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Invaluable lessons learned from F1 Barcelona testing

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Pre-season Formula 1 testing is an impossible language to translate. Trying to figure out which team is genuinely quick is about as tricky as it must have been for intellectuals of bygone years to ascertain the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs before the discovery of the Rosetta stone.

You see, there is no solid reference. It changes each lap. Everyone runs new cars with new aerodynamic configurations beyond a daily basis, an hourly basis … or even with each run. Such is the manner in which testing is conducted and such is the exact science of data collection, that wing levels and car set-up are often changed on a lap by lap basis. Fuel levels are kept secret. A new generation of tires are reacting in unusual ways to the different track surfaces at the various testing venues in Spain, their characteristics being further altered by a single degree drop in temperature.

So what can we learn from the timing screens at the end of the day? Not a lot.

But we can learn something from being on site, and that is why NBC Sports’ visit to Barcelona last week was so useful. Because, at this time of year, there are only really two ways to learn who might turn up in Melbourne with a winning car. The first is to watch the cars out on track. Don’t look at the times, look at the way the car drives the circuit, attacks the corners … listen to how the drivers apply the throttle on corner exit, listen to the engine pitch and hear how well planted a driver can keep his right foot in the fast stuff. You will learn pretty quickly who has a responsive car, who has a dependable car and who has a fast car.

The second is to watch the drivers themselves, watch their body language, the way they relate their findings to their engineers. Watch the way they walk around the paddock, read their actions from the way they greet an old friend to the way they drink their tea. And if you can, talk to them.

Last week, as part of NBC’s “staggering” (in the words of paddock colleagues) pre-season filming shoot in Spain, I got to do just that. One on one. And the results were fascinating.

I’m not going to give away all that was said, that would sort of ruin the whole point of sending out all the Hollywood cameras and crew and I don’t think my new NBC bosses would be terribly impressed with that.

The one thing that was clear was that this season is going to be tight. Nobody was giving much away, but the theme seemed to be that with minimal changes to the regulations, almost everyone thinks they have a better car underneath them than they did at this point 12 months ago.

This is even true at McLaren. Jenson Button admitted the team was feeling somewhat confused by its new challenger, and that they were behind the curve compared to their rivals, but that the potential of his 2013 car was far greater than his 2012 ride.

Ferrari have a night and day difference from last season. The car isn’t a dog, and that has given both Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso the boost they needed after the wretched pre-season testing they endured in 2012. If Alonso could fight for the title with an awful car, imagine what he can do with a half decent one.

Red Bull’s boys were giving little away, too, but Mark Webber has an assured confidence about him. It’s going to take something massive to get one up on his now three-time world champion teammate, but he’s clearly viewed as the best choice to partner the man who is rewriting the record books.

Mercedes has much to prove with its new superstar driver Lewis Hamilton. The 2008 world champion is playing down expectations, as much to manage his own hunger for champagne as that of his fans and new bosses. There is an underlying confidence about him and Nico Rosberg. I don’t think it is a championship confidence for 2013, but perhaps the feeling that they are embarking on something special together for the long term.

The one team that really seems pumped up right now is Lotus. Both drivers were totally at ease, confident and jovial. There wasn’t a hint of pressure, nor of frustration… not even when we sat Kimi Raikkonen down for a 15-minute interview. He even cracked a smile and a few jokes. Right now, the read I get off the Lotus boys is by far the most positive of all the top challengers.

There’s an air of confidence around the Williams and Sauber teams too, and if the assured calm of their drivers is replicated with the speed of their cars, they could be ones to watch.

At the back end of the grid, I’m sorry to say that Caterham’s boys, while excited about the challenge, could not hide a tremendous challenge ahead. Marussia meanwhile may actually start the season with a slight advantage over its next-door neighbors  I was worried to see Luiz Razia not given any test mileage in Barcelona, and one can only imagine that sponsor issues would have been behind a reason to keep a rookie away from much needed cockpit time. He was my stand-out driver in last season’s F1 feeder category GP2, and I hope for his sake that things are resolved in a positive fashion. His teammate Max Chilton, meanwhile, gave some of the most mature and introspective answers I heard all week in interview. I’ve known Max a while, but my word he’s grown up fast over the last few months.

But if one interview stood out for me from the week, it was the one with a driver who may not even have a race seat in 2013. Adrian Sutil stepped into an F1 car for the first time in over a year on the third day of the test and impressed everyone. Force India has a spare race seat this season, and their former driver is favorite to land it. A year out of the sport has not dulled his hunger nor his senses, but from speaking to him I learned that it has given him that rarest of gifts: perspective. He is relaxed, rested, and has come to appreciate that there is more to life than racing. He sees the wider picture, he sees the world and all it has to offer. But still he wants to race.

I’d like to see Adrian back in a race seat. With his raw pace, combined with a new maturity and worldliness, he could be a hugely potent force in 2013.

But these are just my impressions. How good were the boys’ poker faces? We have just over two weeks left until the flag drops. I can’t wait.

Will Buxton is the F1 pit reporter for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter @WillBuxton.

Cooper Tires named presenting sponsor for Mazda Road to Indy

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Cooper Tires has been named the presenting sponsor for the Mazda Road to Indy, in full.

See the release, below:

As the Official Tire of all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – Cooper Tires plays a key role in developing the next generation of open-wheel talent beyond providing high quality, dependable performance tires. Today, Cooper Tires increases its support by becoming the presenting sponsor of the highly acclaimed driver development ladder which will now be known as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.

“It is really an understatement to say that Cooper Tires is a great partner of our three series,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Chris Pantani, Director of Event Marketing and Motorsports for Cooper Tires, and his team are always looking for ways to improve our platform, be it from a competition standpoint to marketing and activation and driver development. Cooper and Mazda have a long relationship which extends outside of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 to other series. It is fitting and appropriate that we now even more so acknowledge their efforts and partnership as the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.”

Cooper Tires has a formidable presence at every event on the racing calendar from its marketing activation unit, which also introduces fans to drivers via hosted Q&A sessions, to the funds distributed in Cooper Tires Pole Award presentations across the three series – funding that will increase in 2017 – to the popular Road to Indy TV App Powered by Cooper Tires, which provides live streaming, Timing and Scoring and more. Most recently, Cooper Tires was a track sponsor for the Toronto rounds featuring doubleheader races for all three series in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The MRTI Hashtag Program launched by Cooper Tires in 2014 and expanded to include full support from Mazda Motorsports in 2015, encourages and rewards drivers and teams who utilize the #MRTI and #TeamCooperTire hashtags in their social messaging on Twitter and Instagram. The contest periods feature unique challenges which allow drivers to win race tires along with other prizes such as merchandise from Mazda and race/hospitality tickets that they can give away to their fans. The hashtags also provide fans with an easy way to follow drivers in the series.

“Our level of commitment to the premier open-wheel development series is more than just as a sponsor; it is a commitment as a partner,” stated Pantani. “The Mazda Road to Indy, now presented by Cooper Tires, is integral to the development of young drivers aspiring to become IndyCar drivers. Extending its commitment to provide proven race tires on the track, Cooper Tires develops young driver’s needs on and off the track. This is where the #MRTI excels above all other series. Cooper Tire is proud to partner with Andersen Promotions and Mazda to make excellence happen.”

Cooper Tires in also a key partner in the scholarships that allow a driver to progress to the next step on the ladder. In 2016, more than $2.3 million in season-ending prizes and awards are on offer.

“This is great news for the Mazda Road to Indy,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “It means a lot to have Cooper Tires alongside us in the entire program. We share similar goals and are committed to building and improving the best open-wheel ladder in the world, and this serves as another sign of continued stability and growth.”

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires will be in full swing this week at Mid-Ohio with seven races comprising the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, the Royal Purple Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio and the Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. Cooper Tires will be rolling out collectible driver “baseball” cards which will be given away free to fans.

Nürburgring: Hosting German GP must be ‘economically justifiable’

NUERBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing lead the field early in the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on July 7, 2013 in Nuerburg, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The Nürburgring remains keen to play host to Formula 1 again in the future, but says that holding the German Grand Prix must be “economically justifiable”.

The German Grand Prix returns this weekend at Hockenheim after a one-year absence from the calendar when talks to hold the race at the Nürburgring in 2015 broke down.

The two tracks have alternated hosting the race since 2008, the deal ensuring that neither made a loss for two consecutive years.

F1 last visited the Nürburgring in 2013 when Sebastian Vettel claimed his first German Grand Prix win for Red Bull.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said last December that he doubted the Nürburgring would host the race in 2017 due to the track’s financial uncertainty.

Although the Nürburgring does want to welcome F1 again in the future, it will only do so relying a deal is financially viable.

“Our position remains unchanged and we would like to organize the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring again,” a spokesperson from the track told NBC Sports.

“However, the business environment has to be economically justifiable.

“We will not afford Formula One at all costs.”

The Nürburgring played host to the FIA World Endurance Championship last weekend, welcoming a bumper crowd of 58,000 on race day.

An announcement was made mid-race confirming the date for the 2017 6 Hours of Nürburgring as July 16.

However, Montreal is due to host its first Formula E race the same weekend, with a number of the series’ drivers also racing in the WEC.

“The date has been requested by FIA WEC, we have confirmed this date and we agreed to the request of FIA WEC to release the date on Sunday,” the spokesperson said.

“From our point of view this date is 100 per cent fixed.”

CJ Wilson Racing, Chicago Blackhawks charities partner at Road America

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Photo: CJ Wilson Racing
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CJ Wilson Racing and the Chicago Blackhawks charities have come together for a partnership going into the next round of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season at Road America.

A release from CJWR explaining said partnership is below:

The CJ Wilson Automotive Group and CJ Wilson Racing today announced a partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks, who will become the primary sponsor of the race team’s #35 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport for the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge event at Road America. The car will compete in the colors of the Chicago Blackhawks Charities.

Livery design by Andy Blackmore Design
Livery design by Andy Blackmore Design

The partnership will officially launch at the United Center on Wednesday, August 3, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m in advance of Saturday’s race. Fans will have the opportunity to get up close to the car, meet the drivers and Blackhawks Ambassador Denis Savard, and have their picture taken. Attendees can make a voluntary donation to Chicago Blackhawks Charities and one family from Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation will be invited to the race itself as the special guests of CJ Wilson Racing.

CJ-Wilson-BMW-KTM-blackhawks-2EditAutomotive Group and race team President, CJ Wilson, is excited about this unique partnership. “This is the first real opportunity for our team to partner with one of the ‘big four’ professional sports and create some crossover with professional racing.”

The two-time MLB All-Star went on to explain that “from a competitive standpoint we look forward to every race. We have taken a significant step up, moving from the ST level to GS and we are continuing to take further steps away from the track to expand our reach and our influence. Having the car available to Blackhawks fans at the United Center is really neat and is one of the elements of this partnership that has really excited us. Being able to show off these amazing machines in a non-traditional setting really shows people the commitment we have as an organization and hopefully gives them a better understanding of just how accessible our sport is.”

“It is great to be able to include the race team into our long-standing community-based charitable work and our ongoing efforts to give back to local Chicagoland initiatives,” added Eric Vates, Vice President of CJ Wilson Mazda. “It is exciting for the CJ Wilson Automotive Group to have the opportunity to incorporate our race team with one of our premier partners, the Chicago Blackhawks,” added Vates.

Fans can meet the drivers and Blackhawks Ambassador Denis Savard and get up close to the CJ Wilson Racing Chicago Blackhawks Charities Porsche at the United Center on Wednesday August 3, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. in Lot C (located on Warren Blvd. between Damen Ave. and Wood St.). The seventh round of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will take place at Road America, Wisconsin on Saturday, August 6, at 11:35 a.m.

Pirelli confirms Brazilian and Abu Dhabi GP tire selections

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
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The last two Grands Prix of the season will feature the widest range of dry weather compound tires, Pirelli has announced on Tuesday.

Its three hardest compounds – the soft, medium and hard tires – will be utilized for the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 13.

Two weeks later in Abu Dhabi for the season finale, however, Pirelli will go to the three softest – the ultrasoft, supersoft and soft tires.

These two races will follow on from the North American double in Austin and Mexico City, where Pirelli will go down the middle with the supersoft, soft and medium compounds.

The soft/medium/hard selections were used at Barcelona and Silverstone and will be used at Sepang and Suzuka.

Meanwhile the other ultrasoft/supersoft/soft races are Monaco, Montreal, Austria and the upcoming Singapore GP.

Pirelli’s season-long breakdown is linked here.