Mechanics work on the car of Ferrari Formula One driver Alonso during the qualifying session for the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit

Bahrain recap: Tire tests, rare DRS failure, hot/cold temps made for wild race

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Amid a backdrop of complaints and concerns about this seasons Pirelli tire compounds, the Bahrain Grand Prix delivered one of its most exciting yet.

Whereas the Chinese GP used the soft and medium compound tires in cooler conditions, giving a delta of nearly one and a half seconds per lap between the two, Pirelli’s choices for this race were a lot closer in performance and durability levels.

The medium and hard tires worked well here and, in the extreme heat of the desert, seemed to be the perfect selection.

The two compounds offered a choice of strategy, though of the top 10, only Ferrari’s Filipe Massa opted to start on the hard tire. It could’ve been an inspired move by the team to cover both scenarios, but we’ll never really know as a disastrous race for both drivers ended their hopes.

A rare DRS failure while running second on lap seven meant an emergency pitstop for Alonso. The DRS rear wing flap is designed to stay closed if the system should fail, but on this occasion the hydraulic actuator managed to push the flap beyond its normal 50-millimeter opening limit. This meant that, whereas the airflow over the wing would normally force the flap shut, being ‘over-center’, the aerodynamics had the opposite effect and held it in an open position.

Mechanics were able to push the wing back into its closed state at the stop, fit new tires and send him out without major time loss, but inexplicably appeared to fail to tell Alonso not to use the system and the same thing happened a lap later. Another stop to close the wing and the loss of DRS meant the predicted challenge for the win was effectively over. He did well to salvage eighth.

After a slightly strange looking tire failure for Hamilton on Saturday morning, Filipe Massa suffered a similar looking delamination to his right rear in the race, followed by a major blow out on the next set not long after. Pirelli were quick to suggest debris on the track had caused all three issues, but will investigate further in the coming days. One thing’s for sure, following much recent criticism, the last thing the Italian tire manufacturer needs is the perception that the rears weren’t capable of withstanding the heat and demands of the Bahrain circuit.

The ambient temperature, always pretty warm, did fluctuate this weekend, as did the wind speed and direction and the effect on different teams cars was notable.

Kimi Raikkonen was ominously quick in Friday practice, yet in the cooler temperatures of Saturdays qualifying struggled considerably more. The high race day temperatures meant the car came back to him and teammate Romain Grosjean and both managed brilliant podiums from lowly grid slots. Conversely, the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg worked well on Saturday to gain pole position, but found himself with a different car altogether in the hot race. Teams are still learning about the critical relationship between tire temperature and their performance levels and more importantly, how to manage them through driving styles or technical developments. Most teams now use adjustable brake duct slots to allow some of the enormous heat from the brakes to escape and soak into the wheels and tires when needed. Many of the leading teams also use a passive, hydraulically linked suspension arrangement to control the cars pitch and, or roll during braking and cornering, allowing the car to be more aerodynamically stable and less aggressive on its tires.

Kimi showed in the race that the ability to make the tires last and do one less stop than the rest can be a huge advantage.

McLaren found strong headwinds on the main straight for the race a help as they were running a shorter top gear and would’ve otherwise been held back by the rev limiter and therefore vulnerable in the DRS zone. As ever setup is always a compromise and this is something Red Bull have used in the past to aid qualifying, whilst they work on the basis that they can get so far out in front that they won’t be under attack by DRS.

Others found the strong cross winds at the higher points of the circuit unsettling the cars on turn in.

With Barcelona three weeks away (May 12) and closer to home for the teams, we can expect some significant upgrades and developments on the way.

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Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

PWC: Parente back, Sellers, Hedlund join at K-PAX

Photo: PWC
Photo: PWC
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Defending Pirelli World Challenge GT champions K-PAX Racing have confirmed their lineup for this year’s season, which will see Alvaro Parente back to defend his crown in one of three McLaren 650S GT3s.

Parente will have two new teammates, in two talented Americans. Bryan Sellers will make his first run at a full-time PWC season in the team’s No. 6 McLaren, while Mike Hedlund, who’s driven off-and-on with K-PAX Racing technical partner Flying Lizard Motorsports, will run for a GTA title in the No. 98 McLaren.

Sellers and Hedlund replace Austin Cindric and Colin Thompson, respectively, as full-season drivers. Driver lineups for the SprintX races will be announced at a later date.

“With the addition of new teams, drivers and GT3 cars in the Pirelli World Challenge, 2017 is going to be tighter and more challenging than ever,” said Team Owner Jim Haughey. “So we are very pleased to have Alvaro, the returning Driver’s Champion, team up with the very competent Bryan Sellers in GT and Mike Hedlund in GTA.”

The full release is linked here.

These confirmations add to what’s shaping up to be, once again, a very good GT class field for the series.

Foyt confirms hire of Will Phillips as technical director

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Larry Foyt, Will Phillips and A.J. Foyt. Photo courtesy A.J. Foyt Racing
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A.J. Foyt Racing has confirmed the hire of ex-INDYCAR Vice President of Technology Will Phillips as the team’s new technical director. He’ll also serve as race engineer for Carlos Munoz this season. Trackside Online was first to report the hire.

Phillips was named as technical delegate for the Formula 4 United States Championship powered by Honda this past year, and now will be in a team role for the two-car Chevrolet outfit that Foyt has this season.

Munoz and Conor Daly will be in the pair of ABC Supply Co. Chevrolets this season, with Daniele Cucchiaroni continuing with the team as Daly’s race engineer. The duo tests this week at Sebring International Raceway’s short course.

He’s been a technical director/chief engineer, race engineer or design engineer at various teams, including but not limited to de Ferran Motorsports, Highcroft Racing, Rocketsports, and Reynard Motorsport.

“It is a privilege to join one of the most iconic teams in the IndyCar Series,” Phillips said in a release. “I have missed the competition and as such am looking forward to being back on the frontline. The depth of talent in the team is impressive and I look forward to working with them and helping create a cohesive engineering group to support Carlos and Conor.”

A.J. Foyt added, “I’m glad to have Will on our team. He’s smart and experienced and he was a close friend of “Ando’s” [the late John Anderson]. Ando worked for me and was a good friend of mine. I don’t know Will that well yet, but if Ando respected him, that’s good enough for me. I think Will can do a great job for us.”

Street in Nice renamed, unveiled in honor of Jules Bianchi

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 20:  Jules Bianchi of France and Marussia walks across the paddock prior to the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 20, 2014 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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A street has been renamed and unveiled on Monday in honor of the late Jules Bianchi in his hometown of Nice, France.

The former ‘rue du Sapin’ in Nice is now ‘rue Jules Bianchi,’ in the Frenchman’s honor. A ceremony took place Monday at that street at the intersection of ‘avenue Pierre de Coubertin.’

Posts from the unveil are linked below. Charles Leclerc, Bianchi’s countryman and Ferrari Driver Academy member who participated in a couple first F1 free practice sessions with Haas F1 Team last year, posted “You’ll never ever be forgotten.”

Bianchi died in 2015 following a coma sustained after his accident in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, where he suffered a diffuse axonal injury. Not long afterwards, his No. 17 was retired from active competition in Formula 1.

Bianchi scored the first points and to date, the best career finish for the Manor F1 team, when he finished ninth in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.

MRTI: Thompson, Castro announce 2017 USF2000 programs

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Parker Thompson. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda has received a shot in the arm with a pair of announcements in recent days.

Parker Thompson, who came up a hard-luck second in last year’s championship to teammate Anthony Martin, will be firmly entrenched as a title contender once more in 2017 with a switch to Exclusive Autosport in the team’s No. 90 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda.

The Red Deer, Alberta native raced for JDC Motorsports in 2015 before moving to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing last season. The move reunites Thompson with fellow Canadian and EA team owner Michael Duncalfe.

“This was easily one of the hardest off seasons I have had in my motorsport career thus far,” Thompson admitted. “I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get behind the wheel of a racecar in 2017, so when the opportunity arose to become a part of the EA organization, I was ecstatic.

“This is a dream team fit for myself, in a number of different ways. I met Michael when I was just 11-years-old racing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at the Western Canadian Karting Championships. It just goes to show you what relationship building can do for your career down the road! Since then, I actually raced for Michael in his decorated FF1600 program, and claimed my first two formula car wins with him. There’s not many team owners in the paddock who I have had such a great history and relationship with over the years.”

More on the announcement is linked here via the USF2000 website, and Thompson also released a video that is linked below.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Andre Castro, an 18-year-old born in New York but with Colombian heritage, is the second confirmed driver at Newman/Wachs Racing ahead of its return to full-time racing. He’ll be in the team’s No. 37 entry alongside the previously announced Dakota Dickerson in the No. 36 car, with the series sophomore expected to improve this year.

“We ran Andre in our first test at Indy last October, and we had some success with him right from the start,”said team manager, Brian Halahan. “He was fast and he worked well with the team, so I feel we can build on that and have him running strong as soon as he is back in the Newman Wachs car. I think Andre and Dakota will make good teammates and push each other to the front.”

Castro is a go-kart veteran with limited car racing experience, but was nominated as a finalist for last year’s Team USA Scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be a part of Newman Wachs’ return to open-wheel racing, said Castro. After working with the team closely in the weeks leading up to the Chris Griffis Memorial test at Indy last fall, I saw that the team was incredibly serious about coming back and winning straight out of the gate. At the test itself, I was able to work with engineer Alan O’Leary extremely well, and by the end of the final day, me, a rookie driver and a returning team, together, we managed to be on top of the time sheets.”

While these two are in the USF2000 field this year, one driver who won’t be back for a second go-’round is Cameron Das, who raced his debut season with JAY Motorsports. The Baltimore teenager has stretched his wings not just in USF2000, but also in SCCA’s new U.S. F4 Championship, which he won.

Das, 16, will shift to Europe this year and will be one to watch along with new Red Bull Junior driver Neil Verhagen. Das has been confirmed with Carlin for its BRDC British F3 team, along with previously confirmed drivers James Pull and Enaam Ahmed.

“British Formula Three feels like the natural next step in my racing development,” said Das, who’s already tested for the team. “I’ve already had a chance to see Carlin in action and I couldn’t be more excited to spend the 2017 season with them. I really appreciate the support from my sponsor Autobahn Indoor Speedway and other partners for allowing me to embark on this incredible opportunity. I cannot wait for the first race weekend.”

The signing did bring up a good point – Das is unquestionably the racing driver with the name closest in spelling to actress Cameron Diaz.