Mixed day at St. Pete for 2012’s IndyCar top five

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Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon opened their 2013 IndyCar seasons with top-five results achieved by different efforts. But the other three drivers from the 2012 series top five – champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, runner-up Will Power and rookie-of-the-year Simon Pagenaud – are already playing catch-up after challenging weekends in St. Petersburg.

The good first: Castroneves could afford to be disappointed with second after making a mistake on the last restart of the race, but still starting his account with a decent result.

“Unfortunately on the restart, it was a long restart, long yellow,” he explained. I don’t think I warmed up the tires enough. I was braking pretty much the same place. But if you’d have asked me on Friday if I would take second place, I would say yes.”

Dixon fought through a broken waste gate and a poor starting position of 20th to secure a fifth place finish for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, top Honda finisher on the day.

“The Target car was generally pretty good,” Dixon said. “We went a little bit off sequence there at the end but what killed us was the left waste gate on the turbo broke, so I had no boost. I was just getting killed on straight line speed and they just all got past me on the final restarts.”

The days were less successful for the other three. Power’s chances ended on a freak accident under yellow when JR Hildebrand contacted him, while Hunter-Reay had a stuck throttle and Pagenaud was one of many with mechanical issues.

“It wasn’t a great day,” said Hunter-Reay. “We couldn’t get our car into first gear on a pit stop for whatever reason. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the stuck throttle that we ended up having, but that’s what sidelined us in the end. I’ve heard some other guys have been having that issue so everyone is scratching their head right now, and trust me, on a street course it’s not the thing you want – it’s pretty scary to have one.”

“It was a bit of a nightmare weekend for us,” added Pagenaud. “We had no good sessions except the warm-up. We broke the exhaust, ran through the power and damaged the engine. We’re not well-placed for Barber. We have to work a bit and score some more points.”

F1 2017 driver review: Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Renault
Car No.: 27
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 43
Championship Position: 10th

Expectations were hard to peg for Renault heading into its second full season back in F1 with a factory team, but Nico Hulkenberg was surely expected to be the man spearheading its charge.

With teammate Jolyon Palmer severely underperforming, Hulkenberg did exactly that, bringing home all but 14 of the team’s points in the final standings. However, consistency was never something he truly found.

Many of Renault’s issues were down to reliability issues, sidelining Hulkenberg for six races – four coming in a five-race stint from Singapore to Mexico – yet he only scored points in consecutive races on three occasions.

When Hulkenberg and Renault were on form, they proved to be a potent combination, often topping the midfield fight and even looking faster than Force India come the end of the season. His run to sixth at the final race in Abu Dhabi was crucial for the constructors’ championship as Renault jumped Toro Rosso, securing an extra slice of prize money in the process.

But for a driver who was so often tipped as being a future star in F1, Hulkenberg still has a lot to prove. Renault is set to offer a good platform for the German moving forward with factory support, yet if he cannot beat new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. through 2018, concerns will surely be raised.

Season High: Charging to sixth in Abu Dhabi despite a penalty.

Season Low: A tough run to 16th in Malaysia.