at the mid-season break, should this defeatist mentality be upheld for the duration?

Red Bull – shut up and drive!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australian Grand Prix Preview

One day out from first practice and the final shape of the grid for this weekend’s event remains unknown.

Fernando Alonso will not be present as he continues to recover from his mysterious testing crash at Barcelona. The Spaniard hopes to be fit for the Malaysian GP on March 29, otherwise there will be serious questions to be answered.

Sauber’s Felipe Nasr or Marcus Ericcson – having reached Australia under the impression they will be racing this weekend, will fail to take to the circuit. Giedo van der Garde will assume the unlucky individual’s place. Or perhaps he won’t. This dilemma will be settled this afternoon we’re told. One would hope.

Imagine all three (or two should one have a guaranteed seat – likely van der Garde himself) fronting for court at 10am on Friday morning, a verdict being reached by midday, with the victorious party jumping into a cab bound for the circuit – changing into racing attire en route, and straight into the C34 in time for opening practice at 12.30? Welcome to Formula One, where anything is possible!

What can be ascertained is is that the event is taking place in Melbourne, staging the curtain raiser for an eighteenth occasion, as Formula One marks two decades at Albert Park, having shifted from Adelaide in 1996.

And that it’s going to take something phenomenal for a driver other than Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg to salute the chequered flag first on Sunday.

Melbourne has frequently proven itself a lottery in proportion to the rest of the season, with many outfits holding back upgrades until the European season approaches, thus any challenger could emerge this weekend.

As a Mercedes customer, Williams is the most likely candidate for the minor positions, whilst Red Bull and Ferrari should be next in line if misfortune strikes. Nobody is likely to show their true hand until qualifying.

The event witnesses the debut of Formula One’s youngest driver ever. At seventeen, Max Verstappen will line up for Toro Rosso. The Dutchman is ambitious to turn heads immediately, whilst many have backed a justification of his contentious berth from the outset.

Manor culminates their stunning resurrection in the coming days – the mere sight of two cars on track, regardless of the outcome on Sunday, will represent triumph.

For the first time since 2008, the race will likely have concluded by 6pm, with the start time brought forward an hour to 4pm in the wake of Jules Bianchi’s tragic accident at Japan last year. In the context of the race, glare should thus be neutralised.

The forecast is for solid autumnal conditions across the weekend, though the threat of rain persists as ever. The past two qualifying sessions have been affected by inclement weather, with the former concluded on Sunday morning.

Daniel Ricciardo and his cheeky grin in conjunction with his stellar 2014 campaign have increased ticket sales by an estimated five percent, and with the event secured for a further five seasons beyond the twentieth edition, it promises to be another fantastic weekend.

Alonso to miss Australian GP

Fernando Alonso will miss the first weekend since his Formula One debut in 2001 with news that the Spaniard has pulled out of the season opening Australian Grand Prix.

Alonso, who suffered concussion when he crashed in mysterious circumstances on the final day of the first Barcelona test on February 22 and was subsequently hospitalised for three nights, was advised by doctors.not to participate at the risk of aggravating the injury.

The following statement issued through McLaren summarises the outcome, “Fernando’s doctors have recommended to him that, following the concussion he sustained in a testing accident at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 22nd, for the time being he should seek to limit as far as is possible any environmental risk factors that could potentially result in his sustaining another concussion so soon after his previous one, so as to minimise the chances of second impact syndrome.”

The 33-year old instead hopes to be fit to resume in time for the second event at Malaysia from March 27-29.

Kevin Magnussen will thus return to the race seat he held in 2014, though having enjoyed only two days running in the troublesome MP4-30 at the final test, the Dane will have his work cut out. However, the event will hold fond memories for the 22-year old – he finished second on his debut last season, following Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification.

Irrespective of the official explanation and its’ reassuring undertones, that the episode has been deemed severe enough for Alonso to miss a Grand Prix will lead to inevitable theorising regarding the true nature of the Spaniard’s welfare.

An ERS-inflicted electric shock and strong winds have been discussed as logical causes of the accident, with reports of Alonso suffering amnesia symptomatic of the former, though many have speculated that an underlying medical condition explains the lack of transparency offered by all parties.

One wild theory is that Alonso is in no hurry to return to the cockpit as long as McLaren continues to flounder, and is happy to allow others – such as Magnussen, to endure the short-term pain, whilst the outfit is on record that they don’t expect to be competitive until the European season commences in May.

Much has been made of the notion that Alonso-McLaren re-coupling being a marriage of convenience. The Spaniard continues indeed to be linked to a 2016 Mercedes berth as Lewis Hamilton remains in negotiation over a new contract. Team principal Toto Wolff has admitted that Alonso is next on the list should the parties fail to agree to terms. As long as McLaren continues on their current trajectory and Hamilton is yet to put pen to paper, the rumours will continue.

The Australian Grand Prix will be poorer for Alonso’s absence, but his health is the primary concern, and with a little convalescence, the Spaniard will hopefully mark his return sooner than later.

For its’ part, McLaren will now field an identical line-up as twelve months’ ago. On that occasion, they enjoyed a belated double podium. This time around, one surmises that witnessing both cars – if not either, greeting the chequered flag would be considered a success.

Ruminations on the Ten-Fox F1 deal

The day which many knew inevitable has arrived, with Formula One joining the Australian pay-television family. It’s just that nobody anticipated it as soon as this season.

Until recently, the understanding had been that race coverage of each event would continue on free-to-air, with the perks of high definition coverage, advertisement free, practice & qualifying coverage on the table for those willing to cross the divide, as it were.

Thus it was a curveball when news broke earlier this week that incumbent broadcasters, Network Ten, will be screening just half the events live, with the remainder presented as a highlights package, a la the United Kingdom’s BBC.

An even bigger surprise was delivered on Friday, with Ten abandoning the final year of their current contract, precipitating an immediate shift to Foxtel by sub-licensing the rights.

Those believing they had twelve months to budget for a Foxtel package – $50 monthly or $60 for the modern necessity that is high definition, have been caught on the hop, with the first event exclusive to the provider in six weeks’ time.

Others who had consoled themselves with a final season containing the full complement of coverage, are now coming to terms with the reality these days are numbered.

An hour-long highlights package on Monday nights at every other event – lest in HD on Ten’s secondary station – One, represents the new routine.

The carrot of the new arrangement is confirmation that Fox will simulcast UK broadcaster Sky Sports’ unprecedented coverage. To the fanatics, it is this component which could ultimately justify the investment.

Analysing Ten’s diminished offerings – Britain & Italy are conspicuous by their absence, with viewers instead treated to the Russian GP, whilst the German GP, wherever that might take place this season – might not take place this season, potentially reducing to nine the number of live events.

An argument could be made that their Monaco coverage is expendable owing to the procession this event has represented in recent years.

With the latest addition to their portfolio, the Foxtel sports’ monopoly is just about complete. AFL, NRL, MotoGP, V8 Supercars and now arguably the jewel in the crown – Formula One, are now at its’ disposal.

A staple of the Australian summer since effectively the beginning of time – cricket looms as the final piece of the jigsaw. As unfathomable a thought Test cricket disappearing from our screens represents, almost nothing can be discounted from reaching the pay TV domain.

The final consideration is Ten’s simultaneous announcement that Mark Webber will commentate the Australian Grand Prix, rather than taking Sky Sports’ Croft-Brundle feed. It will be intriguing to see what insight can be gleaned from a recently retired driver.

Back to the news of the day, and the entrance of a mourning phase or frenzied tapping at the calculator to establish whether making the jump is feasible.

It has come at a cost which for many is too great to bear, and much sooner than anybody could have imagined, but to those who have been longing for wall to wall coverage of a Grand Prix weekend, it is now a reality.

 

F1 coverage set for British treatment

Formula One is set for limited free-to-air coverage in Australia from 2016, with a comprehensive package to be provided by Foxtel.

According to a report on Speedcafe, an identical coverage model to the United Kingdom – where BBC & Sky Sports share the coverage, is to be adopted.

Incumbent rights’ holder – Network Ten, will screen half of the events live, whilst the remaining portion will be broadcast in highlight form. Fox Sports will provide full coverage of each qualifying and Grand Prix.

Many will bemoan the imminent demise of F1 as a free-to-air staple, unwilling to fork out the cash necessary to access pay television. Ultimately, it may be that the coverage which die hard fans have been calling out for many years will be delivered.

One recalls coverage in the late 1990s & early 2000s on the Nine Network – qualifying coverage was unheard of, whilst race coverage was often delayed until the conclusion of the Sunday night movie, sometimes as late as 1am.

This would often manifest in a grumpy Monday at school, especially if the commitment to view the race was not matched with a desired outcome.

Fortunes improved slightly with the switch to Ten in 2003, however it wasn’t until the advent of multi-channels in 2008 that qualifying coverage was enjoyed.

Despite the welcome addition, Ten’s reluctance in recent seasons to broadcast events in high definition throughout eastern states – with Grands Prix in a similar time-zone the exception, painfully frequent commercial breaks at crucial junctures, not to mention ever-diminishing pre & post race coverage, renders the transition which has been mooted for several years easier to process.

It is thus, through the necessary evil that is pay television, the following benefits can expect to be reaped. High definition coverage as commanded by live sport, a dedicated weekly show, practice session coverage – at the very least, the final session preceding qualifying. An extended pre-race build up & post-race breakdown, but most significantly, commercial free race coverage.

On a personal level, this is the commitment which has been dreamed about for years. If the stated terms are met, Fox can count on this individual to sign-up.

A bi-effect of the agreement is that the V8 Supercars complement at next month’s Australian Grand Prix is for the first time set to represent a championship event.

V8 Supercars enters a rights agreement with Foxtel & in a reduced capacity – Ten, from this season, thus the F1 deal will synchronise each categories’ coverage following many years during which conflicting broadcasters denied the former championship status at the Grand Prix.

Prior to any of this, there is a final full season to be enjoyed on free-to-air. One can only hope that Ten doesn’t use this as an excuse to cut back on coverage, to allow a seamless transition once the new arrangement takes effect.

Whilst the fair weather followers who cannot afford or by principle refuse to support pay television, will endure reduced coverage, resort to unofficial viewing methods or simply boycott the coverage entirely from 2016, for those who live and breath Formula One, this is the commitment we’ve been awaiting.