Vautier’s fast start comes down to earth in Long Beach

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It had to happen at some point: Tristan Vautier’s excellent start to his IndyCar career hit a few speed bumps during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

In a first, Vautier failed to advance from Q1 (and for that matter, into the Firestone Fast Six) for the first time in two races with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. To make matters worse, the team changed engines and thus what was already going to be a struggle from 19th on the grid became 27th and last, thanks to IndyCar’s 10-spot grid penalty rule enforced for unapproved engine changes.

Vautier, ambitious at the start, made contact with Scott Dixon going into Turn 6. That earned him a penalty for avoidable contact.

But Vautier moved forward, both with a great car on restarts and a good strategy to climb into the top-five later in the race. He was on pace for what could have been his best result before the last pit stop sequence, when he was released into Will Power’s path as the Australian entered his pits on lap 51.

That, although not Vautier’s fault, earned the French rookie his second penalty of the day. He eventually ended behind Power in 17th.

“We had an amazing car today, so thanks to the team for that. I made a mistake at the beginning of the race with Scott Dixon, and I’m sorry about that to him and his crew,” said Vautier. “I got pretty familiar with pit lane after serving my drive thru penalty for the incident, but we got back out on the track and my pace was amazing.

“We really made the most of the restarts. I think we gained five positions on each of them. It felt great to run up in podium position for awhile. Unfortunately in the pits I got sent out and made contact with Will Power’s car. We had some communication issues as a team, but we’re all learning to work together and things happen.”

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.