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IndyCar Open Wheel Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: Phoenix

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Throughout the season, POPULAR SPEED will rank the top-10 drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series following each event. Feel free to comment on the story at the POPULAR SPEED Facebook page.

Is Simon Pagenaud returning to his role as the rabbit of the Verizon IndyCar Series? Following his first win of 2017 at Phoenix, the Frenchman is headed toward recasting a sequel. However, coming into the fourth round sixth in the driver rankings, it is impossible to move all the way to the top.

Looking ahead to the 101st Indianapolis 500, POPULAR SPEED has extended our IndyCar team rankings to reflect those who will make their lone appearance at the Brickyard.

Team Rankings:

1. Team Penske (No Change)

Phoenix showed the remainder of the IndyCar grid what a five-car Team Penske could do when the transporters reach Gasoline Alley. Pagenaud won at Phoenix and any of his four teammates, including two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, are capable of adding their face to the Borg-Warner Trophy on May 28th.

2. Chip Ganassi Racing (+1)

Honda’s failure to figure out Phoenix derailed Ganassi’s performance in Arizona; however, if the pace the Japanese manufacturer showed last year at Indy can be replicated, good finishes from Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Charlie Kimball are possible. It is probably too early to add Max Chilton as a serious challenger though.

3. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (+1)

12th was the best SPM could manage from James Hinchcliffe; but, Mikhail Aleshin’s elimination on the lap puts a question mark on the table. It is tough to move them ahead of DCR based on last weekend, but on potential looking ahead to Indy, Schmidt in the words of former Price is Right host Bob Barker, “is the bigger bargain.”

4. Dale Coyne Racing (-1)

Craig Hampson was right – DCR is not a serious contender on the ovals. Sebastien Bourdais was another victim of the lap one pileup but struggled for pace in practice. Ed Jones also failed to feature, managing an 11th-place finish based on attrition. Not the news Indy 500-only pilot Pippa Mann was hoping to hear.

5. Andretti Autosport (No Change)

Another quadruple retirement for Andretti at Phoenix. The good news is with six cars track side at IMS at least one car should make the finish in the 500. How the rest of the six-pack handles the attention that Fernando Alonso is guaranteed to get this month will guide them to their climax.

6. Ed Carpenter Racing (+1)

Ed Carpenter never made the impact that was hoped for at Phoenix, although J.R. Hildebrand certainly did. A solid qualifying run, coupled with a clean showing in the race netted a third-place finish for the Californian. While it is premature to tag the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet as an Indy 500 favorite, the car and its occupant should not be overlooked.

7. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (-1)

Confidence is dropping fast at RLLR, and Graham Rahal is not hiding that things look bleak. A good Indy 500 finish may depend on Oriol Servia at this point.

8. A.J. Foyt Racing (No Change)

The offseason signings Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly continue to be mired among the rear guard. The addition of Zach Veach at the Indy 500 should help, but just when Foyt could not fall any further down the list, here comes the Indy-only invaders.

9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Unranked)

The combination of DRR and Sage Karam can cut it against the big boys. 31st to ninth in 2014 and a brief surge into the top-ten last year justifies their placement as the group most likely to rattle the full-timers club this month.

10. Harding Racing (Unranked)

Team boss Larry Curry is the perfect choice to lead a new operation, and you cannot do much better than hiring Gabby Chaves as the wheelman. Alliance with DRR means perhaps an equal level of performance.

Driver Rankings:

1. Scott Dixon (+1)

Four top-fives in four starts to open 2017. No doubt about it, the Iceman appears ready to challenge for a second Indianapolis 500 win.

2. Josef Newgarden (+1)

The Tennessee-native was not the best of the Penske bunch at Phoenix, but he should be effective when he sets foot at the corner of 16th and Georgetown in one week from now.

3. Sebastien Bourdais (-2)

Perhaps Dale Coyne Racing can salvage their month of May with a big push in the IndyCar Grand Prix. Once the scenery moves back to the 2.5-mile oval, the odds are not in the Frenchman’s favor.

4. Will Power (+1)

Power finally reached the finish of an 2017 IndyCar race without issue. A second-place finish behind Pagenaud was well earned and should make the Aussie a challenger in both May events.

5. Simon Pagenaud (+1)

Even without the yellow flag, Pagenaud was looming as a potential winner. Although a third IndyCar GP win in four tries is signficant; the 2016 IndyCar champion has made it clear that the Indy 500 is the one he wants the most.

6. James Hinchcliffe (-2)

Last year’s Indy 500 pole winner should bounce back to play a role in the drama on May 28; however, based on his Long Beach victory, his best shot at Brickyard glory could be in the IndyCar Grand Prix.

7. Helio Castroneves (+1)

Castroneves has been more effective in qualifying than on race day. The pressure to make history as a four-time Indy 500 champion exists, but expect the Brazilian to dig deep in his quest to get there.

8. Tony Kanaan (Unranked)

A quiet sixth-place last week sets the stage for TK’s best chances for victory this season. If Honda regains its muscle from 2016, watch out.

9. Alexander Rossi (-1)

Rossi and his Andretti teammates floundered at Phoenix, leaving their month of May prospects in doubt. Probably faces a higher mountain than any defending Indy 500 champion in history.

10. J.R. Hildebrand (Unranked)

Indy’s hard luck hero added his name to the contenders’ list with a podium finish at Phoenix. He was in the mix late in last year’s Indy 500 until he made contact with Helio Castroneves.

Dropped Out: Ryan Hunter-Reay (9th last week), Spencer Pigot (10th last week)

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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.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: Will 2017 Indy 500 Mimic Last Year’s?

Four races into the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, the focus shifts to two big events this month – the IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, followed by the Indianapolis 500 two weeks later.

With the Diamond Desert West Valley Grand Prix of Phoenix now complete, questions have arisen, including this will scenarios influencing last year reveal themselves in 2017?

As was evidenced last year, Chevrolet prevailed at Phoenix and Honda struggled to keep up. However, when the teams made their way to Indy, the tide changed. Honda won the pole position with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe and fellow manufacturer affiliate Andretti Autosport led a majority of the laps on race day, with Alexander Rossi taking the trophy. Let’s look at what could allow for a similar story.

Andretti Autosport has strength in numbers with six cars in their stable. One of them is driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who until suffering a pit road collision seemed primed to win the 1ooth Indianapolis 500. The team however, does have some hurdles to jump. They enter May just removed from frustrating results at Phoenix by all four full-time pilots. Also they are without Carlos Munoz, who joined A.J. Foyt Racing during silly season. Finally, there is the presence of current Formula One driver Fernando Alonso that could present a roadblock to their goal of victory. The Spaniard garners attention, but will his inclusion take away from the effectiveness of its regulars?

There are also questions raised from some of the other Honda teams. Chip Ganassi Racing returns to HPD’s camp for the first time since the 2013 Indy 500. CGR’s pairing with the engine option since IndyCar began using the Dallara DW12 chassis a year previous has been hot and cold. In 2012, CGR surged from mid-pack to grab a one-tw0 sweep for Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. The following year, Ganassi could not replicate the result as they fared no better than 14th.

Unknowns also surface around 2016 pole winners Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, who enter this May at a slight disadvantage. After being held out of a portion of the IndyCar oval test last month at Texas Motor Speedway due to an engine rule violation, SPM has less experience with the new aero package as opposed to some others who will be in Gasoline Alley.

Now things are not all rosy for the Chevrolet party either. Team Penske has momentum following back-to-back IndyCar wins, but early season triumphs were not backed up last year. The Captain’s quartet failed to make an impact on race day as contact and misfortune pushed them out of contention. Without GM’s top dog, Honda took center stage.

The question is who will step up to uphold the Bow Tie’s legacy if Penske cannot?  Although four Chevy runners placed in the first ten in 2016, two of those squads are absent this year. As mentioned, Ganassi Racing has crossed over to rival territory, and KV Racing ceased operations. The missing in action reports, leave Ed Carpenter Racing as GM’s second in command. While J.R. Hildebrand enters this month off an excellent effort at Phoenix, team boss Carpenter was stuck among the back markers all weekend.

So in summary, Embury’s Outlook sees how an Indianapolis 500 close to a year ago could occur. However, five major threats from Chevrolet will keep the big three sharks from HPD honest from day one of practice.

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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Formula One Open Wheel

Button Replaces Alonso For Monaco Grand Prix

No further debate will be needed on the identity of McLaren’s driver for the Monaco Grand Prix after they announced their choice.

Its reserve driver Jenson Button will return to Formula 1 replacing Fernando Alonso while he races for McLaren-Honda-Andretti at the 101st Indianapolis 500. It is Button’s first event since retiring from the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix alongside Stoffel Vandoorne.

Button is an experienced choice for the team, scoring points in every Monaco race he has finished since 2008 and only suffering DNFs in 2010 and 2012. His best result came with a win for Brawn GP in 2009 before a third-place finish for his current team in 2011.

The race will see him move ahead of Michael Schumacher in the list of all-time F1 entries, the 309th of his career, and it is set to be his 306th start, equalling Schumacher’s total. Button’s former Honda and Brawn teammate Rubens Barrichello remains top of these charts (326 starts, 322 entries).

This event is set to include three British drivers (Button, Lewis Hamilton and Jolyon Palmer), which would be the highest representation for one country on the grid in 2017, tying with Germany (Nico Hulkenberg, Pascal Wehrlein and Sebastian Vettel).

Button says that Monaco is the best location to make a shock comeback, both for himself and the team. McLaren has failed to score points in just one of the last 12 races in the country when Hamilton finished 12th, and Heikki Kovalainen did not finish in 2009.

“I’m thrilled to be making a one-off return to Formula 1 racing, and I couldn’t think of a better place to make that return than my adopted home Grand Prix: Monaco,” he said.  “It may be more suited to Monaco than to the faster circuits that Fernando and Stoffel have raced it on so far this season. OK, I realise we won’t have a realistic chance of repeating my 2009 victory, but we’ll have an opportunity to score world championship points, which will be very valuable to the team in terms of constructors’ rankings. I’ll drive the MCL32 around Monaco in the McLaren sim before, and I reckon I’ll be ready for the race after doing that. As for Fernando, I hope he not only fares well at Indy but enjoys it too. It’ll be a great experience for him. He’s an excellent driver, as we all know, and he’s very experienced, so, although super-speedway driving techniques will be all-new to him, I expect him to get to grips with it all pretty quickly.”

Racing director Eric Boullier believes Button will be able to help the team deliver on track.

“Jenson is a class act,” he said. “He’s a superb driver – fast, smooth and precise – and he won’t have lost any of his competitive edge over the past few months. After all, he’s missed only a handful of Grands Prix since his last outing in Abu Dhabi in late November last year, and he’s as fit as a fiddle. Also, he’s always been good at Monaco. He’ll do a great job for us, I’m sure of that. It also reflects the technical versatility of McLaren and Honda. And it underlines the fact that we’re racers, above everything else.”

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.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Formula One Drivers Who Attempted The Indy 500

While it is unusual for an active Formula One driver to participate in the Indianapolis 500, several former contenders have made the trip with varied success.

The most discussed appearance came in 1993, when defending World Champion Nigel Mansell showed up with Newman-Haas Racing. The “British Lion” came to the U.S. after a nasty breakup with Williams F1. The IndyCar newcomer quickly became accustomed to his new surroundings, getting up to speed at Indy despite having never participated in an oval track race.

After qualifying eighth, Mansell quickly moved toward the front on race day. He first took the lead on Lap 56, and despite missing his pit box near halfway, the British star stayed among the topfive. Late in the race, Mansell used a breathtaking outside pass to lead with 20 laps to go. Holding off Emerson Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk, it appeared Mansell was destined to become the first rookie to win since Graham Hill in 1966.

However, another caution erased Mansell’s lead and set up another restart. Inexperience denied the newcomer a win as Fittipaldi and Luyendyk outfoxed the Indy novice, dropping him from first to third. Mansell then survived a late race brush with the outside wall to maintain third-place and take Rookie of the Year honors.

The following year, despite dominance from Penske-Mercedes’ duo of Al Unser, Jr. and Fittipaldi, Mansell started to pose a threat for victory once again near the halfway mark. Sadly, the British driver failed to capitalize on the momentum as a freak accident during a caution flag with Dennis Vitolo ended his day.

Also making an appearance in the same 1993 event where Mansell made his debut was three-time F1 world champion Nelson Piquet. The 77th Indianapolis 500 would be the Brazilian’s second attempt, after suffering serious leg injuries in a testing crash the year before. Unfortunately for Piquet, race day in 1993 was also a limited exercise, as a blown engine relegated him to 32nd.

Following Mansell and Piquet’s efforts, a few drivers who enjoyed some success in Formula One took their shots at the Brickyard. Among them, Eddie Cheever added his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy after winning in 1998.

Through this decade, the most recognizable Formula One participant was ex-Scuderia Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello. Despite initially agreeing to only run road courses for KV Racing in the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series season, he had a change of heart and showed up at Indy alongside teammate and good friend Tony Kanaan. Quietly consistent all month, Barrichello just missed out on making the Pole Day shootout and qualified tenth. On race day, Barrichello drove conservatively to finish 11th and secure Rookie of the Year honors.

Stay tuned to Popular Speed for more historical memories on the road to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

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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.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Indy 500 Silly Season Update

The path toward a 33-car field for the 101st Indianapolis 500 has continued to provide interesting storylines.

However, the biggest one to date came on Wednesday morning, when Andretti Autosport confirmed their sixth entry. In partnership with McLaren F1. Fernando Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix to participate. The former world champion becomes the first active Formula 1 driver to try his luck at Indy since Mario Andretti in 1981.

This move is also notable since it represents an 18th Honda-powered entry in the field. The manufacturer reportedly will not provide any more lease deals, a bad sign for a possible partnership that could have involved Sam Schmidt and Will Marotti. It does not remove Marotti completely from rumors, but if God Bless America Racing wants a place on the grid, their hopes now rest with Chevrolet.

Here is the current projection of how things could shape up for the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Team Penske: Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya

The Captain will enter five cars at the Speedway for the first time, and all drivers have been confirmed.

Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball

Four full-time runners on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit and nothing is expected to change for one race.

Andretti Autosport: Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Fernando Alonso

Harvey’s deal involving Michael Shank Racing appeared to be the final piece for Andretti’s Indy 500 efforts. That is until McLaren decided to join the fun, giving Fernando Alonso a shot at Indy. The six-car team is the largest at the Brickyard since Andy Evans’ Team Scandia provided seven in 1996.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin, Jay Howard

The Alonso to Andretti deal probably ends any chance of Will Marotti partnering with Sam Schmidt for a second consecutive year. Still, Schmidt features a strong three-car lineup.

Dale Coyne Racing: Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Jones, Pippa Mann

Three-car entry pretty much set in stone, unless additional Honda engine leases pop up.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia

The Ohio-based runners are set for May with a two-car entry, as has often been the case since its return to the full IndyCar circuit in 2012.

Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter, J.R. Hildebrand

As mentioned above, ECR will only enter two cars at Indy next month. Spencer Pigot has been given the okay to seek another ride for the 500, but could be on standby if J.R. Hildebrand is not cleared to compete. The 2011 runner-up suffered a broken hand last weekend at Long Beach.

A.J. Foyt Racing: Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz, Zach Veach, TBA?

Zach Veach was confirmed as Foyt’s third driver last weekend at Long Beach. They could also add a fourth car to complete the field if needed

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves

Harding Racing confirmed its formation and technical alliance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing earlier this week. 2015 Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves will drive with Larry Curry managing the operation.

Juncos Racing: Kyle Kaiser?, TBA?

If Kyle Kaiser is indeed one of the team’s two drivers, a confirmation should come soon. The Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes place later this month, and participation is mandatory. The team has also been considering a veteran driver with Sebastian Saavedra’s name being mentioned from a few inside sources.

Lazier Partners Racing: Buddy Lazier

Bob Lazier says plans are to return in some form at Indy this May. His son, 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier is likely to handle the driving duties once again.

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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.

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News Open Wheel

Alonso to Miss Monaco GP For Indy 500 Debut

The number of drivers having Formula 1 experience taking part in this year’s Indianapolis 500 has increased to six after McLaren announced a collaboration with Andretti Autosport.

Fernando Alonso will miss the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix to race in the 101st running on May 28 with a combined McLaren-Honda-Andretti entry, McLaren’s first entry in the event since 1979.

“The entire INDYCAR community – competitors, fans, media, everyone – is delighted and excited at the prospect of a driver as brilliant as Fernando making his debut in our series,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Verizon IndyCar Series. “Even better, he’ll be making that debut in the greatest race of our year, the world-famous Indy 500.”

He joins regular drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato, and fellow 500 rookie Jack Harvey.

“It’s a great honor to partner with McLaren for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 and to bring Fernando into one of our Andretti Autosport Hondas,” Andretti Autosport’s Michael Andretti said. “I want to thank Zak [Brown], Honda and McLaren for this tremendous opportunity. We’ve been working very closely in the planning of this new partnership and I believe we’ve laid the foundation for a successful month of May. We’re looking forward to giving Fernando an effort in reaching one of his biggest career goals of winning the Indy 500.”   

The Spaniard becomes the first driver since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2006 to race in America during an F1 season, after the Colombian left McLaren and competed in the NASCAR Busch (now XFINITY) Series that year.

No driver has raced in F1 and won since Mario Andretti won the 1969 event after racing for Team Lotus, while two rookies haven’t won the Indy 500 in two straight years since 2001.

This is part of the plan to finish his career in style by adding to two Monaco victories with wins at Le Mans and the 500 to complete a ‘triple crown’ of motorsport royalty.

“I’ve won the Monaco Grand Prix twice, and it’s one of my ambitions to win the Triple Crown, which has been achieved by only one driver in the history of motorsport: Graham Hill,” Alonso said. “It’s a tough challenge, but I’m up for it. I don’t know when I’m going to race at Le Mans, but one day I intend to. I’m only 35: I’ve got plenty of time for that.

“I’ve never driven an IndyCar car before, and neither have I ever driven on a super-speedway, but I’m confident that I’ll get up to grips with it fast. I realize I’ll be on a steep learning curve, but I’ll be flying to Indianapolis from Barcelona immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix, practising our car at Indy from May 15 onwards, hopefully clocking up a large number of miles every day, and I know how good the Andretti guys are. I’ll be proud to race with them, and I intend to mine their knowledge and expertise for as much info as I can.”

Executive Director Zak Brown is optimistic that Alonso should be fighting near the front.

“Could Fernando win this year’s Indy 500? Well, I wouldn’t be so silly as to make any such rash prediction, but I expect him to be in the mix,” he said. “Put it this way: the team he’ll be racing for won the race last year, using the same Honda engine, and he’s the best racing driver in the world. That’s quite a compelling combination.”

This is the third straight year that Alonso misses an F1 race, not finishing a full season since racing for Ferrari in 2014.

His replacement is yet to be confirmed, with Jenson Button acting as the team’s reserve driver. Development driver Nobuharu Matsushita and junior driver Nyck de Vries are set to race with ART Grand Prix and Rapax in F2 that weekend in Monaco.

Matsushita fails to meet the 40-point criteria for an F1 superlicense, but de Vries would be eligible, having 47 points from such feats as finishing third and sixth in Formula Renault 3.5 and GP3 in the last two years. Either could also be used as a temporary reserve driver on standby during the event.

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.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Questions Build Surrounding McLaren-Honda

For the second straight race, McLaren-Honda did not get the result expected as both Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso failed to finish Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Vandoorne ran near the back till Lap 19 when he retired with fuel issues.

“On lap 17 we lost power – I don’t really know exactly the reason – but I think it was a fuel problem,” he said. It’s a shame we couldn’t get to the finish today – the potential was there, and the car felt quite competitive in the corners compared to the cars I was racing against. I felt the power drop, and I could feel immediately we had very low power. It’s not ideal, and obviously, I would have liked to go to the end.”

Meanwhile, Alonso started in 13th, though used the damp conditions to work his way up to sixth.

“That was a big surprise and was thanks to an amazing couple of laps,” he said. “I was hoping those tricky conditions would continue as other cars were spinning off here and there, and, as we said yesterday, we maximized our opportunities as we were overtaking ‘for free’ at some moments. But then, when the track started drying out, we started to lose a little bit of ground even though we were still able to hold onto P7 for some time.”

As conditions dried out, Alonso dropped back a few spots, before falling out of the race on Lap 35 with mechanical issues.

It marks the second straight race both cars have failed to finish, following power problems and a suspension failure in Australia. Concerns surrounding the team’s performance were expressed going into 2017, as well as durability with engine problems during testing.

Honda R&D Co. Ltd Head of F1 Project and Executive Chief Engineer Yusuke Hasegawa feels their program is heading in a positive direction now.

“At one point it looked like we were on our way to scoring some points, which makes it all the more disappointing that both drivers ended up retiring with mechanical issues,” he said. “In spite of that, we leave Shanghai with certain progress of our PU reliability after both the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix.

“We’re now looking forward to Bahrain next weekend, where hopefully we can continue to build on our momentum. It’s only a few days away, so we don’t have long to prepare, but we’ll work hard with McLaren to hopefully push for a better result.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.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.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Alonso, Riccardo Among Seven DNFs in Austrailia

With new cars and a wider tire from Pirelli, it’s expected drivers are going to run into problems as they work out the bugs. While 20 started the Australian Grand Prix, seven found themselves sitting on the sidelines before the checkered flag flew, with a total of eight experiencing problems.

Stoffel Vandoorne was the only driver of those with problems to cross the finish line, finishing 13th. The team had been experiencing power issues earlier in the weekend, and at Lap 10, Vandoorne suffered a longer pit stop than normal due to “recycling” the power unit so he could restart his McLaren Honda.

Fernando Alonso was the last driver in the race to pull off the track, retiring to the garage with three laps left in the event behind the wheel of his McLaren Honda.

“It was a suspension failure,” Alonso said of what put him out of the event. “I think that’s what happened to stop us from finishing the race. It was really good. I was driving one of my best races so far and yeah, we were in the points all race long. We had to do huge fuel saving that was helping us a lot to keep the position. We were surprised to be far up, but we definitely need to be more competitive very soon.”

While he didn’t get the finish he wanted, he noted they are decent performance-wise, with the ability right now to finish ninth “in normal conditions on a typical circuit.

Kevin Magnussen had hoped to start off his time with Haas F1 on a positive note but found himself out of the race on Lap 50 following contact on Lap 1. Magnussen hopped the curb, hitting Marcus Errison and going into the gravel pit.

He was followed in 16th by rookie Lance Stroll. Stroll’s F1 career has been rough thus far, with wrecks during testing and an incident earlier in the weekend during practice. As a result, he started the race from the rear of the field after changing the gearbox. Despite this, he was able to quickly make up ground, moving up six positions to 14th in the first stint. However, he’d find his race over at Lap 44 as a result of mechanical issues.

Daniel Riccardo also had a mechanical failure, but his problems began right from the start of the event. After crashing in qualifying and changing the gearbox, the hometown hero was unable to get going on the start due to the car getting stuck in sixth gear. After spending time in the garage, he got out on track two laps behind the leaders. Riccardo put together 27 solid laps, till his car stalled on Lap 29 with a fuel pressure issue.

“On the plus side I’m getting out of here,” Riccardo said. “I don’t know. It’s been a long week. Don’t get me wrong – it’s been fun. I feel bad for everyone – the fans, obviously. I believe there are more people supporting me here than the others. I know they would’ve loved me to get out there and race, but it just kind of boiled over from yesterday. The five-grid penalty sounded bad enough, but then we had other issues. Just a long day. Happy to move on. Obviously, I’m disappointed, but I’ll wake up tomorrow. It’ll be fine, and I’ll be ready to prepare and go for China.”

Riccardo added the laps he was able to make were good as they were able to get “valuable track time” for information on the new car to continue learning and developing.

“If I’m going to look on the bright side, (teammate) Max (Verstappen) has a really good pace, so maybe we can learn something from his race today and as the team moves forward,” he added.

Marcus Errison also found his day end after his car unexpected stopped in the corner up in the third section, resulting in an 18th place finish. His problems began earlier in the event right from the start as Magnussen made contact with him when he jumped a curb.

Errison wasn’t the only driver spending time in the gravel pit, as Jolyon Palmer was off track quite a bit through the race as he fought brake issues with his Renault entry. He eventually retired, resulting in a 19th place finish.

Romain Grosjean took the final spot on the grid at the finish as a result of his car catching fire in the pits on Lap 15. He had been running around the sixth or seventh spot following his best qualifying effort to date for Haas F1.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.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.

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Formula One Open Wheel

VIDEO – Ocon Wins Three-Wide Battle for One Point

So how important is a single point in Formula 1? If you were watching the Australian Grand Prix, you might have gotten a pretty clear answer.

In F1 competition, only the top-10 spots pay points at the end of the event, so drivers are forced to push the envelope to try and be in the front half of the field. As the laps were winding down on Sunday, the desperation showed.

With six laps to go, Nico Hulkenberg held down the position – but only just ahead of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso. With Ocon and Alonso both closing, it made for a thrilling sequence of events through the back half of the course.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWjm1NEFdyA

 

For Ocon, it marked his first ever point in an F1 event after racing the second half of the schedule last season with Manor Racing.

“Scoring my first point in Melbourne is a very nice reward after what has been quite a tough weekend,” he said. “I spent almost the entire race fighting against Fernando [Alonso] because we were side-by-side for the first lap of the race. He was able to stay ahead, and I had to chase him for the rest of the afternoon. It was a hard fight because Fernando is a tough opponent and it was so difficult to get close and overtake. Eventually, I found a gap in the last few laps and took my chance going into turn one. It was a big moment for my race and took me into the points. I’m happy with the result, and I feel I’ve learned a huge amount from my first race weekend with this team. I hope this is the first point of many this season.”

Combined with teammate Sergio Perez finishing seventh, Deputy Team Principal Robert Fernley was happy to walk away from the weekend with seven points, stating it is “a fantastic reward for all the hard work over the winter and this weekend.”

“Esteban also delivered a fantastic drive, and everyone in the team was delighted to see him score his first point in Formula One,” he added. “His race-long fight with Fernando Alonso was one of the big stories of the race and seeing Esteban overtake with just six laps to go was great entertainment for the fans.

“Starting the season with a good bunch of points is always an important boost for the team and shows we have good reliability too. We know there is more performance to come, but we’ve started with our best foot forward and will head to Shanghai determined to build on these results.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Thoughts and Observations From F1’s First 2017 Test

Looking back on the week that was testing, it’s possible to draw conclusions – but that’s ultimately pointless. The teams are going through things at their own paces, including any problems that present themselves, and the public doesn’t get to know the actual reflection of that for now.

More guesses can be made in Australia, and more comments will undoubtedly come flowing through from PR officers. Until then, you can look too much of a fool by predicting how a Formula 1 season will pan out from such a short amount of running and knowledge.

Even with this in mind, here are some takeaways from Barcelona.

Mercedes Still fast

Despite some fans potentially hoping for a slight downfall, F1’s reigning Drivers’ and Constructors’ champion is still looking like the fastest team despite the changes in regulations. 

Ferrari has led some of the final classifications, with Kimi Raikkonen on top twice. The Italian team has topped sessions before and will do in the future; it doesn’t necessarily mean anything special. The other two days have been led by both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton as they quietly go about their business.

Apart from an apparent electronic problem on day four, the team seems to continue to have a competently reliable car and the possibility of being towards the sharp end of the grid. Its W08 machine completed 558 laps during the four days, and only 68 on the final day, the highest total of any team on the grid.

McLaren Still Seemingly Struggling

The team is still having unreliability problems as they prepare for a third season with Honda. You would be forgiven for thinking it was Groundhog Day at times during the test.

The first two days were tough for the team, including an oil systems issue and a necessary power unit change as they completed just 69 laps (Fernando Alonso 29, Stoffel Vandoorne 40), the least amount of any team.

A final total of 208 laps came from the test, the second-lowest amount of any team, just slightly better than Toro Rosso.

Racing Director Eric Boullier was unsurprisingly cautious about the problems after the first day of running.

“Of course, it’s disappointing to have encountered issues so early in the running, but this situation is not too unusual with a brand-new car,” he said, “It’s better to have these issues here than in Australia.

“Honda is investigating the problem carefully in order to find the proper solutions, so we need to let them do that before drawing any premature conclusions.”

If, and that is a big if, these problems continue, it will surely be frustrating for Fernando Alonso as he comes to the end of his career. Someone being 35-years-old, as barbaric as it is, is effectively nearing retirement age and he might not have many races left to have many opportunities to shine near the front of the grid.

This is also potentially harmful to Stoffel Vandoorne. He is effectively the next possibly special driver that McLaren has found and if he cannot get results it may affect parts of his driving while he is still in a learning stage towards the sport.

Time will tell whether McLaren can return to the top-five in the Constructors’ Championship for the first time since 2014.

Stroll-ing into the gravel

F1’s newest arrival, Lance Stroll, has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – using testing to find the limits of his Williams car and damaging his car in some accidents.

As a result, allegations have already surfaced about Stroll not being up to F1 and a line of questioning over whether a jump from European Formula 3, skipping two series in GP2 and GP3, and competing in the new era of F1 is a wise move. However, recall the same type of overreactions surfaced surrounding Max Verstappen possibly being too young for F1. We all know how that ended up.

The team failed to run on day four due to safety concerns over previous damage, despite this day being a day designated for learning about Pirelli’s new wet tire range and the team being one of the worst teams on the grid for racing when rain hits a track.

Many will surely be concerned about their potential standing on the grid and whether they can remain in the top five of the Constructors’ Championship with so many competitors, like Renault and Toro Rosso, aiming for new heights in 2017.

Other issues

Stroll was a target of criticism, but some of the other members of the F1 grid also explored the run-off areas, including Bottas (Mercedes) and Jolyon Palmer (Renault). It wouldn’t be too surprising, due to the longer span of an F1 car in 2017 and wider front wing if the first Grands Prix sees many stupid crashes as drivers find their feet with the new dimensions. An Australian Grand Prix featuring just the points finishers completing the race has happened before and could always happen again.

One other minor problem with testing was the final day being put aside for wet tire testing, something that the teams didn’t do a lot of and the track had to be specifically dampened artificially which didn’t actually work. With thoughts that Pirelli is still developing a new set of wet tires, rain-filled sessions at the first race may be interesting.

Although a lot of focus was put on McLaren, another team which ran into high-profile technical issues was Toro Rosso. Its car completed just 183 laps over the four days after some problems including engine and drivetrain issues, which is just under three complete distances of the 66-lap race.

 

The final test sessions take place at the Barcelona track on March 7-10 before cars get packaged away again ahead of the first round of 2017 at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on March 24-26.

EMAIL CAMERON AT cpatersonf1@gmail.com

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.