Monday Motor Sport Report

F1:  Ricciardo tops Autosport driver list

AUSTRALIAN golden boy Daniel Ricciardo has been named the world’s leading race driver by Britain’s Autosport in its recently published ranking, ahead of new Formula One champ Lewis Hamilton.

The rankings show the high regard in which the West Aussie is held in F1 circles after a year in which he won three grands prix and finished third in the world championship in a car widely conceded as no match for the Mercedes-engined machines.

But how seriously do we take the Autosport list of the top 50 drivers?

We Aussies may want to believe in its authenticity, and it is relatively easy to mount an argument in favour of Ricciardo’s entitlement to #1.  A dash of jingoism helps, but he was spectacular and largely mistake-free all season long.

Equally, there are many reasons why we should overlook the reality that Hamilton is a prize prat, concentrate on his talents in the car, and give him due credit for walloping his team-mate in identical equipment.

Another world champion, the McLaren-bound Fernando Alonso, was ranked third in the world for 2014.

Two other Australians made the top 50.

Queenslander Will Power, the first Australian to win an IndyCar title, was placed eighth, with V8 Supercars dominator Jamie Whincup 21st.

You’ll have to ask the Autosport panel of experts how they manage to fairly compare the performances in 2014 of drivers in such diverse categories as F1, IndyCars, WTCC, WEC, NASCAR, WRC, V8 Supercars, GP2, world rallycross, etc.

Mark Webber, in his first year out of F1 and on his return to sports cars, wasn’t included in the top 50.

F1: Lotus unconfirmed in slim 2015 entry

HIGHLIGHTING the confronting issues sweeping Formula One, a shallow 16-car grid is possible this year with Lotus still to confirm its participation in the 2015 World Championship.

The British outfit is the glaring “subject to confirmation” inclusion in an updated FIA entry list announced on December 30.

Though Lotus had earlier locked in drivers Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado for 2015, the unconfirmed status of its entry underscores the hurdles some teams are facing in securing budgets to contest the coming season.

The loss of tail-enders Marussia and Caterham last season (although the latter turned up for the final race after sending the begging bowl around for contributions) highlighted the crisis facing F1, a pain exacerbated when Force India, Lotus and Sauber went public to push for more equitable distribution of F1’s wealth.

In a lavish display of unwarranted optimism, Marussia and Caterham have also been listed on the FIA entry as “subject to confirmation”.

Marussia in particular must be viewed as wishful thinking given that much of the team’s assets have been flogged off to partly appease debtors.

Ferrari, which was Marussia's engine supplier, is owed $US25.8 million ($A31.9m) while McLaren, which had a technical partnership with the defunct team, is staring at a write-off of $US11.0m ($A13.6).

Marussia’s administrator, FRP Advisory, says there is little chance of reviving the team, but that the factory in Banbury will be acquired by Gene Haas, the American entrepreneur with ambitions of entering F1 in 2016.

The administrator has scheduled another auction this month, with three 2014 cars set to go under the hammer.

Caterham’s future is also unclear, although administrators Smith & Williamson continue to seek a buyer capable of putting the team back on to the grid in 2016.

Bernie Ecclestone may well have choked on his muesli last week when he opened The Times to read Kevin Eason’s sobering story that right through F1 are deep concerns that a third team will follow Marussia and Caterham into the fiscal mire, leaving the grid of motor sport’s premier category at an almost desultory 16.

That team on the brink is most likely Lotus, although there are ominously threatening clouds hovering over Sauber and Force India as well.

Not helping avert a potential catastrophe is the cruel, selfish resistance by the healthy manufacturer-supported squads against changing the historically loaded, discriminatory process of allocating funds to the teams. The rich get richer; the poor take care of themselves.

Or not…

Updated Formula 1 2015 Entry List

# Driver Team Engine
44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing Renault
26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Racing Renault
19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes
77 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes
11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes
33 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso Renault
55 Carlos Sainz Jr Toro Rosso Renault
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus F1* Mercedes
13 Pastor Maldonado  Lotus F1* Mercedes
9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
TBA  - Manor Grand Prix (Marussia)*  Ferrari
TBA  - Manor Grand Prix (Marussia)*  Ferrari
TBA  - Caterham* Renault
TBA  - Caterham* Renault

* Subject to confirmation

Pikes Peak: Aussie back for third shot at fabled ’climb

AUSTRALIAN driver Jeff Denmeade is preparing for his third shot at the world’s most famous hillclimb, Pikes Peak in Colorado.

The towering Denmeade, who vies with George Miedecke as the nation’s tallest race driver, has entered a highly modified Honda Integra built by Sydney tuner BYP and will tackle the rarefied air of the 19.99km, 156-turn climb in partnership with Honda Racing USA.

The 93rd Running of The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Brought to you by Gran Turismo – yes, that’s its official title – is set for Sunday, June 28.

Denmeade says the 550-horsepower pocket rocket BYP Integra lays claim to being the fastest front-wheel-drive car in Australia after its standout performances at the World Time Attack.

Depending on which class the organisers place the Integra, Denmeade believes he has a potential class winner.

“If we get to the top unscathed, our goal is to take the class win and become the fastest FWD car and fastest Honda car ever up Pikes Peak.”

Denmeade is looking forward to working closely with Honda Racing’s engineers from California and plans to be ultra-fit to better cope with the exertions of driving in the thin air at altitudes of up to 4300 metres.

At Honda’s request, the Integra will run under the car giant’s Acura premium brand in the US.

Denmeade last competed (in an Australian-built Honda-powered Skelta) at Pikes Peak in 2012, when he and co-driver Catherine Hammond snatched third in class, even though the weather turned on them within five km of the finish.

In 2010, when the ’climb still had dirt sections, Denmeade and Hammond contested Pikes Peak in Mitsubishi Evo Turbo, taking out the Time Attack Class and setting a new qualifying mark.

Under a new partnership with automotive entertainment giant GTChannel, fans will for the first time be able to watch Pikes Peak in-car footage through the official PPIHC YouTube Channel minutes after each machine crosses the finish line.

Enthusiasts can also follow Denmeade’s progress on

FORMULA RENAULT: De Pasquale signs with champion team

AUSSIE Anton De Pasquale’s career trajectory continues to look good following news that he has signed to compete in the 2015 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup with 2014 championship-winning team Koiranen GP.

The championship comprises 17 races across seven weekends in Europe and forms part of the elite 'World Series by Renault', regarded by many to be the toughest category at this level in the world, and the pathway for many Formula One aspirants.

De Pasquale, 19, had an almost perfect 2014 season, crushing all-comers to win the Formula Renault 1.6 Championship (now renamed Formula Renault 1.6 European Series), so it was important for him to advance to the next level.

Some Formula Renault 2.0 test days with three leading European teams gave De Pasquale and his handlers the info to make an informed choice of squads for the coming season.

Koiranen GP is a Finnish racing team based in the more weather-friendly Spanish city of Barcelona. More importantly it has an impressive roll-call of success, including in GP3.

Two recent graduates from the team are Daniil Kyvat, Dan Ricciardo’s new team-mate at Red Bull, and Carlos Sainz Jr, now at Toro Rosso for 2015.

“We are sure Anton will be a good challenger straight from his first year and we will give him all the necessary tools to fight in this very high-profile championship," said Koiranen GP CEO Afa Heikkinen.

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