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Lotus and Ferrari among those already brimming with confidence

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We were greeted on day one by the sight of an almost full F1 paddock. Nearly 100 mammoth transporter and hospitality trucks, representing all of the 2013 teams and practically all of the drivers.

Everyone we spoke to from teams were pumped and ready to have a very serious four-day test, in preparation for the first race roughly three weeks away. They put in hundreds of miles of data collection, aero, drive train, drivability, reliability and most important of all, learning all they could about the new Pirelli tires, which this year have different construction and compounds, designed to degrade quicker, and they did. Leigh and I were talking to Mark Webber in the Red Bull hospitality center and he was not a huge fan. He had great difficulty in reading the tire wear and performance and thought there was a very narrow window of usability. Jenson Button on the other hand said he thought they were easier to come to grips with, no pun intended, and would be easier to understand. Unlike his MP428, which he had great reservations about, in spite of the fact that his new teammate Mexican Sergio Perez set the fastest time of the four days, Button wound up 11th.

The only new car at this the second test was the Williams, unveiled on the Monday. It was supposed to be just an evolution of last year’s car, but according to Dickie Stanford (the team manager who spent a long time with Leigh and I) it is really all new. He told us both drivers, Pastor Maldonado and newcomer Valtteri Bottas said the car was markedly better than the 2012 model. The Williams team ended up with the most laps 367, finishing 8th and 10th on the time sheet, but both less than a second off the fastest. The last day was cold and damp and between them the two did 36 laps with no time, just pit stop practice.

Ferrari, compared to this time last year, looked really good. Fernando Alonso pounded around for three days ,with 110, 76 and 97 laps. I’m sure he slept very well. He topped the time sheets on day three, with a time that kept him second over the four days. He did a lot of drive through laps which must tell them something, though Leigh and I couldn’t figure it out. Alonso also did a tremendous amount of practice starts at the exit of pit lane, as did most of the drivers. Felipe Massa drew the short straw, only running on day four, which was cold and damp, even so he managed 80 laps. The team must be headed to the next test on Thursday with so much confidence compared to last year.

The Lotus team too must be very confident going forward. Romain Grosjean ended up 4th overall and Kimi Raikkonen was 7th. Kimi took the first two days, on day one he was parked for hours with data logging problems. Lotus press officer Andy Stobart told us that they have reverted to last year’s system, temporarily. The second day Kimi had Gear box troubles, again in the garage for some time. Romain had pretty trouble free days doing 160 fast laps. We spoke to the team principal Eric Boullier and he seemed very confidant and pleased with his boys. He said that Kimi is Kimi and needs treating in a way that is a bit special, he is also satisfied that Grosjean will have a much less troubled year than last.

Leigh and I were lucky enough to spend some time with Christian Horner, who I have known since he was a schoolboy. He is a very smart guy and plays his cards extremely close to his vest. Neither of his drivers were particularly fast, but no one seemed concerned. We also spoke to John Wheatley, the team manager, and Kenny Handkammer, the chief mechanic, all of whom seemed very upbeat even though Sebastian Vettel ended up 5th and Mark Webber was 13th. They covered two hundred miles less than Williams or Ferrari. However on the last day when most teams were practicing pit stops, Red Bull reeled off a number of wheel changes in 2.1 seconds, staggeringly fast. The fastest race stop last year was Jenson Button with a 2.31 second. Kenny Handkammer was pretty pleased with that. He wanted a picture of himself with Leigh and I which he then tweeted, saying he was with his friends from NBC and racing legend David Hobbs, very flattering coming from someone like that.

The big change for this year is of course Lewis Hamilton moving to Mercedes and what it will do for him and them. On the first day, Nico Rosberg did the driving and they had a lot of unspecified troubles, spending some time in the garage. Despite that, Rosberg did the fastest lap of day one. Hamilton took over on day two and had essentially a trouble-free day turning 121 laps winding up 4th. He was having gear box troubles out on the track and we could hear him struggling. On day four Hamilton took the fast time in cold and damp conditions. They were never able to match the best times of the test but nevertheless look competitive.

The Sauber, particularly in the hands of Nico Hulkenberg looked very promising ending up third overall only three-tenths off. His old team Force India looked strong too Adrian Sutil looked very good but is not yet confirmed for the team; only Paul Di Resta is. They also tried Jules Bianchi but he did not drive until day 4 when conditions were at their worst. The Marussia machine only driven by Max Chilton was consistently faster than the new Caterham in the hands of Giedo Van de Garde and Charles Pic, both new to the team, always, in my opinion, a bad move with a new car no one is able to tell whether it’s the car or the driver.

Now testing is just that, testing. Impossible at this stage to really tell the relative strengths of the teams.

We can tell that Ferrari is ahead of where they were this time last year and Williams seems ahead. Red Bull … who knows? On time they are not there, however I’m sure they are very well aware that they are going to be strong, McLaren also looks good, but Jenson struggled badly last year mid-season and looks a bit as if he’s headed that way now. Mercedes? Hamilton has got to be worth half a second over Nico and that might put them in the ball park. We’ll know more next Sunday when the final test ends, but the real test will be P1 at Melbourne in March. See you there.

David Hobbs is the F1 analyst for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MrDavidHobbs.

Folger to make MotoGP debut with Tech3 in 2017

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN - APRIL 22: Jonas Folger of Germany and Dynavolt Intact GP  rounds the bend during the MotoGp of Spain - Free Practice at Circuito de Jerez on April 22, 2016 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Yamaha Tech3 has confirmed that rising German talent Jonas Folger will make his MotoGP debut with the team in 2017, stepping up from Moto2.

Folger, 22, finished sixth in last year’s Moto2 riders’ championship, and already has one pole position and two podiums to his name after four races in 2016.

The Kalex rider will make the jump up to MotoGP for 2017, joining the Yamaha satellite team on a one-year deal with an option for a second.

“I am super excited about the news and I still can’t believe this is happening,” Folger said.

“I have been racing for years in the motorcycling world championship and to make the move up to the premier class is a dream come true plus I’d like to thank all my sponsors that have stuck by me all these years.

“Furthermore, it’s an honor to make this step with Yamaha, Hervé Poncharal and Tech3 team who have such a long and deep history in the paddock. I will try my absolute best to repay the faith the team has put in me, and I’m really looking forward to the new adventure.

“However, I will remain completely focused for the rest of the year in the intermediate class but I can’t wait for Valencia where I will sample the Yamaha YZR-M1 for the first time.”

Folger will get his first taste of the Tech3-run Yamaha bike at the traditional end of season MotoGP test in Spain this November.

Hamilton asks fans to trust and respect Mercedes team

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP leaves the paddock after the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has called on his fans to trust and respect the Mercedes team amid unfounded allegations of sabotage in the past two races.

Hamilton suffered an issue on his power unit in qualifying for both the Chinese and Russian Grands Prix, helping teammate Nico Rosberg on his way to a streak of four successive victories to start the season.

Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff responded to claims on social media that the team was deliberately hindering Hamilton’s efforts by calling the accusers “lunatics”, before Mercedes itself wrote an open letter to its fans in response to the claims.

Hamilton has now issued a message of his own via his Facebook page on Friday:

Dear All,

I want you to know how grateful I am for all of your support. I’d like to ask that you please trust in my team, as I do. This is my family. These guys have been the greatest, hardest working people for me, and that is why I am now 3x World Champion.

Please don’t put any more thought into my team doing anything unjust towards me, and understand that it would be in no ones best interest for that to be the case. We’ve had the best 3 years together, and whilst it’s not going to plan right now, all will unfold in its own time.

I trust these guys 1000% and my mechanics are incredible, the best in the business. I respect them so please do the same. They are the guys that are going to make winning this championship possible.

Thank you once again.

Hamilton will bid to end Rosberg’s winning streak and get back into the title hunt when F1 arrives in Europe next weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Button confused by Red Bull’s decision to drop Kvyat

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Honda in the garage during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button questioned Red Bull’s decision to drop Daniil Kvyat for Max Verstappen as of the Spanish Grand Prix, saying the team has “short memories”.

Red Bull announced on Thursday that Kvyat would be returning to Toro Rosso, its B-team, as of the next race in Barcelona, with Verstappen moving in the opposite direction.

The decision sparked mixed reactions on social media, with many pointing out that Kvyat had been on the podium just three weeks ago in China.

Button made the exact same point in a couple of tweets sent from his Twitter account on Thursday.

IMS confirms 100th Indy 500 reserved seats are sold out

Indianapolis 500
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials have confirmed Friday that the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will have a sellout crowd, with confirmation all reserved seats have been sold.

“Every Indianapolis 500 is special, but the buzz surrounding the 100th Running has been building for nearly a year, ever since the checkered flag fell on the 99th,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a release. “Our fans are the best in sports and their incredible support of this year’s race will make it a truly historic day for ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’”

Further information is linked here, via the IMS website.