2014 Formula 1 Season Preview

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Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes

The new Formula 1 season roars into action this weekend at the ever-familiar sights and sounds of Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. The new season comes with a few rule changes as well. The major change that has been incorporated by the FIA is the introduction of the new 1.6 litre V6 format engine. This is a change to the old 2.4 litre V8 engines, which teams have been using since 2006.

There has been some relief in the fact that the cars seem to be on pace with those of last year. Some feared that the new engine would cause the cars to perform three seconds slower per lap. A concern in the paddocks is also the fuel saving rule that is being enforced. Each car will have a limit of only 100kg of fuel per race this year and there is a worry that drivers will not be able to perform to the best of their ability if they need to conserve full during races.

Renault and Red Bull have had difficulty with the changes in the engine and have had a poor pre-season testing. Red Bull have completed just over 1,711 kilometres of driving over 12 days of testing. Compare this to rivals, Mercedes and Ferrari, who have completed 4,972 kilometres and 4,488 kilometres respectively. Only Ferrari-powered Marussia and Lotus, also Renault-powered, have covered fewer miles.

However, this morning’s second practice showed that there have been improvements with the Milton-Keynes team’s car. Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel came fourth, 0.756 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton, who topped the time sheets. His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo came in 6th, just 0.157 seconds behind the German.

The talking story of pre-season has been of the Mercedes W05 and its speed. The team is favourite to win, not only the Constructor’s Championship this season, but also to win the Drivers Championship with Lewis Hamilton. The team completed a one-two on Friday practice, despite Hamilton missing the first practice session due to an oil sensor calibration problem.

This year could see Vettel and Red Bull’s grip on the titles finally loosen with the challenge of Mercedes and Hamilton. Hamilton’s teammate, Nico Rosberg shouldn’t be ruled out either as a contender, winning three races last year (all consecutively). He also outperformed Hamilton nine times last season and was only out of the top ten three times.

The Ferrari F14 T has also run well during pre-season testing. Nonetheless, one of the major talking points (if not THE major talking point) regarding Ferrari has been the driver line up. One could call it a “Dream Team” with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen and it’ll be interesting to see how these two marquee names will work together during the season. A battle between these two for the top spot on the podium is mouth watering, to say the least. We witnessed Alonso compete with a teammate before (Lewis Hamilton) and that ended with the Spaniard leaving McLaren, acrimoniously.

If you are looking to support a dark horse this season, then look no further than Force India. Their line up is impressive with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Their car, powered by Mercedes, has also been reliable throughout pre-season. The team’s best performance last year was 4th in the Bahrain Grand Prix. They should be able to push up the grid this year and, hopefully, get on the podium a couple of times this season.

A team on a downward spiral is Lotus. Last year’s 4th place team haven’t had the best pre-season. They, like Red Bull, are using Renault engines and, as mention above, have clocked in some of the fewest miles during pre-season testing. They have also taken a risk with the line up of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado. Both men are known for their erratic driving and Grosjean will need to step up his game, as he has big shoes to fill, following Kimi Raikkonen as lead driver.

Lotus also lost their Technical Director, James Allison last year and have recently lost, Team Principal, Eric Bouiller to McLaren. Times are tough at the Oxford based team. New Technical Director, Nick Chester has predicted a tough start to the season and one would have to wonder what could happen to the team if they are not matching the top teams by the time the Bahrain and Chinese Grand Prix’s come around.

It might be a cliché, but this season should be an exciting one as Mercedes attempt to break the monopoly that Red Bull has had on the sport for the last four seasons. Despite their good performances in pre-season, Mercedes’ Executive Director, Toto Wolff has played down his team’s label as favourites. “In past seasons, the favourites after the first test were not always in the same position at the first race,” claimed Wolff to the BBC.

Wolff’s comments are interesting and should be noted. While Mercedes have performed well in pre-season and in the second practice, there have been other teams that have performed well, they probably went under the radar due to the focus being on Red Bull’s poor performances. Look to Ferrari to put in a scrap with Mercedes for the Constructor’s title, while Hamilton battles it out with Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen, Button and even his own teammate, Rosberg, for the Driver’s Championship.

Honeymoon is over for the Dream Team as Serbia hand O’Neill his first defeat

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Ireland vs SerbiaThe Dream Team of O’Neill and Keane returned to Dublin but it wasn’t the result they were looking for as the Serbians left with a victory over an Irish team, that at times showed some great skill but was still a work in progress.

It was close to being the perfect start for the Irish after James McClean sent in a cross that was struck well by Glenn Whelan into the back of net. The assistant referee ruled the goal offside after judging that Wes Hoolahan was offside. Hoolahan’s foot grazed the ball before going into the goal. However, replays showed that Hoolahan was played onside by Dušan Basta.

It didn’t take long for Ireland to put pressure on the Serbians once again. That pressure paid off when a mix up in communication between captain, Branislav Ivanović, and keeper, Vladimir Stojković, gifted Shane Long the ball, who, without hesitation, chipped the keeper perfectly to score the opening goal of the game.

Serbia then settled into the game and had a handful of chances at goal including a powerful header from Ivanović that was cleared off the line by James McCarthy.  Dušan Tadić also had a great effort on goal. The FC Twente midfielder’s effort from outside the box had to be tipped over the crossbar by David Forde. The Irish seemed to fall off the pace a bit as halftime approached and would carry this into the second half.

This was evident in the second half as Ireland instantly threw away their lead. Some poor play from Ireland, allowed Serbia to pick up the ball outside the box and Aleksandar Kolarov’s pass forced James McCarthy to attempt a block but instead he put the ball into the back of his own net. It was an unfortunate incident for Everton man, who up to that point was having a good game.

Ireland applied some pressure following the goal and Shane Long will be kicking himself that he didn’t restore Ireland’s lead after a perfect ball from Wes Hoolahan set Long on course for his second goal. However, the Hull City striker scuffed his shot after trying to chip the keeper and the look on his face after his attempt summed up his effort.

The Serbians then got the winning goal following some more poor play from Ireland, which led to a scramble in the box with the ball landing at the feet of Filip Dordević. It was an easy tap in for the striker, who played well throughout his time on the pitch.

Both goals summed up the work that needs to be done when the team meets up again. Seamus Coleman had a disappointing game. The Everton defender seemed to lose the ball easily and it could be argued that he was at fault for both of Serbia’s goals.

There were positives to take away from the game though as the combination of Wes Hoolahan and Shane Long looked promising, James McClean also looked well on the flanks, James McCarthy also performed well in the centre of midfield even with his own goal.

The final score was not what fans were looking for, but as Roy Keane had suggested previously the job at hand is a “work in progress” and that was visible. Another test will come in May, as the Boys in Green take on another higher-ranking team in the shape of Fatih Terim’s Turkey.

We are trying to build spirit and confidence – Keane

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Republic of Ireland training sessionIt was a sunny but cold morning on Dublin’s coast as the Republic of Ireland squad trained at Gannon Park. Manager, Martin O’Neill, and his assistant, Roy Keane, kept a close eye on proceedings in Malahide as the Boys in Green prepared for the clash with Serbia on Wednesday night.

There were few concerns regarding injuries at today’s training session. Damien Delaney suffered a knock in Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw with Swansea at the weekend and will join up with the squad later today, according to assistant manager Roy Keane.

John O’Shea will also fly into Dublin later today after his side, Sunderland, lost to Manchester City in the Capital One Cup Final on Sunday afternoon. Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington sat out training due to their participation in Norwich City’s 4-1 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday evening. A game, in which, the former of the two players scored the opening goal of the game.

QPR keeper, Brian Murphy is a late addition to the squad replacing Rob Elliot. The Newcastle keeper misses the game due to a knee problem.

The manager has already lost 4 members of his initial 29-man squad with the withdrawals of Andy Reid, Kevin Doyle and Rob Elliot. O’Neill has rested Richard Dunne so he can get more game time at QPR and be prepared for the end of season friendlies. Andy Reid misses the Serbia game due to surgery on a hernia, which is expected to keep him out of action for up to 6 weeks. Meanwhile, QPR striker, Kevin Doyle has a thigh problem.

Keane praised Reid’s performances of late for Nottingham Forrest. However, he was quick to point out that injuries are part of the game of football. “I’ve seen Reid a few times this year, he has been outstanding. So he is a loss, but that’s the name of the game, players will get injured, particularly at this stage of the season with a lot of demands on them,” said Keane.

When asked about a possible team selection, Keane was quick to respond that the management will have to wait until they hear back from the players and then decided tonight how to dictate training tomorrow ahead of a team selection for Wednesday’s game.

The former Irish captain was asked about the importance of Wednesday night’s match with the high-ranking Serbia but dismissed prioritising games and signalling that each game was as important as the next. “There’s nothing but benefits when winning a game of football”, according to Keane, who also suggested the need to build a spirit before the team goes its separate ways and meets up again at the season’s end.

The assistant manager also shared his thoughts on Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifying group. Commenting on the group, Keane said, “It’s very tough, but one we are looking forward to. I know I keep saying we are going to be up against some good teams but we are a good team. So roll on September, we’ll be ready.”

Keane also admitted that his new role had changed the way he looked at games. “Obviously, you have a different mind-set. First and foremost when you go to a match, you keep your fingers’ crossed that the lads are playing. I can go to the games and enjoy the contribution the Irish lads have been giving to their teams. Of course, my mind-set is that is my priority. Before, I would just be going to a match as a fan of football and now it is to make sure the Irish lads are getting involved and doing well,” commented Keane.

Ireland’s assistant manager was also asked about his comments midweek about his old club, Manchester United’s performance in the Champions League against Olympiakos and whether he would say the same to the Irish team if they put on a similar performance. The Cork man thought that his comments during the week and any comments he has made in the past be it as pundit or manager have been “fair.”

Keane refused to comment on the incident at the weekend between Hull City midfielder David Meyler and Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew saying it was, “none of my business.”

Keane was also happy with the improvements made in the Irish set up since he joined with O’Neill late last year. He was pleased with the organisation of the set up and also the number of staff made available to the squad and management. He did admit it was still a work in progress. He was also asked if he rolled his eyes this morning, reading the newspaper reports regarding Mick McCarthy’s comments about Keane’s apology to him about the Saipan incident in 2002. Keane’s reply was simple; “I roll my eyes most mornings.”

The match on Wednesday night in Aviva Stadium will no doubt be an exercise for the management team as they look to September and the opening game of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Georgia. O’Neill will be eager to cast an eye over a range of players as he puts together a squad that will challenge for qualification to the tournament in France from group D.

Serbia have a full strength squad that includes familiar names like Ivanović, Matić, and Kolarov among its ranks. A name that may appear on interim coach, Ljubinko Drulović’s team sheet is that of Stefan Šćepović. The Sporting Gijón forward has scored 17 goals in 26 appearances for his club this season in the Spanish Segunda División.

The game will no doubt be a good test for the Boys in Green as they prepare for the challenge that lies ahead of them in September. A win here will put them in good spirits, as mentioned by Keane and will help build much needed momentum towards Tbilisi on September 7th.

Original story for the The LOI Blog posted here.