Hamilton flies on penultimate day of final test

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Lewis Hamilton topped the penultimate of Formula One testing at the Circuit de Catalunya today.

The time recorded by the Mercedes driver was the quickest so far at the circuit over the seven days of testing, causing many to question Hamilton’s skepticism for the season ahead.

Hamilton’s time of 1:20.558 was over seven tenths quicker than second placed Felipe Massa. Ferrari will be pleased with the progress made today following their focus on race simulations on Friday, but the gap to Mercedes will undoubtedly cause alarm bells to ring.

Massa had a car failure late on in the day when one of his wheels came off heading into turn ten, bringing out one of three red flags in Barcelona. Davide Valsecchi, deputizing for a sick Kimi Raikkonen, also suffered a stoppage out on the track just before lunch, with Giedo van der Garde’s Caterham similarly halting proceedings in the morning session.

Continuing his good form in third place was Adrian Sutil, answering many critics who believed he would not be competitive following a year out. In fourth and fifth were the two Williams drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, who shared the running today, and a close sixth was Esteban Gutierrez for Sauber.

Mark Webber failed to live up to Red Bull’s expectations, finishing over two seconds off Hamilton down in seventh. Sergio Perez will be just as disappointed to have finished eighth in his McLaren, and Toro Rosso’s good testing form failed to continue as Jean-Eric Vergne could only manage P9.

Despite bringing out the red flag, Valsecchi showed good pace in the Lotus to finish eleventh, just 0.068 seconds behind the team’s full time driver Romain Grosjean.

Jules Bianchi had a good debut for Marussia as the Anglo-Russian team once again edged out Caterham, finishing two tenths ahead of Giedo van der Garde.

Mercedes will hope to repeat their good form on the final day of pre-season testing tomorrow, but with Vettel, Button and Alonso all having one final run, Hamilton’s time is bound to come under threat. The team will however be encouraged by their testing pace.

Unofficial Times

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.558
2. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:21.266 +0.708
3. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:21.627 +1.069
4. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:22.305 +1.747
5. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:22.468 +1.910
6. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:22.553 +1.995
7. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:22.658 +2.100
8. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:22.694 +2.136
9. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:23.223 +2.665
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:23.380 +2.822
11. David Valsecchi Lotus 1:23.448 +2.890
12. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:24.028 +3.470
13. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:24.235 +3.677

DiZinno: Engine drama dominates 2015 silly season thus far

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So it’s mid-October, and in both Formula 1 and IndyCar, the story of silly season 2015 is not about the drivers behind the wheel, but more about the lumps giving the drivers the power with which to do so.

The war in IndyCar has gone on more behind-the-scenes between Honda and Chevrolet as it relates to performance clauses and what can or can’t be updated for 2016.

However F1’s engine battle has been a very public spat, and been the dominant silly season storyline this fall.

F1’s driver silly season never really got going for next season. As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith has chronicled, the one potential domino that could have made things interesting – Kimi Raikkonen’s status at Ferrari – will go unchanged into 2016.

As such, it leaves with a grid where the lineups at Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Force India, Sauber and most recently McLaren are confirmed to stay the same for 2016.

The only driver switch at present is Romain Grosjean leaving the unsettled, fluid situation at Lotus to lead Haas F1 Team’s charge in its maiden season.

This brings us then, simply, to the Red Bull teams.

Red Bull may give you wings, and wings right now are all that’s confirmed to power the teams into 2016.

A season-long row, spat, disagreement or whatever word you want to call it has occurred between Red Bull and Renault to the point where Red Bull has threatened to pull out of Formula 1 – which would leave its quartet of talented youngsters, Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. – all sidelined. Let alone all its talented mechanics and crew.

Mercedes has already moved its fourth engine supply from Lotus to Manor, and Ferrari has proposed offering a 2015 power unit, neither of which were really feasible solutions for Red Bull and by default, Toro Rosso as well.

It’s then left the two parties in a proverbial stalemate, where Red Bull needs Renault more than Renault needs Red Bull.

And in social terms, it’s a case of Red Bull needing to go back to the girl they want to dump, because it’s their only option. Perhaps it’s no coincidence the term “F1 booty call” was occasionally used on social media over the weekend to describe the situation.

The Red Bull quit threat, unfortunately, continues to persist. Adrian Newey, the sport’s most successful designer, has reiterated the concerns in an interview with Reuters over the weekend.

“Unfortunately, our relationship with Renault is pretty terminal — there’s been too much of a marriage breakdown, so we have no engine,” Newey told Reuters while in Abu Dhabi to judge the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy.

“Red Bull should not be put in a position where they’re only there to make up the numbers,” he added, noting the desired need for improvement from Renault.

One could argue, of course, that Newey’s departure has had a psychological effect on the team, perhaps as much if not a greater impact than Renault’s engine woes. And easy as it is to forget, Ricciardo still won three Grands Prix a year ago and was in mathematical championship contention until the final few races of the season.

Think in Renault’s case as well, that as a sole constructor and owner of Lotus as it is shaping up to be next year, it would behoove them to have a second set of data at its disposal, rather than going solo without another team. See Honda and McLaren for how that’s gone this year…

The fact that Red Bull has opted to go for the nuclear threat in print of quitting when all it’s really had is a bad year – something it’s experienced plenty both early in its own team lifespan, and in its prior guises as Jaguar and Stewart dating to the Stewart team’s inception in 1997 – really smacks of poor professionalism, unbecoming of the brand.

Red Bull didn’t get the top of the mountain in the business world, and in F1, without a desire to be the best.

But in the interest of becoming a true fabric of the F1 community through both thick and thin – as teams like Ferrari, Williams and McLaren have done for decades – it needs to take a step back, chalk 2015 up as a year to forget and figure out a way to bury the hatchet so it doesn’t leave all the affected individuals high and dry.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Ryan Briscoe

Ryan Briscoe
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MotorSportsTalk continues its review of the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with a look at Ryan Briscoe. Despite not having a ride to start the year, Briscoe ended strongly courtesy of a series of strong runs at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Ryan Briscoe, No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

  • 2014: 11th Place, Best Finish 4th, Best Start 4th, 1 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 12.8 Avg. Start, 10.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 18th Place (8 starts), Best Finish 5th, Best Start 2nd, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 10 Laps Led, 17.8 Avg. Start, 12.0 Avg. Finish

For those who slag on Briscoe as being undeserving of top level equipment, his 2015 second half provided a friendly reminder of his overall ability level in what might be less than the best machinery.

Briscoe was thrust into the No. 5 car under trying circumstances to begin with, getting all of an hour’s worth practice replacing the injured James Hinchcliffe ahead of the Indianapolis 500. But subsequent drives on the ovals there, Texas, Fontana, Milwaukee and Iowa – even if the results were less than ideal – showcased a driver determined to show to the paddock he still had it, and then some. His defense against Juan Pablo Montoya in Sonoma was nothing short of brilliant, and courtesy of double points he actually finished ahead of full-season driver Stefano Coletti.

The Australian immediately gelled with the SPM team, engineer Allen McDonald and race strategist Robert Gue. He continues to prove he’s an asset, as he has enjoyed multiple opportunities to extend his career in various arenas of motorsport in both open-wheel and sports cars, the latter of which he won at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Corvette Racing this year.