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Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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The deeper analysis of this year’s Indianapolis 500 has already occurred. Now, MotorSportsTalk’s IndyCar writers offer their final say on each of the 33 drivers ready to take the green flag at noon today. This year’s field is one of the deepest in recent memory, and it’s hard to be too high or low on anyone. So, without further adieu, our final take on the field of 33:

Row 1

20-Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

Tony DiZinno: He’ll be up front over the course of the race; for him, it comes down to positioning for the final 100 miles.

Chris Estrada: The Indiana native was a threat to win late last year, and if he can stay out of trouble, I see no reason why he can’t contend for at least a top five once more.

26-Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: With clean lines and a patient drive, a top-10 finish and perhaps Rookie-of-the-Year honors could follow.

CE: A Top-10 result would be a nice ending to a great month for the Colombian youngster, who has turned a lot of heads with his efforts.

25-Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s never had a better chance to win, and his improved race focus and mentality should see him in contention until the end.

CE: The third-generation racer has grown considerably in maturity and in race craft, and he could definitely be in the mix for the win if he’s in position late.

Row 2

5-E.J. Viso (Andretti Autosport + HVM/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Viso is happier, cleaner and driving within himself, and should not be overlooked within the Andretti camp – a top-five would be a great result.

CE: Things have been coming together nicely for Viso this season, and his confidence should grow even more with a good finish.

2-A.J. Allmendinger (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Has everything to gain in terms of future full-time IndyCar prospects from a great race, and has the benefit of Roger Penske on his radio.

CE: I have the sense that ‘Dinger will be steady in his first ‘500’ and have a moment or two to really shine on Sunday. Give him credit for quickly embracing this race’s traditions.

12-Will Power (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: In bizarro world, Power wins this year’s 500 to catapult himself back into title contention from the doldrums of the standings; in reality, his best case result is probably a solid top-10 finish.

CE: He could be the wild card in the Penske deck. He certainly has a chance with the team and talent he has, but hasn’t had the greatest luck here (or ovals, in general).

Row 3

1-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s too good a driver to have not had better results in Indy, and might have the strongest of the Andretti cars in race trim.

CE: That same thing about luck at Indy goes for the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, too. But like Power, he’s definitely aiming for the front.

3-Helio Castroneves (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He needs a comeback from the abyss of anonymity in the last three years, and he hasn’t looked particularly strong in race trim.

CE: Barring trouble on the track or in the pits, racing’s original “Spider-Man” stands a shot at joining some very illustrious company as a four-time ‘500’ winner.

27-James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Would be a popular winner, but more likely to finish from fifth through 10th given the level of competition around him.

CE: The Canadian has been part of a noteworthy month for Andretti Autosport, and he has the potential to be a dark horse late in the going.

Row 4

4-J.R. Hildebrand (Panther Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: A win – or being in the top-five late on merit – would do wonders to vault him into the spotlight for something other than his last lap accident in 2011.

CE: Few seem to be talking about the 2011 “500” runner-up, but his team has shown time and again that it knows the Brickyard very well. Watch that No. 4 car.

98-Alex Tagliani (Barracuda-BHA/Honda)

TDZ: As good a sleeper pick to win as you can make in this field – this team won two years ago and Tagliani has gotten everything and then some out of his Barracuda Honda this month.

CE: Outright speed hasn’t been a problem for Tagliani at Indianapolis, but he hasn’t been able to convert quality starts into really good finishes. Still, a top-10 is not out of the realm of possibility.

11-Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The people’s champ, but he’s struggled to find a balance in race trim all month, and will need to rely on his usual passing and restart heroics to have a chance to win.

CE: A victory for TK at the Brickyard would trigger some of the loudest cheers this old track will ever hear. He can definitely have a say in how this race ends.

Row 5

22-Oriol Servia (Panther DRR/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s been Indy’s “ghost driver” in years past, coming from nowhere to contention in the dying stages, and will be extra motivated to do so again and potentially add more races to his 2013 schedule.

CE: The Spaniard has been sneaky quick in his last two tries at Indy, and charged from 27th to fourth last year. A steady car can put him in contention again.

19-Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: He’s downplayed his chances but some other Honda runners like his car in race trim – Wilson should be a top-10, possible top-five finisher.

CE: Wilson also came from the back of the field to a Top-10 result last year. His overall work on the ovals has improved and another Top-10 could be in the cards for him.

7-Sebastien Bourdais (Dragon Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Despite a flashy chrome and red livery, Bourdais’ pace this month has not gotten the credit it deserves this month; the question is whether his team can keep him in contention for 500 miles.

CE: Nobody doubts the talent of the four-time Champ Car World Series champion but he has definitely been flying under the radar this May. Don’t be surprised if he makes his way toward the front on Sunday, however.

Row 6

9-Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Never rule him out, and if he isn’t in the top five going into the last 100 miles, it would be a surprise.

CE: Always there, always lurking. He’s won the “500” once before and if he has no issues, you can bet he’ll be fighting for a second victory at Indy.

10-Dario Franchitti (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: His team found something on Carb Day but otherwise has struggled this month – that said, like Dixon, he’ll be there at the end in some way, shape or form.

CE: Franchitti’s run at Indy over the last few years has been sensational. Remember, he was knocked to 28th last year after an early pit road incident and still came back and won. Never count this guy out.

14-Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Driving at the top of his game right now, and buoyed by the confidence of his run last year, should once again figure into the top five in the last 100 miles.

CE: His emergence this season has been one of the better stories from the IndyCar paddock. I can see him being up toward the front again at Indy like he was in 2012. Expect a lot of cheers if he is there.

Row 7

83-Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has finished 500 miles both of his first two starts, and another in the “sleeper top-10 finisher” category this time around, if not the outright fastest.

CE: He bagged a solid Top-10 finish last year in the “500,” but with this competitive of a field, a Top-15 may be the most likely target this time around for Kimball.

16-James Jakes (Rahal Letterman Lanigan/Honda)

TDZ: All I can say about Jakes is that no one expected Bertrand Baguette and Takuma Sato to be in the winning frame late for RLL the last two years, and if the team again plays the strategy cards right, this is your “über-sleeper.”

CE: The thing that strikes me about Jakesy is that he keeps out of trouble. That could play to his advantage if there’s a higher rate of attrition on Sunday.

77-Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Very strong in race trim, and with a year’s worth of oval experience behind him, Pagenaud has the confidence and team to contend for a top-10, perhaps top-five, run on Sunday.

CE: He was the fastest man on Carb Day and considering how wide-open the grid is, a top-10 finish is definitely doable for IndyCar’s reigning rookie of the year.

Row 8

60-Townsend Bell (Panther Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: If his pit crew can keep him in the frame for all 500 miles, Bell is the one of strongest of the Indy-only entries.

CE: The veteran driver has proven to be a steady and reliable one whenever he’s called upon. A top-10 finish would be far from unexpected for him.

8-Ryan Briscoe (Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: He’ll have a fresh engine but hasn’t had the smoothest of months; in a one-off entry, it’s hard to see him doing much better than 10th.

CE: Last year’s “500” pole winner has had to deal with qualifying difficulties and a blown engine this month, but he’s had success here in the past. He could be a sleeper as the race plays out.

78-Simona de Silvestro (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: She needs race laps more than anything else, and a finish of any kind would be a boost after two challenging race days the last two years.

CE: The Brickyard hasn’t always treated her well – and that may be putting it mildly. But now that she has a competitive engine, expect her to come away with a finish better or close to her Indy best of 14th (2010).

Row 9

21-Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Another sleeper, Newgarden’s maturation process is noticeable from his first to second years, but he and the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team need to avoid reliability pitfalls.

CE: The social media maven can rise up the pylon on Sunday but with his starting position, he’ll definitely need a good car in traffic to do it.

15-Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan/Honda)

TDZ: Like Jakes, Graham has the benefit of RLL strategy in his camp, but has struggled for pace; most likely, a borderline top-10 finisher at best.

CE: A win from him would make the Rahals the second father-son combo to win the “500.” One wonders how that would make their rivals, the Andrettis, feel.

6-Sebastian Saavedra (Dragon Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Just finishing his third Indy 500 start would be a victory for the Colombian and his spiked hair; finishing ahead of Katherine Legge, whom he replaced at Dragon, would be a bonus.

CE: The most memorable moment of the month for Saavedra may wind up being his chrome silver and blue paint job literally going to pieces in a practice session.

Row 10

55-Tristan Vautier (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Given he’s the only full-season rookie in the field, just needs race laps and a finish from his first 500, with anything 15th or better a bonus.

CE: The Frenchman needs to show a lot of patience as he makes his way from Row 10. Finishing this race on the lead lap would be a good showing for him.

18-Ana Beatriz (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: With three DNFs from the first four races, Beatriz is another in the “needs a finish first” camp, and would go a long way for her participation the rest of this season.

CE: Beatriz has had finishes of 21st, 21st and 23rd in her first three Indy appearances. That would appear to be right where she’ll likely be again.

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: After her car had a vibration on Carb Day, Mann just needs to run 500 trouble-free miles this Sunday.

CE: The Englishwoman did a great job getting her car into the show, but she’s going to need a strong race car in order to keep from being lapped.

Row 11

41-Conor Daly (A.J. Foyt Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Good name, good genes, but a rough month for Foyt’s rookie; if he cracks the top-15, it’s a good result.

CE: The mission is simple: Run as many laps as you can, bring it back in one piece, enjoy the experience.

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s fit and his car looks sharp, but he’s unlikely to trouble the leaders at any point.

CE: Does the 1996 Indy winner have another good run left in him at the Speedway? Lord knows, he’ll try. Much like Kanaan, he’s a bulldog. A top 20 sounds right.

81-Katherine Legge (Schmidt Peterson Pelfrey Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: There’s nothing to lose for her, with a car that was quick on Carb Day and wanting to again prove herself in her first IndyCar start of the year; she potentially could finish in the 10th-to-15th range.

CE: A nice showing on Carb Day (eighth-quickest) may indicate that she has something decent for the race.

Titles, track breakup, cautions peppering Petit Le Mans

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BRASELTON, Ga. – The 19th annual Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort didn’t have a ton of news in the early stages of the race, but it does now as the race has eclipsed the 4-hour mark of the 10-hour race that caps off the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

The race is under its third full-course caution of the race for a track inspection at Turn 3. Just prior to that, there’d been contact as Fred Makowiecki in the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR hit the rear of Andy Lally, in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Class leaders at the 4-hour mark, when the first points in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup are awarded, are:

  • P: 1-10-Jordan Taylor, Corvette DP, 2-5-Joao Barbosa, Corvette DP, 3-60-Ozz Negri, Ligier JS P2 Honda
  • PC: 1-52-Tom Kimber-Smith, 2-38-James French, 3-85-Stephen Simpson
  • GTLM: 1-4-Oliver Gavin, Corvette C7.R, 2-62-Toni Vilander, Ferrari 488 GTE, 3-66-Dirk Mueller, Ford GT
  • GTD: 1-44-Andy Lally, Audi R8 LMS, 2-9-Dion von Moltke, Audi R8, 3-6-Mike Skeen, Audi R8

Here’s some notes thus far:

TITLES CLINCHED

Christina Nielsen drove the opening three-plus hours in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 and by doing so, secured the GT Daytona class championship for both her and co-driver Alessandro Balzan. If at least one Silver or Bronze-rated driver completes that minimum drive time of three hours, that is enough to score points for the pairing.

Nielsen, the 24-year-old Dane, becomes another female driver to win a major sports car championship. There are others – Melanie Snow won American Le Mans Series’ GTC in 2009 and Amy Ruman in Trans-Am last year – while Nielsen’s comes in the deep GTD field that features upwards of six manufacturers and 12 to 22 cars entered in every race this year.

“I’m sad that this is perhaps the last time I get to run the 488 this year, but it’s absolutely amazing that we ran it and it ran so well,” said Nielsen after her three-hour, 8-minute driving stint, via IMSA.

“It’s a nice car to drive, the team did a great job, good pit stops. This just shows what the team has been doing all year. It’s a pleasure to be a part of, they just do so much right and so little wrong. To call ourselves ‘champions’ this early is unbelievable, but we’ve still got an endurance championship to go for so, game on.”

This is a stunning achievement for Giacomo Mattioli’s Scuderia Corsa team, which has now thus far won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, IMSA GT Daytona and Pirelli World Challenge GTA titles this year.

I spoke to both Nielsen and Balzan on Friday, and will have more from them to come in the wake of this championship achievement.

Meanwhile, when the race took the green flag, Chevrolet clinched both Manufacturer’s Championships in Prototype and GT Le Mans. Both manufacturers also have drivers going for Driver’s Championships – the Nos. 31, 5 and 10 Corvette DP pairings in Prototype and the No. 4 Corvette C7.R pairing in GTLM.

TRACK BREAKUP

The most recent caution saw a portion of the track come up at Turn 3, and required crews to survey it. But rather than it being a too lengthy caution, the race has resumed.

If there is an upside to this bit, this isn’t IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield’s first rodeo dealing with track breakups. He’s also dealt with this in his former career as IndyCar Race Director at Detroit and Houston.

A COUPLE CAUTIONS

The debris caution as noted above, which turned into a longer caution, and an off by Tomy Drissi in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 at Turn 10 are the first two cautions of the race. And now, at four hours and four minutes, we have our third full-course caution of the race.

WOES THUS FAR

The DeltaWing is done with timing chain issues, capping off a frustrating weekend for the hometown team.

The No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT’s chances of usurping the championship from the No. 4 Corvette C7.R in GTLM went away when that car went behind the wall in the third hour. Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook were trying to overcome an 11-point deficit.

The sister No. 3 Corvette C7.R went behind the wall at the start of the third hour with a throttle issue. Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia share that car with Mike Rockenfeller.

Mazda’s No. 55 Prototype had a couple offs with Tristan Nunez driving, then a trip to the pits with electronics issues.

Motor issues have hampered the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP of Ryan Dalziel, Marc Goossens and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Pressing on wounded with what Mike Shank told IMSA Radio was an “issue in the left rear” earlier in the race, and now confirmed as having broken drive pins, is the pace-setting No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda of Olivier Pla, Ozz Negri and John Pew.

An alternator belt issue has slowed the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3, driven by Spencer Pumpelly, Corey Lewis and Richard Antinucci.

First car behind the wall with a possible suspension issue was the No. 7 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 of Stefano Coletti, Quinlan Lall and James Dayson. Coletti then spun again when back on track.

Brake issues have slowed the PC-leading No. 8 Starworks Motorsport entry of David Heinemeier Hansson, Alex Popow and Renger van der Zande.

There’s also been a charging system issue for the No. 100 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM.

F1 team chiefs wary of possible expansion of calendar

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Franz Tost of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Austria during the Team Managers Press Conference at the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
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Four Formula 1 team bosses have expressed their concern over a possible expansion of the series’ calendar beyond its current 21 races in the future.

F1 was acquired by Liberty Media Corporation last month in a deal worth an estimated $8 billion, with the company expressing a desire to take F1 to new markets and expand its presence in the United States.

As a result, it is believed that the existing figure of 21 races in a season could be surpassed in the future, with as many as 25 rounds in a year being mooted.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference, four F1 team chiefs were asked about the possibility of going beyond 21 races in the future, with all expressing concern.

“I think we are at the limit already so if there would be more races, we would have to have a rotating system with staff people,” McLaren racing director Eric Boullier said.

“And no, we don’t have reserve people back in the factory so that means we would have to hire some people.”

“I think that 20/21 races is quite a good number and if additional races come onto the calendar we also would have to think of a rotating system to bring in more people,” Toro Rosso’s Franz Tost added.

“Because otherwise it’s difficult to handle everything but if we have more races, we also have more income and therefore it shouldn’t be a problem.

“In the end, there must be a profit for the teams otherwise it doesn’t make sense.”

“I go back to the days when we had 14 races and that was too many,” Manor’s Dave Ryan said.

“21 feels like it’s too many but if they’re talking 25 races… I guess it depends what the package is. Maybe they are two-day events, maybe it’s a different format.

“Until we know what they really are asking for or what they’re thinking of, it may be that it works or not. We just have to wait and see.”

Force India’s Bob Fernley added: “Same as Eric. We would need to increase the personnel significantly to be able to bring in reserves.”

Reflecting on Liberty’s takeover itself, the team chiefs were largely enthusiastic, believing it to be a positive step for F1.

“I assume that Liberty Media, as they belong to a very financially strong group, have a quite clear programme and plan of what they want to do with Formula 1,” Tost said.

“Personally, I hope that Formula 1 will become much more interesting in America, that we will hopefully have three races over there. I expect that especially on the media side they will work on our weak platform, the digital media and social media, and then for the smaller teams, from 2021 onwards, the money is being distributed in a much fairer way and equal to the teams and last but not least, together with the FIA, they will find a way to reduce costs in Formula 1.”

“At McLaren we are very positive about the arrival of Liberty. They are used managing big business, connecting fans to media, so we believe it’s good for Formula 1,” Boullier said.

“At the same time, I think they will take their time to understand the business, where they want to bring the business, the show, the entertainment, to which level. We will see what they suggest and plan.”

“I met [new F1 chairman] Chase Carey for the first time, I found him extremely approachable and willing to listen, but I think it’s far too early to make any predictions of where things are going to go or even opinions on that,” Fernley added.

“I think they need time to be able to look at where they are going and what plans they have for Formula 1 and then once they make their announcements on the direction they want to go I think then maybe we can make some comments but it’s too early to judge at this point.”

Magnussen: P14 on grid in Malaysia ‘much better than usual’

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 01:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 1, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Magnussen felt delighted to match his second-best qualifying result of the 2016 Formula 1 season in Malaysia on Saturday, finishing 14th for Renault in Q2.

Magnussen has scored all seven of Renault’s points since its return to F1 as a constructor in 2016, the most recent coming in Singapore two weeks ago when he finished 10th.

Magnussen is known to be fighting for his future as Renault continues to deliberate its line-up for 2017, and did his chances a world of good by charging to 14th in qualifying on Saturday.

Magnussen finished 13th in Q1 to secure a Q2 berth, where he ended up P14 ahead of both Toro Rosso drivers despite making an error on his final lap as he chased an elusive place in Q3.

“It’s a very good result for us in qualifying. P14 is much better than usual in terms of setting us up for scoring some points in the race,” Magnussen said.

“But it’s an ambivalent result as I felt so close to Q3 that I couldn’t resist giving it everything I’ve got on my final run; I locked up in Turn 1 and lost the lap. I didn’t improve after that so it’s unfortunate.

“From P14, not a lot has to happen in the top ten for us to get points, which is always the aim. Let’s see tomorrow, hopefully our race pace is as good as qualifying today.

“You never really know how it will go here, so fingers crossed!”

Teammate Jolyon Palmer was left ruing a mistake at the final corner of his final Q1 lap as he finished 19th, four-tenths of a second off Magnussen’s time.

“I’ll be frank: my lap was pretty far from what it should have been. I made the wrong call on set-up between my runs and the lap just didn’t come together,” Palmer conceded.

“This was particularly frustrating as the pace has looked promising all weekend and there’s definitely better possible from the car here.

“Tomorrow I’ll be pushing all the way to make amends especially as this is a track where moving up the order is possible.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Alonso still chasing points from last on grid for Malaysian GP

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso is refusing to give up on a points finish in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix despite being resigned to last place on the grid after a power unit penalty.

McLaren driver Alonso arrived in Malaysia armed with an updated Honda power unit, but was forced to take new components and trigger a penalty so it could be fitted to his car.

As a result, the Spaniard entered qualifying with a 45-place grid drop looming over his head, meaning he would start last regardless of where he finished in Saturday’s session.

Alonso opted to set a time good enough to qualify before returning to the pits to save his tire and car life, ultimately being classified P22.

“In practice yesterday, we were comfortably inside the top 10, so there’s an element of frustration to find ourselves with useful performance, but facing a grid penalty ahead of the race,” Alonso admitted.

“Hopefully, we’ve now stockpiled enough components for the remainder of the season that we no longer need to take grid penalties and start at the back.

“My running in FP3 this morning was particularly important – our aim was to conduct some long runs and gain some useful data for the race. In qualifying, we just ran for a few laps, with the aim to save as many sets of tires for the race as we could.”

Despite starting last, Alonso remains optimistic of a points finish in Malaysia after an impressive display in Singapore two weeks ago, where he finished seventh.

“It’ll be interesting tomorrow to see how well we’re able to read the conditions and play the strategy,” Alonso said.

“The new asphalt keeps improving quickly and, while it’ll be difficult to overtake 12 cars and get into the points, I think there’s still something more to come from us tomorrow.”

Teammate Jenson Button led McLaren’s charge in qualifying, reaching Q3 before finishing ninth in the sister MP4-31 car.

“I really enjoyed qualifying! It’s never nice to be just 0.029s behind the car in front, but that wasn’t too bad – we were either going to be eighth or ninth, and we ended up being ninth. I’m happy with that,” Button said.

“During Q1, I had issues with traffic. I had to out-brake Esteban Ocon into Turn 9 during my quick lap, and you shouldn’t have to be doing that during qualifying. I also had a little spin at Turn 14 when I lost all my downforce behind one of the Renaults. That first session was busy.

“Still, we’ve improved the car a lot since practice yesterday, but the team has done a great job to improve it. Qualifying was the first time this weekend that I really felt comfortable.

“Hopefully we can show well in the race – there’s no reason why we can’t fight the cars around us tomorrow.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.