Bickering teammates, wet roads made for quite the race in Malaysia

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While everyone expected today’s Malaysian GP to be all about tires and the weather, it turned out that team orders and the drivers’ ability to follow them, which was the biggest talking point.

A wet start to the Grand Prix meant that the normal regulation stipulating the mandatory use of both compounds of dry tire was overridden. Teams were faced with a tricky dilemma, as the first part of the Sepang circuit was very wet, with the middle and last sectors drying up quickly in the first couple of laps.

Alonso’s race was over at the beginning of lap two, following a collision with the back of Vettel’s car on the first lap, partially damaging his front wing. With the wing clearly hanging off, the team gambled on leaving Alonso out for another lap in the hope they could sneak into the window of being able to change to slick tires at the same time as replacing the nose and therefore saving an extra pitstop.

Shortly after going past the pits towards the end of the straight, the wing, hanging on with only one of it’s two mounting pillars, failed completely and stuck under the car. Fernando was lucky to avoid a big collision as the front wheels lifted off the ground, leaving him without brakes or steering at around 180 mph.

As the track dried, all cars moved to slick tires and the differing strategies between hard and medium compounds began to play out. With most opting for the softer medium compound, Mark Webber stayed out a lap later than his team mate and went onto the hard tire out in front. He looked to be in a good position, with the potential to stay out longer on the more durable orange banded compound and putting in some very fast times compared to the medium compound shod cars.

In a slightly surprising move, he actually pitted sooner than Vettel and as the World Champion emerged later from his own stop, the pair were only meters apart.

Vettel on mediums and Webber on hards, the two fought like arch enemies, rather than teammates, very nearly ending both of their races early. With the team having told the pair, in no uncertain terms, to hold positions, turn down their engines and look after the tires, Vettel took his own decision to fight and pass his team mate, eventually taking the lead and the race. A big move, which has left him in hot water with his bosses and his teammate.

Behind the squabbling Red Bulls, Mercedes had similar issues with Nico Rosberg desperately pleading with his team to allow him passed the ‘fuel saving’ Lewis Hamilton. Conversely to Vettel though, when Rosberg was told to hold position and bring the cars home, he did what he was told and followed Lewis home for a solid third and fourth for the team.

Further down the field the development race in pitstop technology cost Force India and McLaren their races as both Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta, who were looking strong, retired as their new captive wheel nut system failed to allow the Force India to change tires.

Jenson Button, also in a surprisingly good position following improvements to his MP4-28, was hampered by a similar error as his car left its pitstop box before the right front wheel was properly attached.

The overriding factor in terms of outright pace was again the Pirellis and their characteristics in different conditions. Last week’s pacesetter, Kimi Raikkonen, today struggled on an abrasive track and higher temperatures, whereas the Red Bulls, who struggled to make tires last in Australia, managed to use them well and maintain good pace. Those that learn quickly how to manage tire temperatures and use them most efficiently will have the biggest advantage as the season progresses.

Next up China, where the teams will have had a chance to regroup and some will hope to bring more updates for the next Grand Prix.

Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.