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Formula One Open Wheel

THREE TAKEAWAYS: 2017 Singapore Grand Prix

Formula 1 treated fans to one of its most exciting races of the year as Singapore celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Marina Bay Street Circuit with the series’ first wet night competition.

On a circuit which is traditionally Mercedes’ bogey track, Lewis Hamilton led every lap to take his seventh win of 2017 ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton is the first driver to take three in a row this year after Belgium and Italy.

He inherited the victory after a dramatic opening lap crash involving poleman Sebastian Vettel, teammate Kimi Raikkonen, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Just 12 of the 20 drivers completed the two-hour distance as the contest had the highest number of retirements in 2017.

The drivers’ championship fight has decreased, with Hamilton extending his three-point advantage to 28, with a maximum of 25 for a win.

Has Vettel Thrown Away The Title?

One of the questions answered after the event was what role Vettel played in the incident.

From multiple viewings of the accident, it appears that the German gradually slides left to try and stop Verstappen from attacking him, with Raikkonen going on Verstappen’s left-hand side to attempt to and snatch first place.

The Finn’s right-rear tire collided with the front left of the Dutchman’s car, sending him speeding without stopping into Turn 1, hitting the side of the Red Bull before Fernando Alonso becomes involved. Vettel continued momentarily before spinning into the Turn 3 wall, destroying his front wing.

The last time before this the German had a DNF was in Malaysia last season. It was then that Hamilton suffered power unit failure and the championship fell away from his grasp and towards Nico Rosberg. Has karma gone back into his direction, with nothing to choose between the two drivers who both have shown strong previous form at the upcoming tracks?

Meanwhile, Alonso was almost up to third early on, but took his ninth DNF of the year, tying his worst career record set back in 2001 at Minardi. Water is wet for the Spaniard.

Hamilton Again Shows Wet Weather Class

The three-time champion is probably one of the few drivers on the grid you would want to drive in damp conditions, and he set multiple fastest laps on his way to victory. His time of 1m45.008s is a new record with the faster 2017 machinery.

He made his way from fifth on the grid thanks to the chaos ahead and an important move around the right-hand side of a slow-starting Ricciardo before carrying on at the very right of the track to avoid becoming a passenger in the debris above.

“I came in and I saw that it was raining and I knew that this balances everything out,” he said. “I love racing in the rain, then everything unfolded in the beginning. Starting on the Intermediates I thought it was going to be much closer pace-wise. These conditions give you the opportunity to really make a difference with your driving.”

Ricciardo’s job to finish 4.5 seconds off the winner seemed impressive when his team principal Christian Horner said after the race that he had to control an issue.

“After the [initial] restart (Lap 5 of 58), Daniel started to lose an awful lot of gearbox oil, which created a lot of problems with oil pressure, and we were feeling that it was looking unlikely that Daniel would get to the end of the race,” he said. “However, he managed to nurse the gearbox of the car incredibly well for three-quarters of the Grand Prix, and though able to hold off any threat from behind from Valtteri, unfortunately he could not attack Lewis ahead.”

It was a familiar story for Valtteri Bottas. Many have wondered whether he can match up in damp or wet conditions after his spin in China earlier in the year, and he finished 8.8s behind in third. Not only that, but his drinks bottle was not fully working in one of the most physically-demanding tracks the series visits.

“In the dry, the car was performing better than expected and the pace was very good for Lewis and me,” he said. “In the wet, I struggled a bit more than him. It’s nice to bring a trophy home after what has been a tricky weekend for me.”

Notable Drivers Suffer Ups And Downs

Days after news of Carlos Sainz swapping Toro Rosso for Renault and Renault powering McLaren next season, all three parties had a solid Singapore night.

Sainz took a career-best fourth-place, while the replaced Jolyon Palmer finished just ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne in sixth. Rumors still say Palmer could have had his last contest with the team, but a positive performance won’t hurt as he looks for a new home on the grid or in another series for 2018.

Two drivers suffered difficult results due to car problems. Nico Hulkenberg was fourth until an oil leak took him to pit lane. He also spent some laps in the top-three, but collects the record for most starts without a podium in F1 history, beating Adrian Sutil’s total of 128. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was fighting for points until an electrical failure.

What’s Next?

The 10th running doesn’t end Singapore’s story for now, as it signed a new four-year deal before the weekend to continue hosting the sport until 2021, confirming its place on 2018’s 21-race calendar.

Drivers now head to Malaysia for the final event in that country in two weeks’ time as the fight to become champion comes down to the next two months.

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @PatersonCameron

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Pagenaud Falls Short In Defense Of Crown

The odds were not in his favor entering the final chapter of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series on Sunday; however, Simon Pagenaud fought hard to keep his No. 1 plate for another year.

Going off-sequence with an aggressive, four-stop pit strategy to move from the second row of the grid to the top spot by the end of the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the Frenchman did what he had to do to win his second title. But, the needed luck unfortunately never came about. Despite driving the wheels off his DXC Chevrolet, even going off course on back-to-back laps at the challenging turn nine chicane, the veteran never gave way. Pagenaud managed to reach the checkered flag first, but his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden finished behind him in second, just enough to take his first series championship by 13 points.

“It was Kyle Moyer’s (race engineer) idea to go with four stops, it was a great call from and probably the only way we could win (today),” said Pagenaud to IndyCar Radio after the race. “We did everything we could do, but Josef did enough to hold us off, he deserves it.”

It is not that Pagenaud has had a bad season in 2017; it is just a step below what he achieved in 2016. In his championship-clinching campaign, the Chevrolet pilot opened the year with an astounding first five races where he either won the event or placed second. With the big surge, not even a two-race skid at Indy and Detroit, nor a similar dominant phase from Australia’s Will Power with six straight podiums could deny the French-based chauffeur from lifting the Astor Cup.

This year, the win count dropped from five a season ago, to just two including Sunday’s win at Sonoma; however, the Frenchman was much more consistent as a front-runner. After claiming 10 top-five’s in 2016, Pagenaud improved the count to 13 in 2017. Unfortunately, the same two rounds that hampered him a season ago, were prevalent in keeping his name off the championship trophy this time around. Despite having a goal to win the Indianapolis 500, the Frenchman struggled throughout May, only qualifying on the eighth row and settling for a 14th-place finish. The following weekend at The Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan was equally challenging, and he was credited with a 16th in the first of two scheduled events.

While Newgarden also was a non-factor at the Brickyard, placing 19th after being collected in a late-race pile-up in llturn two, a similar run of wins and runner-ups in rounds 12 through 15 were enough to top Pagenaud’s results. The Frenchman was equally strong though, posting no finishes worse than ninth in Toronto.

“We won the race. It wasn’t enough,” explained Pagenaud after the race. “It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong at every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year.”

Although the make-up of Team Penske next year is still in question with whether Helio Castroneves will return to contest the full season in 2018 or not, most of the key players are in place for Pagenaud, Newgarden, and Will Power should be back in full force. If the transition to a new look Dallara DW12 causes a few headaches, the experience should keep the Captain’s trio or quartet near the front of the proceedings, and if things work out, Simon Pagenaud may reclaim his title in 365 days time.

Still, when one looks back on his 2017 campaign, a runner-up placing is far from a failure.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Perfect Penske Day Ends with Pagenaud Race Win, Newgarden Championship

SONOMA, California (Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017) – For Team Penske, it was the perfect day at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Simon Pagenaud won the race to conclude the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Teammate Josef Newgarden finished second to wrap up the championship.

Pagenaud, the 2016 champion driving the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, beat Newgarden to the finish line by 1.0986 seconds to win the 85-lap race at Sonoma Raceway. It was the Frenchman’s 11th career victory and second straight on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent road course. A year ago, Pagenaud won from the pole position at Sonoma to sew up his first championship.

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Box score

This year, it was Newgarden who clinched his first title and the $1 million champion’s prize by finishing second in the race. The 26-year-old Tennessean held off Pagenaud by 13 points in the final standings to become the first American driver to win the championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay five years ago.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said Newgarden, the driver of the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet who made his 100th career start today. “It was all year and it took a lot to make it happen. Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help to make sure we got this done. It’s a huge team effort at Team Penske.

“To finally get it done is a dream come true.”

The championship is the 15th for Team Penske, the most decorated team in Indy car history. Newgarden joins the likes of Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Al Unser, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Jr., Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish Jr., Will Power and Pagenaud as Team Penske drivers to win an Indy car title.

“I’ve had so many great drivers, and as I said, I don’t have a favorite,” team owner Roger Penske said. “I can’t compare (Newgarden) to anyone exactly. He’s an American, which is special in this sport because many of the other drivers have come from overseas and different parts of the world. To see Josef kind of take this route and be at the top right now is pretty exciting.”

The race ran caution-free for the first time in Sonoma Raceway history, which now spans 14 Indy car events. Newgarden and Pagenaud each led 41 laps. Pagenaud opted for a four-stop strategy to Newgarden’s three pit stops, but the Frenchman made up the extra time in pit lane by turning faster laps on an open track.

The decisive race moment came when Pagenaud made his final stop from the lead for fuel and tires on Lap 64. He returned to the track just ahead of the charging Newgarden and held on to first place as the teammates battled around the track. From there, Pagenaud kept Newgarden in his mirrors to the finish.

Pagenaud completed all 2,331 laps this season, becoming just the second driver to finish every lap in a season. Tony Kanaan was the first, when he completed all 3,305 laps when he won the 2004 championship.

“We did what we had to do,” Pagenaud said. “We tried. We won the race; it wasn’t enough. It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong in every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year, so we’ll come back. Thirteen points. Next year we’ll come back and give him a hell of a competition again.”

Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, gave Team Penske a race podium sweep by placing third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske. Scott Dixon finished fourth in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing to clinch third in the standings, 23 points behind Newgarden. It is the 11th time in his 17-year career that Dixon, a four-time champion, has finished in the top three in points.

Helio Castroneves wrapped up fourth in the standings by finishing fifth in the race driving the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Completing his 20th year racing Indy cars, the 42-year-old Brazilian is still in search of his first series championship.

By finishing third in the race, Power – the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion – earned fifth place in the standings.

An hour-long special documenting the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and Newgarden’s championship will air at 7 p.m. ET Sept. 28 on NBCSN.  

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Formula One Open Wheel

Force India Keeps Perez, Ocon For 2018

It has been a sometimes stressful 2017 with the drivers at Force India, but the team is keeping faith in their line-up for 2018.

Sergio Perez has signed a contract extension to continue alongside Esteban Ocon for a second season.

It will take Perez into a fifth campaign with the Silverstone-based team after four podiums, 12 top-fives and 306 points from the last 73 races together.

“Staying with Sahara Force India was always my priority,” the Mexican said. “It’s a team that has allowed me to show my talents as a driver and I feel very happy here. I’m proud of everything we have already achieved together and I think there is more to come. The team has done an amazing job this year to develop the car and establish our position as the fourth-best team in F1. In the end, it was an easy decision to continue our journey together.”

Ocon sticks alongside after completing his 14 events with them so far, collecting 13 results with points.

“Since joining us in 2014, he has matured to become one of the quickest and most consistent drivers on the grid,” team principal and managing director Vijay Mallya added. “Alongside Esteban, retaining Sergio gives us stability going into next season and one of the most exciting driver pairings in F1.”

Perez celebrated the news by placing fifth at the Singapore Grand Prix, moving level with sixth-place Max Verstappen in the drivers’ championship.

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @PatersonCameron

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Hamilton Wins Dramatic Wet-Dry Grand Prix in Singapore

It was action from the off in Sunday evening’s Singapore Grand Prix – the first night race in F1 history to be run in wet conditions. With both Ferraris and a Red Bull eliminated in a coming-together at the start, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton stormed to his 60th F1 victory, extending his championship lead over Sebastian Vettel from three to 28 points with just six races to go.

In a race that ran to the full two-hour limit thanks to three safety-car periods, Daniel Ricciardo made the Marina Bay podium for the fourth year in a row, as he took second place for Red Bull ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.

Carlos Sainz scored his best-ever result with fourth for Toro Rosso; Jolyon Palmer did the same as he finished sixth for Renault; and likewise Stoffel Vandoorne with seventh place for McLaren. The remaining points places went to Force India’s Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon in fifth and tenth respectively, Williams’ Lance Stroll in eighth and Haas’s Romain Grosjean in ninth.

The race, as it happened

With the forecast rain having started to fall just prior to the start, Vettel led off the line from his hard-won pole position, but as Max Verstappen lagged alongside him, Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen came creeping down the inside of the Red Bull heading to Turn 1. That was where the Dutchman found himself getting pinched in a Scuderia sandwich, and the three collided.

Verstappen and Raikkonen were done for the night, sliding off on the outside of the corner and collecting an innocent Fernando Alonso, who had rocketed his McLaren off the line in typical fashion to briefly nose as high as third.

Vettel clung to the lead as Hamilton jumped to second place round the outside, but then the German’s car damaged spun in a straight line, ripping off its nose and prompting his retirement.

Hamilton thus led Ricciardo as the debris was cleared under the first of the three safety-car deployments.

When the race resumed on the fifth lap, Hamilton began opening a gap to Ricciardo that was wiped out in the 11th lap when Daniil Kvyat crashed his Toro Rosso into the Turn 7 wall.

Once again Hamilton rebuilt his advantage with another series of fastest laps, and by the 24th lap conditions were dry enough for slick tyres.

Ricciardo took ultrasofts on the 28th lap, Hamilton a lap later, and yet again the Mercedes pilot opened up a lead, only to see it eradicated once more when Marcus Ericsson crashed his Sauber on the 37th lap after spinning on the Anderson Bridge.

By then Ricciardo had been trading fastest lap with Hamilton, but when the track went green for the last time the Englishman was still able to draw away as he wished and eventually won by 4.5s.

It was a great evening for Mercedes, with Valtteri Bottas bringing his car home third, albeit a long way behind the Red Bull.

Carlos Sainz drove an excellent race for Toro Rosso and resisted race-long pressure from Force India’s Sergio Perez to take fourth place, 14s behind Bottas.

And it was a good day at last for Jolyon Palmer who, after Renault team mate Nico Hulkenberg had fallen back from an excellent fourth place with mechanical problems, resisted attacks from Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren to finish sixth.

Vandoorne was comfortably ahead of Lance Stroll’s Williams which benefited when the team split their early strategy and put him on intermediate tyres and kept Felipe Massa on full wets. The Canadian was chased home by Romain Grosjean’s Haas, as Esteban Ocon took the final point for Force India. Massa, in 11th, and Pascal Wehrlein in 12th, were the final finishers.

Besides Verstappen, Raikkonen, Vettel, Kvyat, Ericsson and Hulkenberg, Alonso recovered from his first corner delay but retired his damaged McLaren with mechanical problems which led to loss of power, while Kevin Magnussen, whose Haas had a problem with its MGU-K, was the final DNF.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY HOT TIP: Sonoma

The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma means one final decision is in the way of Firestone Fantasy Challenge players for 2017.

In the previous 16 events of the Verizon IndyCar Series, most of the drivers were on the same agenda to win outright. However, in the California Wine Country, the scenarios are mixed. The quartet from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon are vying for a season championship. Others, such as J.R. Hildebrand and Carlos Munoz for instance, need a result to maintain employment for 2018. In the case of both, neither pilot has a ride in the cards for next year.

So while some in Sunday’s 22-car lineup may choose a more conservative tact, others will view the action as a nothing to lose offering and maybe take risks that one would otherwise opt against. With those matters at hand, picking a team capable of raking in a large sum of points to close out the fantasy year could be tough.

Yours truly has thrown caution to the wind for the 17th and final outing and features a quartet of participants who have each had their own moment in the sun during the current campaign. Heading the list is current championship leader Josef Newgarden, attempting to become the first American driver to win the title since Ryan Hunter-Reay did so in 2012. Although the Tennessean arrives at Sonoma Raceway off a bad race at Watkins Glen when he came home in 18th, his ability to top the speed charts in both sessions on Friday, shows to me that he is ready to fight all out for the required crown-earning result.

Also on a bit of a roll entering Northern California is home state native, Alexander Rossi. With a win in New York and four other top-six or better placements in the last five races, the NAPA Auto Parts Honda chauffeur has to be viewed as a legit challenger on Sunday. The second-year veteran finished fifth at Sonoma a season ago.

While he has yet to return to the form he presented before his horrific accident suffered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais is worth the risk of selecting this weekend, having finished sixth at this venue for the Windy City runners in 2011. Although the St. Petersburg, Florida street circuit he won upon to open this year, lacks the elevation changes present at Sonoma Raceway, the Frenchman’s talents on road courses are well documented in previous stints in both ChampCar and Formula One.

Rounding out my squad for race number seventeeen is Spencer Pigot for Ed Carpenter Racing. The 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion may have encountered the worst luck of any regular entrant in 2017. Mechanical failures have denied him chances at top-ten placements; however, the ECR group are in major need of a good result, in hopes of a significant boost in performance for 2018, when the American young gun will contest every event on the calendar.

Even though just one player in the hunt for a title is featured on Sunday’s lineup card, the group presented may take advantage of the overaggressive nature of others to close out 2017 with a better than expected climax.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Points Leader Newgarden Wins Sonoma Pole With Record Lap

SONOMA, California (Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017) – Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden withstood constant pressure from his nearest championship competitors, setting a track record to win the Verizon P1 Award in GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma qualifying.

Newgarden earned his first pole of the season and second of his six-year career with a scintillating last lap of 1 minute, 15.5205 seconds (113.691 mph) on Sonoma Raceway’s 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent road course. The championship bonus point Newgarden collected for winning the pole stretched his advantage to four points over Scott Dixon heading into Sunday’s season finale that offers double race points.

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Qualifying results

The pole-winning lap from Newgarden in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet edged teammate Will Power for qualifying honors. It was the 11th pole position won by a Team Penske driver this season and No. 256 in the team’s Indy car history.

“I was just hoping we could get one of these (Verizon P1 Awards) this year,” said Newgarden, whose only previous pole came at Milwaukee in 2015. “We’ve been close a couple times and a couple places I felt like we had the speed to do it and didn’t get it done.

“It’s cool because this is the Verizon P1 Award and I’ve been driving the hum by Verizon car many races this year, and I haven’t been able to get it in its place.”

Power, fifth in the standings and now 69 points behind Newgarden, ran a best lap of 1:15.5556 (113.638 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying. The lap fell less than four-hundredths of a second shy of giving Power his 51st career pole and seventh this season.

“You start going back through the lap in your head,” Power said. “I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, would have helped me braking actually, push back. It’s tight, it’s just like that sometimes. Gave it everything I got.”

Simon Pagenaud’s track record from 2016 (1:16.2530) was broken in the first round by Newgarden (1:15.7917), but Pagenaud reset the standard temporarily when he was fastest in the second round (1:15.7120) in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.

It set up the dramatic run for the pole. Newgarden – the only Team Penske driver to use a new set of the Firestone alternate tires in the first round – was quickest in the Firestone Fast Six with another lap record completed on a used set of red-sidewall alternates despite his teammates each having a new set of the softer alternates at their disposal.

“We were behind the eight ball there, for sure, after the first round,” Newgarden said. “We made the best decision we could as a group. There was no way we couldn’t run the reds (in first-round qualifying) because we just had no idea what people were going to run.

“We knew we’d be on our back foot then in the Fast Six, but this car was phenomenal.”

Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, wound up third in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1:15.6356 (113.518 mph). Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske a sweep of the first four qualifying positions when he finished fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:15.8032, 113.267 mph). It is the third time this season that Penske drivers have owned the top four qualifying positions, also sweeping at Road America in June and Gateway Motorsports Park last month.

Castroneves is third in the championship, now 23 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud is fourth, 35 points behind the leader.

Takuma Sato qualified fifth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:16.2208, 112.646 mph), just ahead of Dixon in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (1:16.3978, 112.385 mph). Dixon was the only driver to reach the Firestone Fast Six at all nine road- and street-course events where it was conducted this season.

“The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn’t carry the speed through the corners,” said Dixon, seeking his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship. A win Sunday would accomplish the feat.

“Good to make it through to where we did,” Dixon added. “It was definitely hard work, a big credit to the team. Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there. I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race (and the championship). Definitely you’d want to be a little further up, but that’s the way it goes.”

A final 30-minute warmup practice at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com) will give the 22 competitors a final chance to hone in on race setups. A special pre-race program will stream live at 6 p.m. on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Live race coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The race winner earns 100 points, with 80 points for second place, 70 for third and down to 16 points for 22nd place. A driver can earn one bonus point for leading a lap, with the driver leading the most laps getting two bonus points.

The 85-lap race on Sunday will mark the 12th straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series championship is determined in the season’s last race.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Vettel Spoils Red Bull Party With Singapore Pole

For a while in Singapore on Saturday evening it looked as though Max Verstappen was set to become F1’s youngest ever pole sitter. That was until the man who holds that record – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel – stormed to his fourth P1 qualifying at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, beating the Dutchman by a clear three-tenths of a second.

It was a lap that left even Vettel breathless with disbelief that finally settled the situation in his favour as he fights to retrieve his previous championship advantage from points leader Lewis Hamilton, who finished fifth on the grid for Mercedes.

Daniel Ricciardo was third with a time almost identical to his Red Bull team mate’s, with Kimi Raikkonen taking fourth in the second Ferrari. Then came the silver cars of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, with Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz completing the top ten.

Prior to the start of Q1, teams were warned that there was some oil on the entry to Turn 20, a residue from the Porsche race that followed FP3. The big problem was hitting walls, which Williams’ Felipe Massa, Haas’s Romain Grosjean and Force India’s Esteban Ocon all did, the first of that trio losing time and chances by puncturing his right rear tyre.

But the big excitement was Red Bull’s pace as Verstappen narrowly headed Ricciardo, 1m 42.010s to 1m 42.063s, with Hamilton third on 1m 42.455s and the Ferraris nearly a second down on Hamilton in fifth and sixth places.

That got even worse for the Scuderia, though, as they were in the pits having changes made for Q2 there was a rash of further improvements. Alonso jumped to third ahead of Sainz and Vandoorne, leaving Hamilton sixth ahead of Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and Hulkenberg, thus dropping Bottas, Raikkonen and Vettel to 10th, 11th and 12th.

A late improvement from Grosjean also bumped team mate Kevin Magnussen’s 1m 43.756s to 16th and thus the first of the Q1 fallers, followed by Massa, who got going again to lap in 1m 44.014s, Williams team mate Lance Stroll on 1m 44.728s, and the Saubers of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson on 1m 45.059s and 1m 45.570s respectively.

Ferrari came out fighting in Q2, as Vettel on 1m 40.329s headed Raikkonen on 1m 40.999s, Hamilton on 1m 41.075s and Bottas on 1m 41.409s. But then Verstappen went quickest with 1m 40.379s and Ricciardo moved in behind Vettel with 1m 40.776s. This was more like it.

Grosjean went off again, this time in Turn 1, then Vandoorne jumped to sixth on 1m 41.227s.

In the end it was Verstappen on 1m 40.332s as a strong lap for Raikkonen ended in the final sector with 1m 40.525s. That was then beaten by Ricciardo with 1m 40.385s as Red Bull went 1-2, while Vettel and Hamilton were inseparable on 1m 40.529s and 1m 40.577s.

The outstanding Vandoorne was sixth from Hulkenberg, Bottas, Alonso and Sainz, which meant that Palmer was the first to miss out with 1m 42.017s. The Force Indias were, unusually, nowhere, with Perez on 1m 42.246s and Ocon 1m 42.760s in 12th and 14th, separated by Kvyat on 1m 42.338s. Grosjean brought up the rear with 1m 43.883s.

Could Verstappen hold on to become the world’s first teenaged F1 polesitter, or would Mercedes and Ferrari be able to wind up their engines sufficiently to overcome the Red Bull duo?

Q3 saw the times really tumble. This time it was Vettel on provisional pole after the first runs with 1m 39.669s, snatching the honours from Verstappen, who had lapped in 1m 39.814s. Ricciardo was also super-quick with 1m 39.862s, jumping him to third ahead of Raikkonen on 1m 40.069s and Hamilton on 1m 40.192s. The track seemed to be getting better every lap.

Further back, Bottas was sixth from Alonso, Vandoorne, Hulkenberg and Sainz.

Could Verstappen get the initiative back from Vettel? Would Ricciardo intervene?

Vettel pushed harder than ever and clipped his time to 1m 39.491s, and to that Verstappen had no reply as his 1m 39.993s lap failed to match his previous effort. Ricciardo improved fractionally, to stay third with 1m 39.840s, while Raikkonen was likewise unable to go quicker and stayed fourth ahead of Hamilton, who improved slightly to 1m 40.126s for fifth.

“I don’t know where I found the time,” Vettel admitted. “We struggled yesterday and also this morning. I’m still full of adrenaline so maybe what I saw makes no sense, but I love this track. The car was tricky but was getting better and better. I scraped the wall with my left rear, and I think I need to calm down, but I’m very, very happy. It’s amazing, on this track, and when you can feel the car coming alive you can do what you want.”

Ericsson has a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change following his FP3 crash, but given he qualified last, the provisional grid currently reads exactly as per qualifying order.

Categories
Formula One Open Wheel

F1 Silly Season: Sainz to Renault, and More

The Formula 1 silly season volcano erupted into life ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix as drivers, teams, and engine manufacturers announced their plans for 2018 and beyond.

Realistically, September is the latest anyone could have left their decisions with plans underway for new chassis’ and the next campaign starting in six months’ time.

Sainz Goes to Renault

Carlos Sainz Jr. has been loaned to Renault for 2018 to partner Nico Hulkenberg.

He continues to be associated with Red Bull but will get an experience of how a manufacturer works for the first time. Sainz has only driven for Toro Rosso to date, claiming a career-best sixth four times.

“This choice is well-aligned with our mid-term strategic plans,” managing director Cyril Abiteboul said. “We feel that Nico and Carlos will complement each other on and off track and the combination should help us push forwards on the grid.”

The signing leaves Jolyon Palmer on the sidelines for now after over 35 events with the team. Rumors have also consistently linked Sainz with taking over Palmer’s seat for the next contest in Malaysia.

Palmer denied this in the press conference before the start of the weekend, saying, “I have a contract. I’ve got seven more races this year. There have been suggestions for the past 35 races that I might not be at the next one, or in the next few, so this is nothing new for me, it’s water off a duck’s back now. It’s the same, I think at probably most races this year it’s been the case and nothing has changed.”

McLaren Joins Up With Renault

Renault will power McLaren for the first time in its history in the next three seasons as the former constructors’ champions split with Honda.

It ends its time with the brand after three years. If the MCL32 does not claim a podium by the end of 2017, it will be the first time that McLaren has not finished in the top-three through a period with an engine manufacturer since the M7D Alfa Romeo-powered car in 1970.

The switch could also change the situation around Fernando Alonso’s future. The Renault engine has won in June with Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull, and Alonso has previously said that he wants to be back on the top step. The manufacturer was also the team that Alonso won a title for in 2005 and 2006.

There’s also discussion surrounding his options now being limited, despite previously being linked to a possible  Verizon IndyCar Series ride. However, the seat he was likely to have taken was filled at Andretti Autosport by Zach Veach. As a result, he could be back in F1 with just a possible one-off ride for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso gave an update in Thursday’s press briefing, adding, “There are options everywhere. And they are all very good. You just need to be patient and wait a couple of weeks. The Indy 500 is together with Monaco, as we know, there is another one still to complete, so the triple crown is still ongoing at the maximum speed. I agree with the same thing [McLaren executive director] Zak [Brown] said: if I remain in F1 it’s because I believe I can win next year. So, that will ease the decision a lot because I will be in Monaco because I don’t want to lose any points. The plan is ongoing and very good news is coming.”

Toro Rosso Moves to Honda Power

As a result of McLaren’s switch, Honda is staying in F1 in the back of the Toro Rosso chassis as it moves away from Renault. It has a multi-year agreement to run the Japanese power units.

“It will be a question of adaption of our plans rather than a wholesale change and we are in the process of re-planning our design and production activities in conjunction with Honda to ensure that we both hit all our important deadlines,” technical director James Key said. “We will be working hard not to only re-design the power unit installation but also ensure that this has minimal or no effect on the ongoing development work for 2018.”

Sainz’s vacant seat could allow Toro Rosso to debut a new racer, with several options available. Red Bull reserve Pierre Gasly is winning in the Super Formula championship with a Honda-powered car, Sean Gelael took part in his first practice session for them in Singapore, and F2 and GP3 competitors Nobuharu Matsushita and Nirei Fukuzumi are both Honda-supported and working their way through the ladder system.

Kubica, Rosberg Start Working Together

Retired 2016 champion Nico Rosberg is continuing to be involved in motorsports as he tweeted that he is helping Robert Kubica with his future.

https://twitter.com/nico_rosberg/status/908607081527349248

Kubica was one of the names in the frame for Sainz’s Renault seat after having three test sessions with them but is still waiting for an opportunity for a potential comeback.

The two of them may work perfectly as both have been in similar places before in their careers. The duo both burst onto the scene in 2006 and finished close in seventh and eighth in the drivers’ championship in the last season the Pole competed in in 2010. Kubica was then in the same bracket as Rosberg as someone who could do great things later before his rallying accident affected that.

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: 2018 Driver Change Analysis

Since the posting of my latest Ultimate Silly Season update last week, several suggested moves have turned heads.

If beliefs about other deals being inked are indeed on target, there could be as many as four new pilots joining the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series fleet in 2018. Interestingly, however, is the chance of two of the circuit’s most dominant teams being destinations.

The addition of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Zach Veach at Andretti Autosport was a move that was a long time coming, for perhaps the most patient prospect in recent memory. Since the 2016 silly season, the Ohioan has been a realistic target for multiple rides, but was minus the funding and the experience desired to be able to sign on the dotted line.

While the inclusion at an organization that has won the last two Indianapolis 500s will provide a fair deal of expectations in the long term, the pressure to succeed will be a reduced rate next season. With Michael Andretti’s quartet featuring a pair of championship contenders in Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the goal for year one may be to at worst match the outputs from Marco Andretti, who has endured a difficult 2017 campaign.

Veach had two chances to gain IndyCar familiarity in 2017, and he fared well on short notice at Barber Motorsports Park, one of the series’ most demanding layouts. He also made his Indy 500 debut for A.J. Foyt, and while he suffered a crash before qualifying, he mostly kept his nose clean on race day, when mechanical failure sidelined him at the three-quarter mark.

Spencer Pigot’s promotion to full-time service at Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018 was based on the potential shown, if not by the results sheet. While the 23-year old showed solid pace in several road races in 2017, he was often plagued by car trouble or being in the wrong place at an inopportune moment. Still, if the former Indy Lights champion did not get the bump up at ECR, other suitors may have snapped up the Pasadena, California resident.

The move gives the Speedway, Indiana squad its most strong driving cast for non-oval track competition since when Mike Conway was at the controls in 2014. With several potent road racing prospects on the free agent market, pairing another talented shoe with Pigot will show a desire from Ed Carpenter to improve his product in all events, rather than banking on solely the high speed runs.

With the 2017 Indy Lights championship now in the bank, expect Kyle Kaiser to use the advancement scholarship money earned to compete in at least three events, if not a full-run for Juncos Racing. The title promotes not only the number one driver, but also the best Mazda Road to Indy entrant into the IndyCar Series. Ricardo Juncos made his top tier debut at this year’s Indy 500, fielding two Chevrolet-powered entries for Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra.

Kaiser was initially pointed toward taking one of the Indy rides this past May; however, Juncos elected to hold off on moving the 21-year old forward in favor of gaining further experience. The decision has returned positively as the Californian has won three times and placed in the top-three in six of 16 Indy Lights races this year.

The final newcomer is still in the yet to be confirmed at the time POPULAR SPEED went to press, however if reports are accurate, the addition of Brendon Hartley as a teammate to fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi is the ultimate boom or bust scenario. The former Formula One test driver and Porsche LMP-1 Hybrid competitor has a boat load of experience and a ton of speed, but the 27-year old does come with a “buyer beware” message. Hartley also has shown a case of over-aggressiveness during his time in the FIA World Endurance Championship, and while he may show incredible pace in IndyCar, he also could run up a substantial accident bill for Ganassi if confirmed for next season.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.