2013 Bahrain Grand Prix preview

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Off the back of the Chinese Grand Prix, the teams have had little chance to catch their breath ahead of this weekend’s race in Bahrain. With Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus all impressing in China, will the four teams be vying for victory once again this weekend?

Bahrain Grand Prix Talking Points

Are Ferrari and Alonso pulling ahead?

Fernando Alonso perfected his strategy and pace in China to take a stunning victory, so Ferrari will be keen on continuing this form in Bahrain. Although rain is forecast across the weekend, a characteristically hot race could play into the Italian’s marque’s hands. After all, Alonso dominated in the heat in China after two damp races, so the F138 appears to be strong in the dry.

Red Bull look to bounce back

China was a difficult weekend for Red Bull, even with Sebastian Vettel finishing 4th after starting down in 9th. The world champion struggled for outright pace on the harder tire, getting stuck behind Nico Hulkenberg early on, whilst Mark Webber endured a nightmare weekend. Quite whether his fortune will change in Bahrain is impossible to predict, but starting three places back from his qualifying position is certainly a bad omen.

Can Mercedes finally win?

There appears to be four teams in the hunt for the 2013 constructors’ championship, and Mercedes is the only member of this group yet to win. Lewis Hamilton struggled from pole in China, whilst Nico Rosberg went backwards before finally retiring, making it a disappointing weekend for the German team after such a strong qualifying performance. Bahrain is where the team really has to prove its worth.

Further progress on McLaren’s agenda

McLaren was strong in China, with Jenson Button perfecting his strategy to finish in a best-case-scenario of 5th. However, Perez’s failure to score shows that the MP4-28 is still incapable of a podium finish, although the team has certainly come a long way since the opening race of the season.

Advantage Toro Rosso in the midfield battle?

China threw up some interesting midfield battles, with Daniel Ricciardo coming out on top in P6, and Toro Rosso appear to be in good shape for the rest of the season. For outright pace, the Faenza-based team was very strong, but Force India and Sauber also impressed (after they both lost one driver in the same incident), leaving us with a highly exciting battle for the small points in Bahrain.

Track: Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir (5.412km)
Laps: 57
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:30.252s (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Hard)
2012 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2012 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 1:32.422s
2012 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 1:36.379s
DRS Zones: Main straight (T15 to T1); T10 to T11

Friday – Free Practice 1: 10:00am local/03:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 14:00pm local/07:00am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 11:00am local/04:00pm ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 14:00pm local/07:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 15:00pm local/08:00am ET

You can watch FP2, qualifying and the race on NBC this weekend via http://stream.nbcsports.com/liveextra/, or on their phone or tablet by downloading the app http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/25481063/.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • 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 (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.