F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Practice

Alonso quickest in damp first practice at Spa

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Fernando Alonso has finished fastest in the first free practice session for the Belgian Grand Prix, taking advantage of the changeable conditions to start the second half of the Formula One season in the best possible fashion.

The only window for dry running came midway through the session and P1 frequently switched hands. Eventually, Alonso came out on top ahead of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, marking a good result for Force India. Similarly, McLaren impressed to finish fourth (Perez) as did Sauber in seventh and eighth.

The session began in damp conditions after overnight rain and intermittent showers in the hours leading up to FP1, and this forced the teams to take to the track on the intermediate tire to begin with. However, conditions were not dry enough to prompt anything more than an installation lap from the teams until Jules Bianchi posted the first time of 2:07.578 with fifteen minutes of the session gone. However, this was soon beaten by last year’s winner Jenson Button who went over seven seconds quicker but soon returned to the pits for fear of damaging his tires.

Mark Webber was the first driver to venture out on the dry tire half way through the session, but he quickly paid the price by running wide at La Source and eventually returned to the pits after three laps. However, Perez was not put off and took on the orange-ringed tire along with Sebastian Vettel, but the damp track in sectors one and three made quick times impossible at first. The world champion sent his RB9 into a spin at La Source as did Valtteri Bottas in the Williams. Eventually though, conditions improved enough for the hard tire to come into widespread use as both McLarens dipped under the two minute mark to go P1 and P2 with just over half an hour remaining.

Even in changeable conditions, Mercedes’ one-lap pace was once again present as Nico Rosberg moved up the order along with Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo. Just as they did during practice at Silverstone, Toro Rosso appear to be quick on a drying track. Button, Alonso, Perez and Hamilton all enjoyed a spell at the top, but the 2008 world champion was forced to take evasive action after Esteban Gutierrez slowed on the racing line heading into the Bus Stop chicane. Alonso eventually took a hold of P1 ahead of di Resta and Sutil, but conditions once again worsened and most of the field returned to the pits with fifteen minutes to go. Despite some late runs, none of the drivers could improve and Alonso remained on top come the checkered flag.

With the forecast suggesting that rain could affect the race on Sunday, this result may be an early indicator of the pecking order should there be a wet session later on in the weekend.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.