Webber storms to first pole of the season at Suzuka

7 Comments

Mark Webber has secured his first pole position of the season in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix after putting in an impressive performance in the final session to finish ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Webber, who is racing for the final time at Suzuka this weekend ahead of his retirement at the end of the season, posted a fastest time of 1:30.915 to finish less than two-tenths ahead of Vettel who was hampered by a KERS problem during Q3.

Q1 got off to a quiet start as many of the drivers opted to wait before setting their first times. Esteban Gutierrez was the first driver to set a benchmark time, but Sauber soon had bigger concerns when a fire broke out on the Mexican’s car in the garage. Thankfully, Gutierrez jumped out of the car quickly and the fire was put out, allowing him to get back out a few minutes later. Fernando Alonso bounced back from a disappointing performance in practice to lead for a good part of the session before being beaten by Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton on the hard tire, with Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button completing the top six. Just as the teams prepared to go out on the option tire though, a brake fire on Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso brought out the red flag. As a result, the teams had to scramble their cars back out on track on the restart with time for just one flying lap. Vergne’s earlier time was not enough to get him through, and he was joined in the dropzone by Adrian Sutil who will drop five places on the grid due to a gearbox change. Max Chilton put in a fine lap to outqualify both Caterhams and teammate Jules Bianchi (the latter being for the first time) whilst Romain Grosjean finished fastest of all on the prime tire.

The majority of the teams went straight onto the option tire for Q2 as they looked to secure a place in the top ten shootout early on. However, Red Bull once again opted to leave their runs until later in the session, allowing Alonso to set the early pace along with Hamilton and Button. When Vettel did come out though, he went over half a second quicker than the Ferrari with Webber and Grosjean also moving ahead of Alonso with some impressive times. Another final flurry of times ensued once the checkered flag had fallen, with some good initial times from Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado failing to secure Williams a place in Q3. Esteban Gutierrez’s run of top ten results in qualifying came to an end as the Mexican driver finished fourteenth whilst Sergio Perez joined his compatriot in the drop zone after a late lap time from Felipe Massa edged the McLaren driver out.

Red Bull bucked the trend in Q3 by being the first to send their drivers out and set a time, but champion-elect Vettel ran into problems when he was told by his engineer that his KERS system was not working. This proved to be costly early on as the German driver could not match the pace of teammate Mark Webber, giving the Australian provisional pole after the first set of runs. However, with Vettel improving in the first sector of his final run and Mercedes also in the running, it was by no means a foregone conclusion. Ultimately though, Vettel could not improve with his final time and both Hamilton and Rosberg fell short, whilst Webber improved further to secure his first pole position since the 2012 Korean Grand Prix as well as outqualifying Vettel for the first time this season.

Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa both outqualified their illustrious teammates to line up fourth and fifth respectively ahead of Rosberg, whilst Nico Hulkenberg’s good form continued as the Sauber finished seventh. Both Alonso and Raikkonen struggled late on to finish eighth and ninth and Jenson Button closed out the top ten for McLaren.

Webber will be delighted to have finally finished ahead of his teammate and taken his first pole position of the season in what has been a difficult swansong year for the Australian. However, the ‘team orders’ debate will undoubtedly arise should Vettel be in the position to win the world championship in Japan on Sunday.

Chilton caps off stellar month of May with hard luck P4 at Indy 500

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – It speaks volumes of the confidence and maturation of Max Chilton in his second go-around at the Indianapolis 500 that a Verizon IndyCar Series career-best fourth place, after leading a race-high 50 laps in the No. 8 Gallagher Honda or Chip Ganassi Racing, was a proper disappointment.

But indeed, Chilton’s capped off a month where he’s banked back-to-back IndyCar career-best results – first a seventh place in the INDYCAR Grand Prix and then fourth on Sunday in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil – and has leapt from 18th to 11th in the points standings as a result.

Chilton looked a realistic winner for most of the race after recovering from an ill-handling car in his first stint. He started 15th but tumbled to 27th in the first 26 laps before his first pit stop.

The gamble that paid dividends though was to go off sequence and pit during the second full-course caution period on Lap 68. Once a further full-course caution flew on Lap 81 for debris, Chilton and Will Power stayed out while the rest of the field pitted.

That netted him the lead for the first time on Lap 84 and vaulted him from 24th up the order. The track position was key and as Chilton found, his car was excellent in clean air but struggled once he got behind others. Nonetheless, his strategy and hopes would ebb and flow the rest of the race as he remained part of the top 10 runners.

It was setting up that Chilton and Power were positioning themselves to pull an Alexander Rossi-type-of strategy from there and make the race on one fewer pit stop, but that idea ended when Chilton bailed out and pitted on Lap 124 with five others, including eventual third place finisher Ed Jones. It kept them off-sequence but meant they’d still need to do two more stops before taking the checkered flag.

Chilton returned to the lead on Lap 139 as others pitted and after a quick exchange with Ganassi teammate Charlie Kimball, led from Laps 148 through to 165, before another caution flew as Kimball’s Honda engine expired.

The Kimball caution took everyone’s possible strategic elements out of play and positioned the field for a final sprint to the finish.

It was there Chilton showcased his race craft, with excellent defense against Jones, Helio Castroneves, and eventual winner Takuma Sato.

Chilton had to watch in the rear view mirror as Sato completed his move of the race, a three-wide around the outside double pick-off of Castroneves and Jones, prior to Fernando Alonso’s retirement.

Chilton defended on the final five laps from Sato, then Castroneves, before Castroneves got around him for the lead on Lap 194. Sato followed him through for second on the same lap, and Jones got him for third a lap later to leave the Reigate, England native in an unrepresentative fourth place.

As with Jones though, Chilton had shown he properly belonged at the front of the field.

“The Gallagher Honda was struggling a lot early in the race and we even went a lap down,” Chilton said post-race. “But we kept our heads down, kept going and got a break. I don’t think anyone has ever won this race without a little bit of luck.

“When we did end up getting out front, the car was really quick, and you can see why this place is so special and so electric in that moment.

“I held (Takuma) Sato off with everything I had, but when the cars gang up behind you, they get a massive run and you can only do so much as the leader. As soon as they got past, I wasn’t as confident in the dirty air.

“To come from a lap down to lead and have a chance to win here at Indy is a massive accomplishment for the whole team.”

Photo: IndyCar

The race for Chilton played out almost exactly as he predicted on Thursday, when we spoke to him during Indianapolis 500 media day.

“Temperature wise I don’t think there’s much in it. I think Honda has the best package overall for racing, power, and fuel economy,” Chilton told NBC Sports then. “Ed (Carpenter) looked strong in qualifying but whether they’re strong over a stint is a different matter. I know the Penskes are struggling, which is a sign Chevrolet is, because they’re the ‘works’ team.

“I feel good in what Scott’s got; he was quickest in qualifying and I was strongest in ‘race day running,’ if you want to call it that. But I feel we’ve got a good package. Maybe 22 others can win though! You’ve got to do the best job you can though and if it’s your day, it’s your day.”

Chilton was bullish even on Thursday that he knew he had a car that could win, and wouldn’t be happy unless he did. He so very nearly backed that up with a performance worthy of a victory.

“I want to win it! To be honest top-fives are pointless here. Charlie, my teammate, has been finished top five a few times here, and he said, ‘I was third here once – I won an interview – and that was it.’

“There’s no such thing as a podium here; if you’re second you’re first loser, and it’s a face that doesn’t particularly look like yours that’s on the Borg-Warner Trophy!”

Indeed Chilton’s face is not Sato’s, but after an effort like Chilton, in tandem with engineer Brandon Fry and strategist Julian Robertson put together on Sunday, that day when his face appears on the trophy could come soon enough.

Ferrari chairman: Vettel’s Monaco win ‘will be part of our history’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ferrari chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne has sent his warm congratulations to Sebastian Vettel following his victory in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, believing that the result will go down in the Scuderia’s history.

Vettel picked up his third win of the 2017 season in Monaco to extend his lead at the top of the F1 drivers’ championship and end a victory drought for Ferrari in the principality that dated back to 2001.

“Something we’ve been waiting for a long time has finally come to pass, a race which will be part of our history,” Marchionne said in a statement issued soon after Vettel’s victory.

“Not only a victory, but a one-two finish at a grand prix with a tradition as glorious as Monaco, where Ferrari last won with another one-two, delivered on that occasion by [Michael] Schumacher and [Rubens] Barrichello. Today it was a really exciting race where we saw the real Scuderia.

“My compliments to the drivers and, once again, the whole team, both those at the track and the individuals that work so hard each and every day back in Maranello on a car that is finally giving our tifosi the satisfaction they deserve.”

The result saw Vettel extend his lead at the top of the F1 drivers’ championship to 25 points over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, while Ferrari also moved ahead of the German manufacturer in the constructors’ standings.

Vettel’s attention will soon shift to the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in two weeks’ time, but not after savoring his Monaco success.

“Canada is a completely different track but to be honest, for now I am just going to enjoy the win here,” Vettel said after the race.

“It’s very, very special to win here. I think we’ll have a fun night and then we have enough time to prepare for Canada.”

Button gets empty penalty for Wehrlein clash on last F1 showing

Getty Images
1 Comment

Jenson Button’s second farewell to Formula 1 ended in the same fashion as his first when he was forced to retire from Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix following a bizarre clash with Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein.

Button started from the pit lane in Monaco after an engine penalty, and spent the majority of his race staring at Wehrlein’s diffuser after both opted to pit on the opening lap.

Growing increasingly frustrated with his “painful” race, Button tried to lunge down the inside of Wehrlein at Portier, one of the tighest points on the circuit, on Lap 57.

The contact tipped Wehrlein’s car into the air before coming to rest on its side up against the wall at Portier. While the German driver escaped from the car unharmed, he was not able to get out until the marshals had righted the car.

“The most important thing is that Pascal is OK. It’s unusual to see a car go on its side,” Button told NBCSN after the race.

“I thought I was well alongside him when we got to the corner and then I noticed he hadn’t seen me. I tried to back out but it was too late.

“The important thing is that he got out OK. I saw him a minute ago and he’s obviously a little bit shaken, but he’s fine. It was a slow speed accident but you never know with tire barriers when a car tips.

“Up to that point it was pretty tough. The pace was good when I had clear air, but none of it really matters.

“Yesterday was a great day, and I’ll remember yesterday, that’s the main thing.”

Despite being cleared by the medical crew in Monaco, Wehrlein confirmed after the clash that he will require another check in the coming days for fear of aggravating his pre-season injury.

“I am feeling OK after the accident. I could get out of the car by myself and went for the usual medical examination,” Wehrlein said.

“As my head touched the barriers, it will be decided within the coming days if I need another medical investigation, also because of the previous thoracic vertebra injury.

“I am very upset as this is a result of an unnecessary overtaking maneuver, bearing in mind that Jenson and I were both on a similar strategy with the pit stop in the first lap, far off from points.

“An annoying incident which should not have happened.”

The stewards sided with Wehrlein and deemed Button to be at fault, handing the Briton a three-place grid penalty for his next F1 race – a sanction he is highly unlikely to ever serve.

Castroneves is second in Indy 500, but jumps to No. 1 in IndyCar standings

Getty Images
1 Comment

Second-place may be the first loser, but for Helio Castroneves, finishing second in Sunday’s 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 left him with a very nice consolation prize:

He’s now No. 1 in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

Castroneves took over the top spot in the IndyCar rankings from Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, who dropped to a three-way tie for second place with Sunday’s 500 race winner Takuma Sato and 500 pole-sitter Scott Dixon, who was involved in a terrible crash about one-fourth of the way through the race.

Castroneves has 249 points, while Pagenaud, Sato and Dixon are all 15 points back with 234 points each.

Last year’s Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi, is fifth in the standings with 190 points.

Tony Kanaan, who finished fifth in Sunday’s race, is sixth in the IndyCar standings with 188 points. Rounding out the top-10 are teammates Will Power and Josef Newgarden, who are both tied with 186 points.

IndyCar rookie Ed Jones, who finished a very strong third in the 500, is ninth in the rankings with 185 points, and James Hinchcliffe is 10th with 170 points.

Follow @JerryBonkowski