Ecclestone: Sepang could use a “paint job”

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While Formula One leader Bernie Ecclestone hopes he’ll be able to extend the current contract for the Malaysian Grand Prix (due to expire in 2015), the British billionaire is also leaning on race organizers to complete their renovations on the Sepang International Circuit — mentioning that it needed a “paint job.”

“They need to finish what they started,” Ecclestone told The Star of Malaysia. “It is obviously not the same as Singapore. Maybe because they don’t spend the money.”

The Sepang circuit, which can seat up to 130,000 fans and lies south of the country’s capital of Kuala Lumpur, opened in 1999 with Formula One making its debut there that year. Organizers are currently in the second year of a five-year refurbishment project to the facility, with The Star reporting that the next main priority is the installation of a roof at the track’s paddock area, as well as additional public restrooms and surau, or prayer rooms.

The roof is set to be completed in time for the track’s MotoGP event in October.

However, outside of refurbishing Sepang, Ecclestone appears relatively happy with the Malaysian Grand Prix and wants to keep it on the F1 calendar for a while — telling The Star that “there are no dramas” involved in working with organizers there.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “