Overdue top five finish for Simona de Silvestro in Baltimore


Simona de Silvestro secured a needed and well-deserved fifth-place finish in the Grand Prix of Baltimore on Sunday. Yet her two IZOD IndyCar Series career top-five finishes could not be more different in terms of magnitude. If her first was about her star potential, this one was a sigh of relief after a challenging two-and-a-half year period.

Her first, at the 2011 season opener in St. Petersburg, heralded her as a star of the future in dragging an overmatched HVM Racing Dallara up to a place it had no position being. She nearly beat Tony Kanaan for a podium as Kanaan was racing with a new team, KV Racing Technology-Lotus, and an engineer, Michael Cannon, who had served as de Silvestro’s during her 2010 rookie campaign.

Flash forward to Sunday, and honestly, this was one earned by survival rather than outright pace. But it’s funny how things came full circle. Good luck finally fell on de Silvestro on Sunday, her 25th birthday. Since that first top-five she has had to endure several bad oval accidents, a full year with the woeful and underpowered Lotus engine, and has moved to KV this year as Kanaan’s teammate but not had a great season.

De Silvestro started 17th in the No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva Chevrolet and was into the top 10 for the first time on Lap 13, at the first caution. From there she largely ran anywhere between eighth and 12th but more importantly, never had major damage from any of the contact instances that popped up in the second half of the race. She was up to sixth on the final restart on Lap 66 and passed the ailing Marco Andretti to secure the result.

“I’m definitely really happy with P5. It was kind of a crazy race. I don’t think we had the fastest car out there, but we had a pretty good call on the pits when we got stuck in one of the wrecks,” she said. “After that we were able to move forward and had some pretty good restarts. The Nuclear Clean Air Energy car was really good at the end, so I’m pretty happy with it for sure. Not a bad way to celebrate my birthday.”

Throughout the entirety of the struggles she has maintained her composure and sunny disposition in a way few have been able to do. It was nice to see her break her duck on Sunday, but it would be even better if she could replicate the result in a race that isn’t such a lottery.

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F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.