Stat surprises through two IndyCar race weekends

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With St. Petersburg and Barber in the books, there’s a couple interesting nuggets to note from the first two rounds of the IZOD IndyCar Series season.

QUALIFYING SURPRISES

Three teams – Dragon Racing, KV Racing Technology, and Sam Schmidt’s teams – have seen the regarded “junior” driver outqualify their more experienced teammates in both races.

Since Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Hamilton) is regarded as one of the fastest young drivers in the series, it’s been surprising to see Tristan Vautier (Schmidt Peterson) outdo him on both occasions. Vautier is one of three drivers, along with Team Penske’s Will Power and Helio Castroneves, to qualify in the Firestone Fast Six both races.

Simona de Silvestro has rebounded nicely from her Lotus engine nightmare 2012 season and pushed Tony Kanaan at KV. Receiving less attention but no less noteworthy, Sebastian Saavedra (right) has outqualified Sebastien Bourdais by at least 12 positions the first two races, ending ninth each time.

One other qualifying stat of note: the first two races have seen JR Hildebrand, Ana Beatriz and Ed Carpenter each locked into the bottom three spots on the grid. In a field this tight, setup or car differences have made relatively small gaps of more than one second to the session leader look larger.

CLOSER MARGIN OF VICTORIES

Andretti Autosport’s winning drivers – James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay – have withstood pressure from Castroneves and Scott Dixon, respectively, to take the first two wins of the year.

Hinch’s St. Pete win came in at 1.0982 seconds, while last year Castroneves beat Dixon by 5.5292 seconds. At Barber, the MOV dropped from 3.3709 (2012, Power over Dixon) to 0.6363 of a second.

MARCO IMPROVING, BUT STILL HUNGRY

The re-focused Marco Andretti has only one less top-10 finish in the first two races (two) as he did the entire 2012 season. Still, with a win having eluded him since Iowa 2011, he’s itching to get back on the top step of the podium.

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.