Vettel storms to pole in wet Canada qualifying

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Sebastian Vettel has claimed his third consecutive pole in Canada for this weekend’s race, excelling in the wet conditions which saw the entire session completed on intermediate tires.

However, the big surprise from the session was Valtteri Bottas’ excellent performance to qualify 3rd, marking Williams’ first foray into Q3 this season as the team looks to score for the first time in 2013. He will start between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with neither driver able to continue Mercedes’ pole position streak. For Vettel, his championship lead looks set to be extended after championship rivals Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen qualifying 6th and 9th respectively, although, as Felipe Massa proved with a crash, mistakes can be costly in Canada.

A short rain shower before Q1 left the teams with a dilemma over which tire to send their drivers out on, and despite the first runners using the dry compounds, they struggled to stay on-track and all returned for intermediate tires. Hamilton and Rosberg were the early pace setters alongside both Red Bull drivers, but many struggled in the damp conditions: Sutil, Massa and even Canada-specialist Hamilton all made mistakes. Massa did manage to improve and went quickest with three minutes to go, only for Webber to top his time. Vettel eventually finished quickest, whilst Alonso and Bottas also ran strongly at the top, but at the bottom it was a battle between Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez and Paul di Resta to get into Q2. Gutierrez pulled out a great lap to finish P12, yet Grosjean and di Resta could not improve and joined Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde in the Q1 dropzone.

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Conditions failed to improve ahead of Q2, and once again it became a battle between Mercedes and Red Bull at the top of the timesheets, joined by Jean-Eric Vergne for Toro Rosso. The trio of Hamilton, Sutil and Massa all made very similar mistakes into turn three, and Massa complained of a lack of grip on the intermediate tire. Perez was informed that the times were not improving, yet Vettel managed to open up a big gap at the top, only joined late on by Webber and Bottas. The session was red flagged after Massa crashed at turn three under braking, with the Brazilian driver being very frustrated to leave him in the dropzone. On the restart, the drivers queued two-by-time at the end of the pit lane, all gunning for one final lap time. Button failed to cross the line in time and was eliminated, and the Briton was joined in the dropzone by Hulkenberg, Perez, Maldonado and Gutierrez. However, Valtteri Bottas made it through to Q3 for the first time in his career, finishing an excellent 4th.

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Bottas was the only driver not to go out immediately in Q3 as the wet weather persisted, meaning that intermediates would be used until the end of qualifying. The first set of runs saw Vettel edge out Hamilton and Rosberg at the top, with Toro Rosso impressing to stand P7 and P8, but Bottas once again stood out to sit P3 when the drivers pitted for fresh tires. However, as the rain intensified in sector three, the times failed to improve, allowing Vettel to remain on pole after Hamilton made an error on his final timed lap. The big story from the session was Bottas’ excellent run to P3, finishing ahead of Rosberg, Webber and Alonso. Vergne was once again impressive to qualify 7th, with Sutil, Raikkonen and Ricciardo completing the top ten.

This result sees Vettel claim his third pole of the season, and his third in a row at the Canadian Grand Prix, but all eyes will surely be on Bottas off the start tomorrow after such an excellent performance. As qualifying was completed on intermediate tires, the teams will have all of their dry compounds available for the start tomorrow.

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.