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Raikkonen quickest ahead of the rain in FP2

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Kimi Raikkonen managed to set the quickest time during the second Free Practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix before heavy rain hit Sepang with around 45 minutes to go.

The Lotus driver edged out Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa, both of whom finished within one-tenth of Raikkonen, as Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus continue to show good pace at the start of the season.

Rain clouds were forming above the Sepang International Circuit just as the session started, and many of the teams opted to get out early on the dry compounds. The high tire wear experienced in FP1 persisted, with Sebastian Vettel and Max Chilton both flat-spotting their Pirellis.

Soon after Raikkonen went quickest, the rain began to fall, and although some drivers tried to continue on their dry tires, conditions only worsened. Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez all spun before moving onto intermediate tires.

Many of the drivers decided to stay in the pits once the rain came, but some decided to get used to the wet conditions. Thunderstorms are forecast for the rest of the race weekend, meaning that any wet running could be precious to the teams.

The rain did subside towards the end of the session, and although the entire field opted to give the dry tires another run, no-one could better Raikkonen’s time at the top.

Lotus will be pleased to have shown that their Australia pace was no fluke, and Raikkonen will undoubtedly be hoping for a dry race on Sunday in order to maximize the potential of the E21. The results do suggest that Ferrari and Red Bull will be close at the front though, and a sprinkling of rain could bring the likes of Mercedes and Force India into the running.

Free Practice 2 – Classification

1 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:36.569

2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:36.588 +0.019

3 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:36.661 +0.092

4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:36.985 +0.416

5 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:37.026 +0.457

6 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:37.206 +0.637

7 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.448 +0.879

8 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:37.571 +1.002

9 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.574 +1.005

10 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:37.788 +1.219

11 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.838 +1.269

12 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.865 +1.296

13 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.068 +1.499

14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.645 +2.076

15 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:38.738 +2.169

16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:38.801 +2.232

17 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:38.904 +2.335

18 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:39.508 +2.939

19 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:39.660 +3.091

20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:40.757 +4.188

21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:40.768 +4.199

22 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:41.438 +4.869

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway

Montoya helps start construction of St. Petersburg circuit

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The date every Verizon IndyCar Series enthusiast is looking forward to is March 13. That’s when the 2016 season gets underway with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

But before there can be a race, there needs to be a track.

Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya was on hand in St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday to help get the track construction process underway. Montoya joined St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Green Savoree Promotions co-owners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree in wearing hard hats to note the occasion.

“It’s very nice to be here in St. Petersburg and see the racetrack, see the city,” Montoya told IndyCar.com. “The city is really pretty. Preparing for the first race is huge, last year was a great race for me and a great crowd. Hopefully we’ll have a great crowd and a great race weekend (this year) as well.”

How the track is constructed relies on traffic flow in the city located west of Tampa. The ceremony took place in Bay Shore Drive, a low traffic area and will conclude in areas close to Albert Whitted Airport, where the track occupies one runway.

When it’s all done, the area will have become a 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit. Montoya won the 2015 race to start last season. The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has been held every year since 2003 except for 2004. This year will be the eighth time it has opened the IndyCar season.

“It’s a great way to start the season,” Montoya said. “We do about three or four street courses a year and this is one of the most fun ones, for sure.”

Haas F1 Team confirms partnership with Alpinestars

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Haas F1 Team logos during the press conference for their driver announcement on October 30, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images for Haas)
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Haas F1 Team has confirmed a partnership with Alpinestars ahead of its debut season. The full release is below:

Haas F1 Team has named Alpinestars as an official supplier, with the world-leading manufacturer of professional racing products providing all of the team’s technical wear. Haas F1 Team will make its debut in the FIA Formula One World Championship this season, becoming the first American-led Formula One team in 30 years.

Haas F1 Team’s drivers – Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez – have considerable history with Alpinestars. The company began working with Grosjean in 2011 when he was in the GP2 Series and with Gutiérrez in 2008 when he was in Formula BMW Europe.

Alpinestars was founded in 1963 and has been the leading innovator of performance protection in motorsports. Alpinestars’ products are developed by a large international staff with auto racing and motorcycling backgrounds at the company’s laboratories in the United States (Los Angeles) and Europe (Italy). To bring the world’s most advanced technical apparel to racers and consumers around the world, Alpinestars utilizes the latest technology for superior product development.

“In racing and especially in Formula One, every element of the team is analyzed to ensure it’s getting the maximum performance, and this includes human performance,” said Guenther Steiner, team principal, Haas F1 Team. “Alpinestars’ technical wear is light, breathable and comfortable, and provides unrivaled protection. It’s exactly what we need to keep our drivers and crewmen safe while allowing them to perform at their best.”

“Forming a partnership with Haas F1 Team is a natural extension of Alpinestars’ deep involvement in F1,” said Gabriele Mazzarolo, president, Alpinestars. “With our strong presence in U.S. auto racing and major research and development facilities in Los Angeles alongside our racing and product development centers in Italy, Alpinestars is well aware of the engineering strength and racing culture at Haas F1 Team. We look forward to working with the team as they enter Formula One and, going forward, know that we will share a strong and mutually beneficial technical collaboration.”

Thanks to Wehrlein addition, F1 has a rookie battle now set for 2016

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 11, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Last year, the rookie storyline in Formula 1 was an intriguing one, because you had three drivers in realistic points-scoring scenarios with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. at Scuderia Toro Rosso and Felipe Nasr at Sauber.

Then you had the lesser fancied rookie pair of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi – and later a welcome five-race cameo from Alexander Rossi – at Manor Marussia.

Point being, there was a lot of “new” to digest in the 2015 campaign and until Manor’s confirmation of Pascal Wehrlein earlier Wednesday there wasn’t going to be much on the new driver front in 2016, with Jolyon Palmer the only first-year driver.

In fact, outside of Renault with a completely altered lineup of Palmer and returnee Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team in its maiden season and with Manor set to complete the field, there have been no changes at all up-and-down the grid for 2016, making for a fairly static setting.

Neither Palmer nor Wehrlein is going to set the world on fire in 2016, but they’ll both be facing intriguing teammate situations and with lower expectations, have the opportunity to overachieve.

The rookie story won’t be a huge one this year, but the fact there’s now two first-year drivers on the grid means there is at least the potential of a story – both between them directly, and between them and their respective teammates.

In Palmer’s case, the 2014 GP2 champion will be fresh off a year of FP1 running and no actual racing, and matched up comparably to Magnussen, who spent the year sidelined after his unceremonious dumping by McLaren.

Magnussen will be keen to get on and assert team leadership within Renault, an opportunity he didn’t have afforded to him at McLaren, and reveal the talent those who’ve followed him through the ranks know is there.

Remember, hard as it seems to believe given McLaren’s downturn in fortunes through its nightmarish 2015, this was a driver who delivered a stunning runner-up finish on debut in Melbourne two years ago ahead of Jenson Button, in what was a McLaren double podium and the team’s most recent podium finish.

The closer Palmer can match Magnussen, and occasionally beat him – he’d have to hope more than Pastor Maldonado did to Romain Grosjean the last two years – the more his own stock will increase.

He’s a year and a half older than Magnussen so he’s at roughly the same career point, save for the single year of F1 race experience Magnussen has, so he stacks up more than favorably.

Wehrlein, perhaps, will enter Manor Racing with a slight edge over whoever his teammate is by the sheer virtue of the fact he’s been named to the team first, and he’s got the Mercedes tie-in as the team embarks with its new Mercedes power units – which ironically, were in the Renault camp last year, then as Lotus.

The 21-year-old German has been in line for a race seat for a couple years given his Mercedes reserve duties and occasional Force India testing; in theory, he’d have been a natural for Force India if one of its two drivers moved on or out for 2016. He’s a past DTM champion and he enters the sport highly rated.

He’s arguably Manor’s best rookie since the late Jules Bianchi three years ago, and the thinking could be that Wehrlein has the potential to overachieve at the back of the grid the same as Bianchi did in what was then a Marussia-Cosworth, in 2013, the final year of the V8 era. Once Marussia got Ferraris the following year, Bianchi’s stock only continued to rise.

Whether Rossi or Stevens gets the nod alongside – from an American standpoint, selfishly, you’d like to see Rossi confirmed and hopes are high in his camp he will – they’re probably going to enter the year on a slight back foot.

Reason being, Stevens was dependable but never otherworldly last season and Rossi, when he had his late season opportunity, left Stevens in arrears more often than not. In short, both seasons were incomplete, although in Rossi’s case, the potential was higher for more if he can continue into 2016.

Neither the Renault nor the Manor figures to be a frontrunner or even lead the midfield this season. Points will be at a premium; it’s going to be the moments where Palmer and/or Wehrlein outperform their teammates, get out of Q1, finish in the 12th to 13th range that will really catch some eyeballs or show their worth to the F1 world at large.

Fortunately though, the fact there is a rookie battle does add at least one intriguing subplot to the season.