Buddy Lazier gets reacclimated to Speedway after four-year hiatus

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Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion, began his refresher program Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Lazier completed 18 laps on Friday so he didn’t finish the refresher program, which required him to pass the final two phases of the Rookie Orientation Program: 15 laps at 205-209 mph and 15 laps at 210 mph-plus. His best lap of the day was 222.464 mph.

Lazier has a decorated history at the track with 16 prior starts and was one of the most successful drivers of the Indy Racing League era at the track. His last start in the race came in 2008 (qualifying picture right), and he last attempted to qualify in 2009.

He has a family effort this year, in the No. 91 Lazier Partners Racing Chevrolet, with a number of ex-Hemelgarn Racing crew members including crew chief Dennis LaCava. The car is the former Lotus test chassis fielded by Fan Force United in last year’s Indianapolis 500, where Lazier served as a driver coach for rookie Jean Alesi.

After installation laps were completed on Thursday, Lazier had his first real bit of running on Friday.

“The guys (crew) did a great job,” he said. “The car feels incredibly good. It’s always nice in the morning when it’s cool. We would have gone a lot faster, but we were just flat out of gear. We were on the rev limiter more than two-thirds of the racetrack.”

F1 2017 driver review: Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 5
Races: 20
Wins: 5
Podiums (excluding wins): 8
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 5
Points: 317
Laps Led: 286
Championship Position: 2nd

2017 was supposed to be the year Sebastian Vettel finally fulfilled his ambition of emulating Michael Schumacher by returning Ferrari to its championship-winning heyday.

Instead, it ended in disappointment and frustration – once again.

Ferrari arguably made a greater step across the change in technical regulations for 2017 than any other team, living up to its pre-season tag as favorite by winning the opening round in Australia in fashion.

Vettel and Ferrari led their respective championships following the Monaco Grand Prix as the German ended a 16-year win drought for the Prancing Horse in the principality, and even heading into the summer break, a shot at both championships was looking good.

However, cracks had started to appear. Vettel’s remarkable antics behind the safety car in Baku sparked controversy after driving into Hamilton, suggesting the tension of the title fight was beginning to take its toll on the German.

The final run of flyaways was where things really fell apart for Vettel, though. Singapore looked to be a slam-dunk win, only for a start-line crash also involving teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen to put 25 free points in Hamilton’s pocket.

Reliability woes then struck in Malaysia and Japan – two more races Vettel could realistically have won – to make it game over in the title race, with Hamilton wrapping things up in Mexico.

Vettel only finished the year 46 points back from Hamilton, proving the impact the three bad races in Asia had. Realistically, this was a title race that should have gone down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Vettel remains a four-time champion, level with Hamilton, who had just one to his name back in 2013 when his rival secured his fourth.

Ferrari’s internal issues will come under the microscope over the off-season, and Vettel himself knows there is plenty to work on. Staying cool under pressure and not letting things boil over as in Baku is the most obvious area for improvement.

But there is reason for hope. If Ferrari can keep up with Mercedes and repeat its impressive step into 2017 through the upcoming off-season, we may well be treated to another Vettel/Hamilton scrap at the front of the field, perhaps settling once and for all who is the greatest driver of the post-Schumacher era.

Season High: A crucial win in Hungary despite battling with a broken steering column.

Season Low: Letting tensions flare in Baku and hitting Hamilton behind the safety car.