Graham Rahal

Eight test Wednesday in Texas

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Eight drivers – including three rookies prepping for this year’s Indianapolis 500 – took to Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday to acclimate themselves with the new aero package to the track and gain some valuable oval laps of testing.

A year ago (right), Texas ran a modified wing package and with reduced downforce, produced one of the most exciting races of the season. Now, the wing package for Texas is more in line with what was featured at Indianapolis and Fontana, IndyCar’s two longest ovals (2.5 and 2.0 miles).

“It’s a lot different (from a stock car to drive around TMS),” Team Penske’s AJ Allmendinger told IndyCar.com, after his latest IndyCar test after shifting back from NASCAR. “A little track knowledge (helps), and all these mile-and-a-half tracks a little different – they have their own character – so it’s good to know but it’s still different.”

Besides Allmendinger, full season rookie Tristan Vautier and Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz were on hand turning their first oval laps in the Dallara DW12 chassis.

Veterans on hand included Vautier’s teammate Simon Pagenaud, Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s pair of Graham Rahal and James Jakes, Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing), and Ed Carpenter (his own ECR team).

No speeds were listed for the private test, but a year ago the pole speed at Texas was 215.691 mph set by Alex Tagliani.

Ricciardo fulfils potential with Monaco pole, has strategy options

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates getting pole position in parc ferme during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo believes that his charge to pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday proves the potential that he and Red Bull have shown in recent races.

Ricciardo ended Mercedes’ perfect qualifying record in 2016 to take his first pole position in Formula 1, edging out Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in Q3.

The result marked Red Bull’s first pole since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix and comes just two weeks after Max Verstappen’s victory for the team in Spain.

Speaking after qualifying, Ricciardo said he was pleased to have delivered on the potential that he felt was there coming into the weekend.

“I knew coming into the weekend we’d have a shot at it. It looked good from Thursday,” Ricciardo said.

“I sort of had it in my mind the whole time coming into the weekend. I think also after Barcelona, the last few races, I felt like I’ve been driving well but haven’t quite got maximum rewards.

“I came into this weekend with a lot of confidence and belief that I could be in this position now. I’m very happy to fulfil that. It feels good.

“I’ve always enjoyed this place. The car’s good, we’ve got a good package behind us now, it’s nice to make the most of it.”

Ricciardo will start Sunday’s race on the super-soft tire after completing his quickest lap in Q2 on the compound, while his rivals will be forced to use the less durable ultra-soft in the first stint.

The move means that Ricciardo can go far longer in the race before making his first pit stop, putting him in a strong position relying that the forecast rain does not hit Monaco tomorrow.

“We’ll see tomorrow if it works,” Ricciardo said.

“The plan was to go out on the ultra-soft for the first run in Q2 and at least try and do a good enough lap with that. We had the time on our side so we thought let’s try and see what the super-soft can do.

“We just feel maybe it opens up a few more options for the race tomorrow. We did a good lap on that. I think it set us up well for Q3 as well, knowing that I had the ultra-soft and that step in grip. I was able to maximize that and do the lap.

“I think today we’re sitting pretty. Hopefully it turns in our favor tomorrow.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Ricciardo takes maiden F1 pole position in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo will start Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix from pole position after surprising the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in qualifying on Saturday.

Ricciardo displayed an impressive pace in practice, and was able to carry this form into Q3 to produce a stunning lap of 1:13.622 that was good enough for his first pole position in Formula 1.

Ricciardo came under intense pressure from Rosberg and Hamilton late in the session, the former finishing less than two-tenths of a second shy to end the day P2.

Hamilton’s luckless start to the season looked set to continue when he reported a loss of power on his car at the start of Q3. Mercedes was able to resolve the issue and send him out with five minutes remaining, but the Briton opted to bide his time before having one final push with just seconds remaining in the session.

However, Hamilton could only manage third with his final run, handing Ricciardo pole position for Red Bull, marking not only his first but also that of Red Bull in the V6 turbo era.

Ricciardo will also start the race on the super-soft tire after completing his quickest run on the compound in Q2, meaning he will be able to go longer in the race before pitting compared to his rivals.

Nico Hulkenberg qualified an excellent fifth for Force India ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, the latter set to drop five places due to a grid penalty. Carlos Sainz Jr. finished seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat, while Fernando Alonso reached Q3 once again for McLaren, ending the session 10th.

Williams’ poor qualifying form in Monaco continued as Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa finished 11th and 14th respectively in Q2. The British team has not qualified inside the top 10 in Monaco since 2011.

Esteban Gutierrez outqualified Romain Grosjean for the first time this season, finishing 12th while his teammate lagged behind in P15. Jenson Button was unable to match Alonso’s pace, qualifying down in P13 for McLaren.

Renault endured another difficult qualifying session as Jolyon Palmer was once again eliminated in Q1, finishing 18th. Kevin Magnussen narrowly made it through to Q2 at the expense of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, but could only qualify 16th on the grid for tomorrow’s race. The Dane is also under investigation after appearing to leave the pit lane under a red light in Q1.

Manor had another fairly routine qualifying, gaining positions thanks to the mistakes of others. Rio Haryanto outqualified highly-rated teammate Pascal Wehrlein for the third time this season, finishing 19th in Q1.

Spanish Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen suffered a dramatic change in fortunes when he crashed out in Q1 before posting a lap time. The Red Bull driver clipped the wall on the inside of the Swimming Pool chicane, sending him into the barrier on exit and bringing out the red flag.

Verstappen walked away unharmed, but was classified 21st overall, only ahead of Sauber’s Felipe Nasr who suffered an engine failure earlier in the session that also warranted a red flag stoppage.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

‘Halo’ F1 cockpit protection set for 2017 introduction

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MARCH 03:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari tests the new halo head protection system on track during day three of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 3, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 chiefs have agreed to introduce the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection device for the 2017 season, according to reports.

Following the deaths of Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing, the FIA has placed improving cockpit safety high on its agenda.

The Halo was given its first public run-out during pre-season testing, the structure being attached to the cockpit at three points.

Reviews of Mercedes’ design were mixed, with concerns also being raised about the obstruction of the driver’s vision and the time it would take to leave the cockpit.

Red Bull offered its solution to improving head protection in practice for the Russian Grand Prix, debuting the ‘aeroscreen’ that acts more like a canopy in a fighter jet.

The aeroscreen again split opinion, but was deemed to be a viable option for possible implementation in 2017 by the FIA after significant progress had been made in its development.

However, multiple reports ahead of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix claim that a decision has now been taken to introduce a refined version of the Halo next season.

BBC Sport reported that the aeroscreen remains on the table and may be introduced in 2018, but has been shelved for next year after an “unexpectedly poor performance in a recent test”.

The Halo will undergo further testing before a final decision is taken over the summer, with approval from the F1 Strategy Group, the F1 Commission and the FIA World Motor Sport Council required.

Vettel quickest in closely-fought final practice in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during final practice ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel closed out practice for the Monaco Grand Prix with the fastest time after edging out his Mercedes and Red Bull rivals in a tight battle on Saturday morning.

Red Bull had led the way on Thursday as Daniel Ricciardo put the Pirelli ultra-soft tires and his upgraded Renault engine to good use, but it could not repeat this form ahead of qualifying.

The session offered a raging battle between Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari as all three teams enjoyed spells at the top of the timesheets. Ricciardo’s pace shone through once again early in the session, but it was Vettel who ultimately finished fastest.

A lap of 1:14.650 was enough to edge out Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by just 0.018 seconds, with Nico Rosberg following in the sister Mercedes a further one-tenth of a second behind.

Ricciardo was forced to settle for P4 for Red Bull as traffic prevented him from completing a late qualifying simulation, while teammate Max Verstappen finished just behind in P5.

Verstappen was fortunate not to damage his Red Bull RB12 car when he locked up at Massenet and bumped into the wall. Remarkably, the glancing blow only damaged his front wing, leaving Verstappen’s team with a minimal repair job ahead of qualifying.

Toro Rosso continued its strong start to the weekend as Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished sixth and seventh respectively, finishing within striking distance of the leading three teams.

Sergio Perez ended the session eighth-fastest for Force India, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and teammate Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10.

Final practice saw a number of drivers making use of the slip roads as they found the limit during their qualifying simulations.

Esteban Gutierrez, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg all ran wide at points, while Renault had another miserable session after Jolyon Palmer spun at the Swimming Pool chicane and damaged the rear of his car.

Up front though, with just one second separating the top nine cars and less than two-tenths covering Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg and Ricciardo, the stage appears to be set for a close battle for pole position later today.

Qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Saturday.