Wilson, Tagliani make St. Pete weekend strides

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Series veterans Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani helped spur their teams forward after challenging practice and qualifying sessions to score top-10 finishes in IndyCar’s season opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The combination of Honda’s relative lack of pace, although the top 22 in practice were barely covered by more than one second, and setup issues meant Wilson (13th) and Tagliani (17th) were further down the grid than they may have liked.

A mix of good strategy and avoiding trouble helped move them up the order to ninth and 10th by the finish. Wilson could have ended higher in Dale Coyne’s No. 19 before EJ Viso made a late-race pass. Tagliani’s race was largely uneventful but a positive for his BHA/Barracuda Racing effort, which a year ago raced at St. Petersburg with Lotus engines and has had only one preseason test this year.

We had a pretty good race,” said Wilson. “The Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Honda team called some good strategy and we managed to keep picking our way up there and making improvements.  It was frustrating to lose a couple of spots right at the end – I seemed to get knocked around a little bit and be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s good to get a top 10, but we want to be up there challenging for the win, so we’ll focus on what we can do better next time and try to make a step forward at Barber.”

Wilson’s DCR teammate Ana Beatriz retired with mechanical issues after a frustrating weekend back for the first time since last year’s Indianapolis 500.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.