Honda Indy Toronto - Day 3

Ten with Townsend: Toronto debrief

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With the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader in the books, we again had the chance to catch up with our NBC Sports Network IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for his thoughts on the weekend. With a busy schedule that’s also included his racing three other types of cars just since the last NBCSN race at Milwaukee, we definitely thank him for his time. Without further adieu, the latest from Townsend (see all prior installment links here):

-Toronto had a crazy first race, little quieter second. Do you think doubleheader format worked well here or is this place crazy enough that they better to pack all the action into one race?

I thought it worked well although I don’t want doubleheaders to start reducing the overall number of events on the calendar.  Clearly with Jakes’ accident on Sunday we are finding the limits of driver fatigue in doing both races.  Electric power steering might be a good consideration going forward.  That’s the intelligent solution to the problem I think.

-Standing starts – pass or fail? 

Pass. But let’s not pretend we are trailblazing here.  Let’s adopt the FIA F1 process for standing starts, lock, stop, and barrel and just replicate everything.  From how to treat aborted starts to what the lights look like and where they are placed.  It works, fans understand it, and it frees the series up to put their talents into greater challenges.  I think standing starts should become the standard on road/street, rolling starts on ovals.

-How much of Scott Dixon’s incredible last eight days do you put down to him, and how much to the team and what they may have found both in new engine spec and from their test at Sebring?

You have to give Scott full credit here.  He is executing on another level than the rest right now.  No mistakes, no dramas, just cleaning up.  He has been capable of that since Indy Lights.

-Should Helio be shaking in his boots at Dixon’s form or do you think that will motivate him and the Penske team to fight back harder? 

He should be nervous.  Ganassi looked untouchable at Toronto in both races for pace and consistency and we have a stretch of road and street circuits coming up.  Helio should be proud where he performed relative to Will Power- the standard bearer for Penske.  I think that shows Helio has studied Will and raised his game.

-Do you expect RHR to bounce back from a tough weekend? We’ve seen him be resilient before.

He always does bounce back.  He didn’t like my assessment of the accident with Power on Sunday but I’m always impressed with how he bounces back from drama.  Regardless of blame.  He is a quarterback-pedigree guy now and will lead his team down the stretch.

-From what you know about Tom Brown and his experience level, how much has his presence helped Bourdais and the Dragon team? Impressed at how quickly they have gelled?

I would say it’s been everything to do with the results.  Tom is among the very best in the sport and it’s a powerful combination when you pair him with a championship caliber driver.  I think they’re just getting started.  Have to respect Jay Penske’s passion for being the best too.  He is driven by one thing: winning.  Actually two things:  winning and beating his Dad.

-Biggest surprise and disappointment from Toronto weekend.

Biggest surprise:  Carlos Munoz– zero experience in an IndyCar on a street circuit, zero time to prepare.  Mistake free run and a star of the future.  Credit to John Barnes for giving another Lights guy a chance.

Biggest Disappointment:  Probably Mike Conway in qualifying because we all were expecting and hoping for another miracle like Detroit.  He still did a very solid job given the circumstances.  Nobody pushes harder than that guy.

-With so little track time for IndyCar on these doubleheader weekends, what could be done to improve the amount of track time other than slashing number of series on track or dropping the second race? 

Don’t need it.  I only had 3 laps of practice in SST before our standing start.  And there were two new ramps that we had never even seen on course for the race!  Why should IndyCar drivers get it any easier??!

-You’ve driven a little bit of everything since we last chatted with GRC, ALMS Ferrari at Lime Rock and Stadium Super Trucks at Toronto. You’d been used to the Ferrari but what did you make of your GRC and SST opportunities, and their horsepower amounts?

Xgames Munich with GRC was awesome.  Cars are amazing.  Super fast.  I was so stoked to win the LCQ and finish 6th in the main in my first attempt, especially with new sponsor- Royal Purple- on board.  Great event all around.  Plus I get mad street cred for banging doors in the air with Ken Block.

SST in Toronto was simply insane.  Insanely fun.   Robby and PT were my IndyCar idols growing up for their brash and wild demeanor.  So to roll out for practice with both of them, with 600 hp trucks and steel ramps was the ultimate joy ride!  The crowd loved it and we had a blast.

I’ve been very lucky this year to get to do so many different cool things behind the wheel.   Indy, Ferrari ALMS, GRC, SST, even a 3 million dollar vintage Indycar at Milwaukee.  I feel like Jim Carey in “Yes Man”.  Let’s hope it continues.

-Lastly, what was working with Steve Matchett like on the IndyCar side? 

Very good.  I have worked with Steve in the past with F1 on SPEED Channel and we picked right up where we left off.   His natural technical curiosity serves the fan well I think as he is literally exploring under the hood right along with the viewer at home.  I think that makes for good TV.  Hope to work with him again.  Also thoroughly enjoyed scaring the $%#@ out of him in the pace car.   Does that mean I need therapy?

Button taken to hospital for check-up after eye irritation

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button has been taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after reporting an eye irritation during practice for the German Grand Prix that cut his session short.

Button completed 16 laps in FP2 en route to eighth place in the final timesheets, but was taken to the medical centre after complaining of an irritation.

McLaren confirmed on Twitter shortly after the session that Button had been taken to the local hospital in Mannheim for a check-up.

Rosberg doubles up in second Friday practice for German GP

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg made it two-for-two in practice for the German Grand Prix by topping the timesheets at Hockenheim for Mercedes on Friday afternoon.

2014 winner Rosberg topped the opening practice session on Friday morning at Hockenheim before underpinning Mercedes’ impressive pace by leading FP2, beating teammate Lewis Hamilton once again.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:15.614 to beat Hamilton by almost four-tenths of a second on the super-soft tire, sending out a firm warning to his title rival ahead of qualifying on Saturday.

Hamilton had a scare after coming across Daniel Ricciardo while exiting the pits late on, but escaped unscathed, although not without telling his team and FIA race director Charlie Whiting over the radio that he felt the Red Bull driver had got too close for comfort.

Sebastian Vettel finished as the best of the rest once again for Ferrari, reducing the one second gap to Rosberg from P1 down to just six-tenths of a second.

Max Verstappen followed in P4 for Red Bull ahead of Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari. Nico Hulkenberg survived an early run over the curb at Turn 1 that sent him airborne to finish seventh ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button and Force India teammate Sergio Perez. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10 in the second McLaren.

Button’s session came to an early end after he reported an “irritation” while in the car, resulting in a visit to the medical centre for a check-up.

The session also saw a clamp down on track limits at Turn 1 after race control reported 93 incidents of running wide in FP1, prompting a resumption of the three-strike system seen in Hungary.

The on-track action at Hockenheim resumes on Saturday morning with FP3 on the NBC Sports app from 5am ET ahead of qualifying on NBCSN at 8am.

Hamilton expects to start last at either Spa or Monza

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton expects to start last in either Belgium or Italy as a result of exceeding the number of permitted power unit components for the first time in 2016.

Hamilton took the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season in Hungary last weekend, moving six points clear of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

However, Hamilton has long expected to take penalties later in the year after failures in China and Russia earlier this season forced him to use additional power unit components.

Drivers are limited to five usages of six power unit components throughout the season, with a 10-place penalty applied for those using a sixth.

A further five-place grid drop is applied for all the other components used for a sixth time, followed by a 10-place drop for a seventh, and so on.

Hamilton is on the limit for two of his power unit components (turbo charger and MGU-H), but would take a complete new unit to gain additional components for the rest of the season, resulting in a drop to the back of the grid.

Hamilton hopes that he can get through this weekend’s German Grand Prix without any setbacks, and anticipates he will take a new power unit at either the Belgian or Italian Grand Prix after the summer break.

“Hopefully I get through this weekend at least and then it takes hopefully the weight off, and [I’ll] know that either in Spa or Monza we’re going to be starting last,” Hamilton told NBCSN.

“But then after that hopefully I’ll be able to get to the end of the year with whatever I have in the pool.

“I’ve dealt with it, I’ve accepted it, it is what it is and I’m gonna try and do the best job that I can.”

Hamilton enters this weekend’s German Grand Prix on a roll after winning five of the last six races, and put his upturn in fortunes down to a lack of issues on the car that blighted his start to the year.

“I’ve been fighting the whole year, particularly with the failures on the car, and me and my engineers, we’ve been fighting as hard as we can,” Hamilton said.

“It’s just that we’ve had no issues since Monaco with the car. Since qualifying in Monaco we’ve had few issues apart from Baku with me in qualifying and then the car on the Sunday.

“Otherwise the car has really been performing well and I think I’ve utilized that in the last six races.”

Renault won’t rush decision on 2017 F1 line-up

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo makes a pit stop during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Renault Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur says a decision on the French marque’s driver line-up for the 2017 season will not be rushed as ‘silly season’ begins to ramp up.

Renault returned to F1 as a constructor in 2016 after five years away after taking over the financially-ailing Lotus operation at Enstone.

Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were signed as drivers for 2016, but both have struggled for form with the R.S.16 car.

Magnussen’s seventh-place finish in Russia remains Renault’s only points finish of the season so far.

Speculation has been growing about the future of both Magnussen and Palmer at Renault, with a number of drivers out of contract and available for next season.

Renault also has an extensive junior program featuring drivers such as Esteban Ocon, Sergey Sirotkin and Oliver Rowland, all of whom are vying for their F1 debuts next year.

With so many options and many drivers to consider, Vasseur is keen to take some time before making any call on Renault’s line-up for 2017.

“We are at that time of year when we are asked these questions, but the questions and the speculation often happen before any decision is made,” Vasseur said.

“What I can say is we have two good drivers, who are improving weekend after weekend. Let’s not forget that Jolyon is a rookie and that Kevin only had one year driving full-time at McLaren then a year not racing.

“They are both doing a strong, solid job and work very well within the team. I have a strong relationship with them both and they know what is expected of them.

“Within the team we are very happy together. We will make our decisions for 2017 in our own time.”