Awesome Alonso takes home victory at Spanish GP

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Fernando Alonso has claimed an emotional home victory at the Spanish Grand Prix today, perfecting his strategy to win the race ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and teammate Felipe Massa.

Despite starting from the front row, Mercedes endured a terrible race as they struggled with tire wear, causing them to drop through the field. Sebastian Vettel could only finish 4th as he struggled for pace, despite challenging for the lead early on. Ultimately though, no-one could stop Alonso from taking his second win at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Off the start, Alonso caused trouble for the leaders by slipping past Raikkonen through the exit of turn two, and then by not lifting he managed to squeeze out Hamilton around the outside of the long turn three. It was a gutsy move that delighted the Spanish fans, as he slotted into third place. Rosberg managed to stave off Vettel at the front, but his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, lost out to Raikkonen early on. Felipe Massa made a great start, passing Webber, Grosjean and Perez to lie 6th, whilst Jenson Button had a terrible start to slip down to P17.

At the front, Rosberg held the lead until the first round of stops whilst Ferrari made big gains thanks to some impressive outlaps, and Alonso relegated Vettel to P3. Massa had jumped Raikkonen, but the Finn soon caught up with the group. Just as Hamilton had fallen right back, Rosberg’s tires let him down which saw him drop behind all four of the chasing drivers to release Alonso at the front. The Spanish driver quickly set about opening the gap between himself and Vettel, and he had soon eased into a comfortable lead.

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It quickly became evident that strategy would be key, with Ferrari and Red Bull opting to make four stops whilst Lotus were trying to pit just three times. Mercedes’ weekend went from bad to worse as Hamilton bemoaned the fact that he was ‘slower than a Williams’, and he could only come home in P12. Rosberg did score some points for the German team, but eight points from a front-row lock out will be a great disappointment.

As the race panned out, Alonso continued to push ahead on the softer tires with Massa in P2 as Vettel struggled to keep up with the two Ferrari drivers. Instead, it was Raikkonen who posed the biggest threat to Alonso’s lead on a three-stop strategy, but it was not enough as the Spaniard managed to come out in the lead after making his final stop. He eventually eased home to win by 9.3 seconds.

Massa scored his first podium of the season in P3, after dropping behind Raikkonen, but he did finish ahead of the Red Bull duo of Vettel and Webber. Rosberg hung on for P6 at the end of the race ahead of a charging Paul di Resta, who was followed by the McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez. Daniel Ricciardo completed the points, denying Esteban Gutierrez his first score.

Just three drivers retired from the race: Giedo van der Garde, Romain Grosjean and Jean-Eric Vergne.

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.