F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Practice

McLaren, Jenson Button nearly made one-stop race work

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Spa’s one of the greatest race tracks in the world and often produces some of the best races. It was still an amazing track on Sunday, but the race itself in Belgium may not go down in history as an all time great.

In terms of strategy, the teams this weekend had some difficult decisions to make for more than one reason.

Pirelli brought the two hardest dry compounds in their current range to this event and that brought with it a different set of challenges to those faced at some other circuits on the calendar. Degradation wasn’t so much of a concern, but the varying temperatures and conditions meant the goalposts for drivers and engineers trying to tune their cars or driving styles in order to switch-on the tires, was constantly moving.

With everybody setting their qualifying times on intermediate tires in mixed conditions, not only was the starting order shuffled, but the choice of Sunday’s starting compound became free in the dry. This opens up the possibility of various strategic options for everybody and calculations beforehand had a dry race being marginally faster using a two stopper than a one stop plan, albeit with not too much in it.

The major unknown variable of course, as is often the case here, would be the weather.

Almost everyone’s information said there would be rain today, no one could be confident of when or how much, but there had to be an element of flexibility factored into every strategy. That information, didn’t just affect teams on race day, but dictated the way they approached Saturday’s qualifying too.

This track has a long lap and two of its three sectors are very fast, long straights with high-speed turns. The middle sector is the opposite, tight, slow and twisty. There are different ways to approach the car setup, with either low or medium downforce levels helping for different parts of the lap, but whichever way you choose to go, there’s always a compromise to be made.

Lotus opted for a higher level of aerodynamic downforce than many of the other top teams, which helped them through sector two. In their case it was deemed to give them an overall laptime gain over being fast in the high speed sections, but losing out too much in the middle part of the lap. Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari all went the other way and set themselves up for a higher top speed.

Interestingly, the Red Bull, which traditionally isn’t the fastest in a straight line, came up with a low downforce package for this race that proved far more efficient than it’s rivals and it was that speed advantage which proved crucial to Sebastian’s victory.

In terms of tires, most of the leaders went with a similar medium/medium/hard strategy, which was the optimum, as everyone was in the unfamiliar position of entering the race with plenty of new sets available, having run much of the weekend in wet conditions.

The key for the eventual winner, as we’ve seen him do many times before, was to get past Hamilton early and break the DRS gap before the system was activated on lap 3. His extra top speed advantage enabled him to do just that and the aggressive move up the hill from Eau Rouge on lap one gave him the perfect opportunity. The dominance of the Red Bull at this circuit, a place where traditionally they haven’t gone well in the past, is an ominous sign for everyone else. Vettel was able to control the race with such ease, he was never out of the lead from that point on and was being reminded by his team as early as lap three to conserve the car.

Behind him, Hamilton faded with a car that simply wasn’t in the same league. The team got everything right in terms of their strategic options and probably got as much as they could from the weekend. Ferrari showed real promise here, a huge improvement after recent events, and Fernando was one of the biggest movers in the race. Good decisions on when to stop helped put him in a position to fight for positions and his great start meant he was Vettel’s closest challenger. However, the truth is that, try as he did, he had nothing left to close the gap that the triple world champion stretched out to seventeen seconds before backing off at the end of the race.

One of the more interesting strategic choices came from McLaren and Jenson Button. They decided to gamble on a one-stop race, hoping rain might play into their hands at some point. Although the rain never came, his pace was good, but he quickly realized that he couldn’t go far enough into the first stint to make the single stop work. The switch to a two stop plan still kept him firmly in the mix and he was running in the top six when it came to making the second stop. Having run mediums then hards, there was a moment when it may have been considered a worthwhile option to stay out and run to the end, but the team felt a long stint to the flag may have left him vulnerable towards the end.

It was probably  true, but had he managed to extend his early spell on mediums for another five or six laps, the option may’ve been a viable one. As it was, his second stop for hard tires dropped him back and although his pace was up there with the leaders, his track position left him with nothing more to fight for. Still, a far more positive weekend for the McLaren team.

The only one-stop strategy in the end came from Lotus and Romain Grosjean, but the high drag, high downforce setup left him unable to make up the ground he needed to and fighting in the middle of the pack cost him too much time in the end. He was another one who needed the intervention of rain to bring him back into play.

Advantage Rosberg as F1 title fight resumes at stormy Sepang

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP in the garage during previews for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 29, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) Rainy weather may be the only thing that can stop Mercedes from clinching a third straight Formula One constructors’ title at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, as new championship leader Nico Rosberg seeks to capitalize on his current edge over teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes has won all but one race this year – when the teammates took each other out in a crash – and is now poised to seal the team championship with five races to spare. It needs to score only three points more than closest rival Red Bull, while preventing Ferrari from outscoring Mercedes by 22 points or more, in order to clinch the title.

Thunderstorms are forecast throughout the race weekend, and the Malaysian race and qualifying have a history of being hit by heavy rain. That may give some encouragement to Red Bull and Ferrari that they can challenge Mercedes.

A resurfacing of the track will complicate matters for all teams, as their data from previous years on tire degradation will be obsolete.

Rosberg has won the past three races to turn a 19-point deficit to Hamilton into an eight-point lead. The tension between the teammates is spilling over from the track.

“We are pushing each other very hard on the race track and even off the race track,” Rosberg said Thursday. “It’s a great battle and everything counts, in many areas.”

The German has never won on the sweeping turns and long straights of Sepang, but that should not be considered much of an omen, as he has recorded first-ever victories at five other circuits this season.

Hamilton’s campaign has taken a turn for the worse after his own hat-trick of race wins in mid-season.

“I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve had tough runs and I’ve had good runs, and it’s not particularly any different to any of those,” Hamilton said of the latest reversal of fortunes. “It’s all about how you handle it, how you deal with it.”

His handling of it was commendable in the previous race in Singapore as he took a fighting third place despite a weekend of technical setbacks.

However, Hamilton hinted at some discontent Thursday. Asked about alterations to the set-up of the car in recent races, he said: “If something changes when it doesn’t need to be changed, it can have all sorts of effects.”

“There’s other things in the background which they (the team) can apply more effort to, but that’s internal stuff,” he added.

Team management was staying neutral in the title fight between the Mercedes pair, and Hamilton said there had been no efforts to buoy his spirts following the recent championship turnaround.

“The team doesn’t have anything to say to me because we’re embarking on the team championship, which is what they care about. Me and the (drivers’) world championship are not really their priority in a sense.”

McLaren driver Jenson Button will make his 300th race start this weekend, joining Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello as the only men to reach that milestone.

“When I started in 2000, I remember speaking to my Dad, and he said, ‘How long do you think you’ll race for?’ and I said, ‘I’ll be done by the time I’m 30, and here I am at 36,'” Button said. “It definitely sucks you in, Formula One, and it doesn’t let go for a long time.”

Ed Carpenter Racing confirms Newgarden departure for 2017

during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.
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Ed Carpenter Racing has provided the first official domino of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series silly season, confirming on Thursday that Josef Newgarden will not be back with the team for 2017. Carpenter had Newgarden under contract through Sept. 28 and since that passed, now frees him up to leave.

“While it’s disappointing that Josef will not be returning, it’s also not a total surprise after all of the speculation the past few weeks,” team owner Ed Carpenter said in a release.

“I wish Josef the best in his future endeavors, but also remain focused on ECR’s continued success. We are positioned well moving into 2017 and I have total confidence that we will continue to deliver the high level of performance we expect as a team.”

This doesn’t outright confirm Newgarden will shift to Team Penske, but it makes it a near certain possibility to follow the rumors the last few weeks and reported on by NBCSN contributor Robin Miller for RACER.com.

Newgarden leaves Carpenter’s team after a net five years, the first five of his IndyCar career. He was initially with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing for three years from 2012 to 2014, then did separate one-year extensions under the merged CFH Racing banner in 2015 and with the rebranded Ed Carpenter Racing for 2016, with Fisher and Wink Hartman no longer part of the ECR ownership structure.

Carpenter will continue to drive the team’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on ovals in 2017, with the team yet to determine the next round of plans for the No. 20 car on road and street courses (Spencer Pigot drove this year) and a full-time replacement for Newgarden in the No. 21 car.

Brazil GP organizers surprised with FIA doubts on 2017 race

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 15:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP race into the second corner followed by the rest of the field during the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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SAO PAULO (AP) Organizers of the Brazilian Grand Prix say they are surprised that motor sport’s governing body has not confirmed the race at the Interlagos track for the 2017 Formula One calendar.

In a provisional calendar for 2017 published earlier Wednesday, the FIA put an asterisk indicating “subject to confirmation” for the Brazilian GP, scheduled for Nov. 12.

In a statement, the organizers of the Sao Paulo race said they were “surprised on Wednesday with the publication of the provisional calendar”, adding that “there is a valid contract until 2020” and that it would be rigorously complied with “as it always has in these 45 years.”

Brazil first hosted Formula One in 1972, although the race did not count for that year’s world championship. It will stage the penultimate race of this season on Nov. 13.

The races in Canada, in June, and in Germany, in July, are also marked as to be confirmed for next year.

Ericsson escapes serious injury after hitting ‘big chicken’ while cycling

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Sauber F1 walks in the Paddock before practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Marcus Ericsson escaped serious injury after hitting a “big chicken” at high speed while cycling in Thailand earlier this week.

Sauber Formula 1 driver Ericsson spent a week in Thailand on a training camp between the races in Singapore and Malaysia, the latter being held this weekend in Sepang.

The Swede posted pictures on Twitter earlier this week showing his injuries, appearing to be cuts and bruising to his left arm and right hand.