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Vandoorne Stays at McLaren for 2018

Popular belief says that drivers might have an advantage at their home track, but one racer has an extra boost for the Belgian Grand Prix.

2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne and McLaren will continue their partnership for the 2018 Formula 1 season.

There is no detail yet on who his teammate will be, with questions still to be publicly answered over the future of Fernando Alonso.

The news comes one round after he took his first point as a permanent competitor in Hungary, finishing 10th. He has completed seven races this year and is on a streak of five straight events reaching the checkered flag. Vandoorne has also qualified in Q3 in three of his last six, outperforming Alonso on a Saturday for the first time in Britain.

McLaren executive director Zak Brown did not downplay the announcement, praising his driver multiple times.

“I’d like to add only that I regard Stoffel as a super talent – a future Formula 1 world champion in fact – and that’s why I’ve always been adamant that he should race for us on a multi-year basis,” he said. “Before anyone asks me any questions about duration, we don’t want to go into that kind of confidential contractual detail, but let me put it this way: when we signed Stoffel, we intended that he would race for us for a significant number of years, and that remains our firm intention. We all know Stoffel’s potential, and when we have a package fast enough to win Grands Prix again – and we will – Stoffel will be in the right place to score his first F1 victory.”

After his debut at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix, the Belgian will be the first to race in three seasons with McLaren after a rookie appearance since Lewis Hamilton (2007-12).

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News Open Wheel

Raikkonen, Ferrari Together Again For 2018

One of the biggest dominoes has now fallen in next year’s driver market, as Ferrari made its first signing for the future.

Kimi Raikkonen is remaining a Formula 1 driver in the 2018 season, extending his ‘technical and racing agreement’ with the Scuderia.

There is no word yet on his teammate, with championship leader Sebastian Vettel’s initial three-year contract expiring at 2017’s end.

It is the first time that Raikkonen has been the first announced racer for a seat at the team as he prepares for an eighth season there.

So far, 2017 has statistically been the Finn’s best since 2013, ending his 128-race pole drought in Monaco, an event he only lost in the pitlane when Vettel got passed with strategy.

He has finished nine of the opening 11 rounds, ending second twice and third another two times. His only retirements came as a result of racing incidents with Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas in Spain and Azerbaijan.

The 37-year-old currently places fifth in the drivers’ championship behind Vettel, both Mercedes and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, on 116 points – 86 behind his teammate.

He will become the third person to reach 150 starts with Ferrari power at the Bahrain Grand Prix, a feat only bettered by Felipe Massa (191) and Michael Schumacher (179).

Raikkonen will be 39 by the end of the next season and is set to be the oldest to compete in the sport since Schumacher at the age of 43 in 2012.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Statistical 101: The Drivers Dominating Saturdays

Saturdays have brought different scales of emotions this year in Formula 1 with unpredictable moments such as Fernando Alonso going to the top at Silverstone in Q1 for the only time in the season, or sometimes dull as Mercedes trying to dominate on a Ferrari off-day.

But this has produced more interesting sessions due to the reduction of numbers on the grid to 20 and the closeness of the midfield. On four occasions, five different teams have had racers eliminated in the initial stage.

For the only time since 2013, four drivers have taken pole positions at halfway. Lewis Hamilton has six and needs just two more to break Michael Schumacher’s 11-year record of 68. Valtteri Bottas had two in Bahrain and Austria, while Sebastian Vettel posted fastest times in Russia and Hungary. Kimi Raikkonen broke his pole drought of 128 races in Monaco.

Whoever goes on to be crowned champion in November will be expected to have consistency on a Saturday, which makes it intriguing to look at the statistics of the first 11 races to read how competitors have got on so far.

2016’s first-half was dominated by eventual championship winner Nico Rosberg, having an average of 1.6 in qualifying and 2.1 on the grid, finishing on the front row in every session.

Saturday Averages

So far that theme is continuing as current leader Vettel has the best consistency, at 2.2, 0.4 ahead of Bottas, who is another 0.4 clear of Hamilton.

Raikkonen is a full place behind his teammate, but miles ahead of the nearest challengers. Red Bull has been in a world of its own on Saturdays, with Verstappen and Ricciardo only averaging good enough to just get on the outside of row three – 6.5 and 7.5.

McLaren’s Jenson Button is high on the list because he’s only appeared once in Monaco when filling in for Alonso.

Sergio Perez leads the contest for positions seventh to 10th with a total of 9.5, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s 9.7 and Felipe Massa’s 9.9.

The notable differences between drivers are at Williams and Haas. Massa’s amount is over five places better than Lance Stroll, and Romain Grosjean is 2.6 ahead of Kevin Magnussen after making Q3 five times.

Despite not being too far away on a Sunday and in the points, Ocon is 2.2 adrift of the Mexican in the other side of the Force India garage. Veteran Alonso has an average 2.4 places better than Stoffel Vandoorne in the Belgian’s rookie season for McLaren.

Sunday Averages

Vettel also leads this category with a figure of 2.2 as he has avoided penalties so far, 0.9 ahead of both Finnish drivers.

Hamilton is on 3.4. Both Red Bull drivers have benefitted and struggled through penalties, with Verstappen improving by 0.4 and Ricciardo falling by 0.2.

Perez’s 9.1 keeps him ahead of Massa’s 9.7 and Hulkenberg’s 9.8, while his teammate Ocon places next with an 11.1.

Button’s drops to 20 after starting from the back on Sunday at Monaco.

Qualifying Averages Compared to 2016’s 11

Unsurprisingly after his big break at Mercedes emerged, Bottas has made the best progress in this part of the event since 2016.

The Finn is almost five positions above his previous best as he became a polesitter and race winner. His other main title rivals only improved by 1.8.

Button’s went up because of racing at a favorable track for the McLaren at Monaco, one place better than Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer.

Despite not reaching Q3 for Haas with a season-best of 11th at Spain – Magnussen has been consistent in finishing with Q2 six times. Only Alonso, Daniil Kvyat, and Carlos Sainz also did this after 11 races.

Palmer’s form has also picked up, placing in Q3 when qualifying 10th at Bahrain, but he has fallen out at Q1 seven times in the first nine races.

Both McLaren drivers and Ricciardo’s numbers have gone backwards due to grid penalties/unreliability, and the fact that Stoffel Vandoorne only did one 2016 event.

Grid Averages Compared to 2016’s 11

Bottas again leads the positive changes from 2016, with Vettel improving by almost three positions after having three grid penalties in the first half of last season.

Magnussen is level with the German, while Raikkonen also improves after avoiding any grid drops after one in 2016.

Wehrlein’s position increases after making Q2 on three occasions rather than his one appearance for Manor in 2016.

Hamilton’s total is slightly weaker after a five-place penalty in Austria for a gearbox change.

Sainz’s drops due to worse Saturday results, making Q3 four times instead of 2016’s six, and even falling victim of Q1 at Bahrain, while again the McLaren drivers and Ricciardo are at the bottom of the list.

Head-to-Head Battles

The battle at Renault is the most one-sided so far, with Hulkenberg beating Palmer 11-0 in the first half. Other dominant displays were at Force India, Williams and McLaren, where Perez, Massa, and Alonso are ahead of their teammates 10-1 and 9-1 as Alonso missed Monaco and Massa skipped Hungary.

Vettel leads Raikkonen by 8-3, while Grosjean, Verstappen, and Wehrlein have all been ahead of their nearest rivals seven times.

Hamilton and Sainz narrowly lead Bottas and Kvyat 6-5. Marcus Ericsson beat Antonio Giovinazzi twice in Australia and Malaysia, Button beat Vandoorne in Monaco, and Stroll was ahead of stand-in Paul di Resta in Hungary.

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F2 Open Wheel

Ferrucci Makes Points in First F2 Race

After weeks of stand-in drivers, Trident finally announced someone for the remaining Formula 2 rounds of 2017 before the Hungarian contest.

Raffaele Marciello and Callum Ilott deputized in Austria and Britain after Sergio Canamasas’s switch to Rapax, but Connecticut’s Santino Ferrucci stepped up from GP3 for the first of five events.

The move has already paid off for the Italian team as he finished 10th on his F2 race debut – moving up to ninth in the final results for two points after others were penalized.

Ferrucci qualified 11th and was promoted to 10th on the grid after a penalty for top qualifier Charles Leclerc before his first racing laps. His lap time was only 0.408 seconds behind polesitter Oliver Rowland and 1.109s faster than teammate Nabil Jeffri.

Despite losing three places at the start, and missing the chicane a couple of times when battling for position, he had a steady drive to avoid drama.

It is a great result for him considering he claimed three points in six events for DAMS in GP3 in 2017 and Trident only had three points from 10 in this series before this weekend.

“The 10th place [on track] is a well-deserved reward,” team manager Giacomo Ricci said. “The American racer quickly found great chemistry with Trident and I was really impressed by his speed, potential, and smart race management on a challenging track that caught out many series regulars. His results provide us with confidence and motivation looking forward to the next rounds of the series.”

His weekend ended with the sprint event, where he finished 14th after starting from pit lane due to a problem on the formation lap. He was ahead of Jeffri in all sessions and jumped to 18th in the drivers’ championship, passing eight rivals.

Ferrucci continues his driving development during the week for Haas in F1 tests at the same circuit.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Williams Back-Up Di Resta Replaces Massa for Hungary

For the second time in 2017, a driver gets a surprise call-up to fill in on the Saturday of a Formula 1 weekend onwards.

Williams reserve Paul di Resta is replacing Felipe Massa for the Hungarian Grand Prix after the Brazilian suffered illness since the start of the event.

Massa only managed 62 laps between three practice sessions, 22 fewer than team-mate Lance Stroll, and spent part of the second half of third practice out of the cockpit.

“Felipe visited the medical centre and the MH EK Honvedkorhaz hospital for precautionary tests on Friday, after feeling unwell and dizzy during FP2,” a statement from the team read. “He was cleared to take part in Saturday’s practice session by the FIA medical delegate, but he felt unwell again during FP3 and has made the decision to withdraw from the weekend.”

It is the first time that Massa has not raced since suffering a massive accident at the 2009 event. That year he had a head injury from a suspension spring hitting his helmet, missing the remainder of the season.

Hungary’s contest is di Resta’s first F1 entry since Brazil in 2013 after making 58 starts for Force India between 2011-13. The 2010 DTM champion has since continued racing in the German touring car championship for Mercedes, winning twice in four seasons.

This ends a run of 69 starts without a Scottish driver being involved in the sport, the largest gap for the country since 116 Grands Prix separated Johnny Dumfries (Australia 1986) and David Coulthard (Spain 1994).

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Formula One Open Wheel

Kubica Among Those Announced for Hungarian Test

The next stage of Silly Season emerges in Hungary at the beginning of August as different racers jump into Formula 1 cars in an in-season test.

Robert Kubica will pilot the Renault R.S.17 car in his first taste of competitive machinery for six years, since driving the 2011 Lotus-Renault in pre-season.

He has been working in the last two months with tests at Valencia and Paul Ricard privately with its 2012 chassis to develop towards a possible return slowly. After these closed sessions with no publicized times, this will be the only occasion the public can gauge how the Pole is doing in his attempted comeback from rally injuries.

With this event days after the race, guesses can be made to how close Kubica gets to the times of regular racers Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer. Things like fuel load and the number of laps will have to be taken into account, but the F1 community isn’t shy about reading between the lines.

Kubica isn’t the only fresh face in the Enstone camp, with F2 racer Nicholas Latifi getting the first of the two days. Latifi took a maiden win last time out at Silverstone and currently places fourth in the F2 standings.

The Canadian could also be part of the discussions for a future seat as no driver has finished fourth at the end of the season and stayed in the GP2/F2 series since Mitch Evans in 2014. Just one of the last eight drivers finished top-four stayed on in 2015 and 2016.

For now, he is filling the criteria for constructors having to field a driver who has raced three times or fewer in the sport, as is Nobuharu Matsushita, who takes part at Sauber alongside previously-announced F2 rival Gustav Malja.

Malja takes the first laps on August 1 before handing the car over to the Japanese on the final day.

Matsushita is a member of the ART Grand Prix team – the one Sauber’s new team principal Frederic Vasseur led for many years. He is also a Honda junior – with the Swiss squad joining with the Japanese manufacturer in 2018.

“I am pleased that Nobuharu has this great opportunity,” Vasseur said. “He deserves the experience of his first test. Ever since his debut in F2 with ART, I have been following his progress closely, and have watched him advance his performance from year to year. With this test, he comes one step closer to his dream of becoming an F1 driver one day.”

Other competitive youngsters taking part will be Mercedes’ GP3 leader George Russell, Ferrari’s F2 title fighter Charles Leclerc, and DTM championship contender Lucas Auer at Force India. It is the second and final test during the 2017 season.

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Formula One Open Wheel

F1 NOTEBOOK: British Grand Prix Questions Answered

With almost a week passed since the British Grand Prix, some conclusions have been made about the failures experienced in Silverstone.

Teams have just one weekend off before competing in Hungary and then starting the traditional August summer break.

As a result, quick verdicts have been made over notable decisions.

Pirelli Investigates Ferrari Tire Failures

Pirelli says that Sebastian Vettel’s front left tire failure on the penultimate lap of British Grand Prix Sunday was due to a slow puncture.

The German looked set for his 10th straight top-four finish until the extra pit stop dropped him to seventh.

“As appeared clear since Sunday afternoon, a full investigation has now confirmed that the original cause of the failure was a slow puncture,” the manufacturer said in a statement. “The consequent driving back to the pits on an underinflated and then flat tyre led to the final failure.”

Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen’s front left tire is needing further analysis after initial tests could not find a clear reason for his failure.

“Further tests and analysis are still ongoing in Pirelli’s laboratories and indoor testing facilities. It will take a few more days to reach a definitive conclusion.”

Renault Developments

Renault’s chassis technical director Nick Chester has in-depth description why Jolyon Palmer did not start the British Grand Prix.

Palmer’s car developed a problem on the formation lap, meaning only 19 drivers took the start, which turned out to come from a piece that could be bought using coins.

“It was something as simple as an O-ring in the hydraulic system,” he said. “We’ve been investigating thoroughly to determine why it failed to ensure we don’t see this again.”

He does believe that the Renaults can make a step forward in the coming races after changes were made with the R.S.17 chassis.

“Both cars will have the new floor we validated [in Hungary],” Chester added. “We will evaluate updated front bodywork and a modified cooling package. We had significant aero upgrades in Silverstone and we expected to see improvements in overall grip and stability. We made the car more drivable with more downforce. It took a big step forward and we could see that in the measurements made in the car, so we are reasonably confident this will carry forward.”

Verstappen’s View

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen also explained where his team is aiming ahead of the Hungarian weekend.

With tight and twisty parts, the track could play to its aerodynamic strengths and help himself and Daniel Ricciardo fight for podium places.

“It’s always a bit too early to say how we’ll do in Hungary but we’re constantly improving, trying to get a better balance and more downforce on the car. Luckily there are not too many straights,” the Dutchman said.

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HAAS: Grosjean, Magnussen Staying For 2018

Summer is usually the perfect time for the silly season to kick into full power, but one team won’t be taking part in discussing any rumors.

Haas F1 team owner Gene Haas told F1.com that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen would stay as teammates in 2018.

It marks another proud moment for the team’s scrapbook being the first time that its lineup remains unchanged for two seasons.

Grosjean will be in his third year and is set to reach his 50th race for Haas at Austria next July.

Magnussen is staying at a team for two years for the second time in his career after McLaren (2014-15), but the 2018 Australian Grand Prix will mark 21 events with the Americans, the most races he has competed in for someone.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year,” he said. “That is a given. And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

This season has been much more impressive despite occasional reliability issues and the team still having braking troubles. It only didn’t score in three races, and the last in Britain was the first they missed the top-10 with both cars completing all laps.

Haas is also optimistic for the final 10 contests this campaign, thinking that his team can double its score to 58 with more top-10 finishes. It managed just one between July and November 2016, when Grosjean flew the national flag at the United States Grand Prix.

“It cannot get worse than in the second half of 2016,” he added. “Even if we only score one more point we would be on the plus side! My guess is that we will score another 29 points. When I remember Baku there could have been an opportunity to get on the podium, as Kevin was third for a while and we were screaming in the garage – ‘Keep going, keep going’ – that would have been a milestone for our history.”

The decision means more stability on the Formula 1 grid and presents two fewer opportunities for young racers such as Antonio Giovinazzi (who drove in practice for Haas at Silverstone) or current F2 championship leader Charles Leclerc (former Haas practice and test racer) to graduate.

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F2 Open Wheel

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Formula 2 at Silverstone

A familiar story played out as Formula 2 at Silverstone, as Charles Leclerc extended his championship lead.

The gap is now up to 67 points, now ahead of Artem Markelov, who slipped into second place above Oliver Rowland.

Markelov was in the top-four in both events, while the Renault development racer had a nightmare sprint after finishing third in the feature.

Rowland fell to fourth, with a five-second time penalty for forcing Markelov off the track at the start, before being found guilty of impeding at a safety car restart. He was classified 17th in the final results after a 20-second charge.

Here are some after-thoughts as F2 passes the halfway mark of 2017 – six rounds down, with five to go.

Leclerc’s Drama

Despite getting another four points for pole position before the racing, Leclerc’s Saturday was a stressful one. His day started with brake fire on the formation lap which subsided before an engine fire on Lap 7 of 28.

“It was very bad, I thought the engine had gone,” Leclerc said in the pre-podium room. At the time, it looked as if his run of retirements – three in seven contests – would continue. The smoke quickly disappeared, and he went on to set faster laps in the middle of the event.

“Nothing happened afterwards though, and there were no messages on the steering wheel.”

Then on Lap 20, he lost his left wing mirror but continued to keep focused on the task to win.

He went on to go from eighth to fifth in the results in the next, narrowly missing out on fourth after being overtaken by Sergio Canamasas in the final sector. He picked up the fastest lap to cancel out dropping those two points.

The Monegasque is now just 12 away from having a gap of two feature wins, two poles, one sprint race victory and three fastest laps over Markelov. Chances of having the title battle go to the finale in Abu Dhabi are still looking slim.

Albon’s Tough Weekend

The old quote, ‘all good things come to an end,’ was one characteristic of Saturday’s race.

ART’s Alexander Albon’s streak of always placing in the top-10 stopped, coming 17th after stalling on the first formation lap.

He was one of three drivers to have problems prior to the start, with Nyck de Vries having a terminal car issue and rookie Callum Ilott also stalling.

It was the first race since the opening round in Bahrain where he was out-qualified by teammate Nobuharu Matsushita, starting 13th, while he made up eight places to 10th in the sprint.

Championship contender Markelov is now the only person to finish every round in the top-10. Jordan King technically completed all events in this position until his retirement on Sunday.

Latifi’s First Win

Nicholas Latifi had the pole for the next race and delivered his first victory for almost five years.

He led every lap and controlled a late safety car restart, and the DAMS driver was helped by Rowland slowing the rest, with the Brit 5.0s behind on the final lap.

“I had to defend through the first few corners, but once I got my head down, I was able to add to my advantage while looking after the tires,” he said. “I’m really thrilled to get the win – it kind of makes up for the one that got away in Barcelona. I haven’t won in single seaters for too long, so this gives me a massive boost going forward.

“I’ve worked really hard to take a big step forward in my race pace since last year, and right from the first round of 2017, we showed we can challenge at the front. The goal is to keep fighting for more podiums and wins over the second half of the season – and there’s no reason why we can’t do that.”

The Canadian now places fourth in the drivers’ championship, 26 behind teammate Rowland.

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Formula One Open Wheel

F1 to Introduce Halo System For 2018

A step forward in driver safety will be attempted during the 2018 Formula 1 season as cars take on a different aesthetic.

The FIA has announced that F1 machines will feature the Halo head protection system next year, saying in a statement that “certain features of its design will be further enhanced.”

It also mentioned that “having developed and evaluated a large number of devices over the past five years, it had become clear that the Halo presents the best overall safety performance.”

Decision Process

Many tests took place in the second half of 2016 during first practice sessions to test it on a racetrack after agreeing to begin finding a device last July.

The opportunity was given to see how it looks to the audience and drivers and how racers were expected to leave the cockpit in an accident.

These tests involved an assembly in front of the driver which connected either side of the cockpit with a central pillar in the line of their vision.

SCUDERIA FERRARI MEDIA

The news comes after a rival Shield concept was tested by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the British Grand Prix, a large windscreen for the driver to see through.

“I tried the Shield cockpit protection, the vision is not very good and it’s because of the curvature that creates a bit of distortion,” was his verdict after the session. “We had a run plan but I didn’t like it too much. I couldn’t see much, but in the end, it was fun to drive.”

A similar aero-screen idea had also been trialed by Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull in 2016 at the Russian Grand Prix.

The Halo is the latest evolution in competitor safety after the noses were lowered from 2012 onwards to reduce the chances of a car going airborne in a crash, while the HANS device protecting the head and neck has been used for much of this century. It will be hoped that this can reduce the possibility of injury should debris or other objects go near a pilot in a crash or part failure.

Reaction

Placing anything around a driver is a controversial issue for fans, with many concerned that this could end the open wheel spirit of the sport.

Current and past racers also took to social media to express their views on the decision.

Formula E title contender Lucas di Grassi and former GP3 winner Kevin Ceccon showed their disapproval, while Grand Prix Drivers’ Association chairman and ex-F1 competitor Alex Wurz defended the issue.

All eyes will be on next season’s Australian Grand Prix to see whether F1 goes down a revolutionary path.

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