Monday Motor Sport Report

FORMULA ONE: Hamilton is champion 

THE SILLY double-points finale in Abu Dhabi meant there was doubt over who would be the 2014 Formula One world champion. It was Lewis Hamilton’s title to lose.

Nico Rosberg trailed Mercedes team-mate Hamilton by 17 points, meaning it wouldn’t be enough for the German to win; he needed the Brit to finish third or worse. But who was fast enough to split the Silver Arrows? No-one, on the available evidence. In the event, the race started badly for Rosberg and went downhill.

Hamilton grabbed a perfect jump and raced ahead of Rosberg, the fast-starting Felipe Massa’s Williams in third.

On lap 25, Rosberg’s title chances turned to dust when a power issue resulted in a loss of 160hp; two laps later, Massa raced into second place. As Hamilton eased off to protect his machine, Rosberg slipped through the pack and Massa took the lead.

Massa and Williams looked magnificent, with Bottas also making a charge into third. The Brazilian lost the lead back to Hamilton at his final stop, but while he was within striking distance as the laps ran down, it was clear Hamilton wanted to win the title in style.

So an ecstatic Hamilton sealed his second F1 title, with Massa second on track, and Bottas third. Daniel Ricciardo took a close fourth, despite starting from pit-lane after he and Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel were pinged for illegal front wings.

Ricciardo mounted his usual clinical slice-and-dice into podium contention while Vettel took eighth and will be delighted to escape direct comparison with the Aussie.

Rosberg, instructed to bring his ailing Mercedes to the pits with a couple of laps to run, asked to continue to the flag. He finished 14th.

The Silver Arrows absolutely dominated the first season of the new hybrid era, amassing 16 wins, 18 poles, 31 podiums and 12 fastest laps. The others have a lot of catching up to do.

Hamilton is the first Silver Arrows driver to claim title since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955 and on the basis of his 11 race wins this year, a deserving champion. Rosberg triumphed just five times in 2014.

Acclaim too, for the phenomenal Ricciardo, who won three grands prix in a car that wasn’t a match for the Mercedes weapons. The West Aussie outshone four-time world champion team-mate Vettel and took a worthy third in the title standings.

He was rightly pleased with the last race of 2014. “I think it was pretty much a faultless race from all sides, from the strategy, to myself and the pit stops, everything was good so we did everything we needed to. I had fun passing; it wasn’t boring out there. One spot better would have been nice but fourth is really cool from the pit lane.

“It’s been pretty much a perfect season, as perfect as it can be without holding a world title, so no real regrets, no complaints. It’s nice to not only start the season well, but to finish it well. We had a strong summer, so the start, middle and end were pretty good!”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner lavished praise on Ricciardo. “It was an unbelievable drive from Daniel. He was quick throughout, with some great overtaking moves.”

Next year we’ll see Fernando Alonso in a McLaren-Honda, Vettel in a Ferrari and Daniil Kvyat join Ricciardo at Red Bull. Jenson Button’s future remains unclear – will he stay at McLaren, or follow Mark Webber to Porsche and endurance racing?

One Australian leaving the scene is McLaren’s sporting director, Sam Michael. After a long career with several major teams, he’s returning home with his family, where he has firm plans that don’t including motor racing.

F1 has to face up to some serious problems, with Marussia and Caterham collapsing late in the season (Caterham managed to scramble back to the grid in Abu Dhabi). The budget woes of other outfits, led by Sauber, Force India and Lotus, led to suggestions the grid might be boosted by the big teams fielding three cars but Bernie Ecclestone has boned the idea of third or customer cars.

Lotus, Sauber and Force India bosses met with Ecclestone and a representative of commercial rights holder CVC in Abu Dhabi on Saturday to discuss the financial problems faced by small teams.

The teams later said they were heartened that Ecclestone and CVC understood the gravity of their money problems and the need for urgent action. The path to resolution appears to be the redistribution of the commercial rights income, in tandem with renewed efforts to reduce costs so Ecclestone’s challenge is to convince manufacturer teams help smaller outfits emerge from the crisis.

While smaller teams have been agitating for fairer revenue distribution and demanding cost cuts and a budget cap, their well-heeled rivals believe such changes will not solve the issues, and could cause large-scale redundancies.

Lotus owner Gerard Lopez has been outspoken about what he calls unacceptable practices in F1, such as bonuses for Ferrari merely for competing.

The distribution model is unfair, he declared, highlighting the reality that some teams get more money just for showing up than other teams spend in a whole season.

Lopez also pointed to the dramatic jump in engine costs this year, badly hurting the budgets of the smaller teams.

As the debate continues, the calls for 84-year-old Ecclestone to go are getting louder. Louder than the exhaust on a hybrid F1 car.

FORMULA ONE: Red Bull in the naughty corner – again!

AT THE first F1 race of 2014, the Australian Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo suffered that embarrassing fuel-flow misdemeanour and lost his podium place. And at the Abu Dhabi finale, Red Bull’s qualifying spots – fifth and sixth-fastest for Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel – were wiped after their cars were found to be in breach of technical regulations. A technical report indicated that the “front wing flaps were designed to flex under aerodynamic load”.

Observers suggested that flexible wings would be very handy around the Yas Marina circuit, with its long straights and abundance of tight, low-speed corners. As a result, the two Red Bulls were forced to start behind the rest of the field. 

V8 SUPERCARS: Marcos back, Ford out

MARCOS Ambrose has shaken down his Xbox-sponsored DJR Falcon and declared himself ready for his much-ballyhooed return to Australian V8 Supercars racing.

That’s the good news. The bad news, reported by Auto Action, comes in a story that American racing magnate Roger Penske has confirmed Ford is pulling out of V8 Supercars.

Ford is yet to officially confirm what most believe is a fait accompli – its withdrawal from the competition – but Penske let it slip to AA that despite Broadmeadows’ decision to withdraw, he is sticking with the Blue Oval for his entry into V8s.

“We felt that next year, even though Ford is not supporting the series going forward, it was the right thing for us to do to carry the Ford logo,” Penske said on a flying visit to Australia. “Our relationship with Ford is important. They’ve been so supportive of us on the NASCAR side.”

Penske also told AA that while DJR Team Penske would look at other options after next year, he hoped to convince Ford Australia to re-engage and back the team – which will run FG X-look Falcons next season – in the future.

“We’re committed to running Fords in 2015,” he said. “We’ll look and see what offers are out there once we’ve been able to show our capabilities. [But] my first goal would be to have Ford see the value of the series.”

SPORTS CARS: Tom Kristensen bows out

TOM KRISTENSEN has announced his retirement from professional racing after the final round of the FIA World Endurance Championship in São Paulo on 30 Nov.

The 2013 FIA World Endurance Drivers Champion and nine times winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will leave with a record unmatched in world sports cars racing.

Kristensen was named by Autosport last year as the best driver never to make it to Formula One. As much as his winning record, what elevated him above his peers was his character and easy charm. The 47-year-old Dane is simply a terrific bloke, and one of endurance racing’s greatest ambassadors.

FORMULA E: New face Matt Brabham left red faced

THIRD-GEN racer Matt Brabham discovered inexperience and impetuosity were a bad mix heading into the first corner in his first Formula E prix event, on the streets of Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Saturday.

The youngest driver ever to start a Formula E race, the 20-year-old qualified ninth but was caught out on the opening lap, cold brakes flicking him into a spin.

Under the Safety Car for another first-lap incident, Brabham took the opportunity to pit and repair damaged bodywork on his Andretti Formula E car and when racing resumed, he found himself in a spirited scrap with another well-known racing name – ex-F1 driver Bruno Senna.

Briton Sam Bird took a dominant win in the event, while Lucas Di Grassi took the championship lead with second place. Brabham finished 13th and was satisfied with his race pace but said the one-day schedule for practice, qualifying and the race was a huge challenge.

“I think we could have achieved a very good result if it wasn’t for the incident on the first lap,” he said. “I was probably a bit aggressive. If I approached it differently, I may have got the job done but to bring the car home 13th with the incidents that were happening out there isn’t a bad finish.”

The next round of the FIA Formula E Championship will be conducted on the streets of Punta de Esta, Uruguay on 13 December – Brabham is sweating on a call from Andretti to see if he’ll be racing.

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