Munoz: Fontana draft in versus Toronto a “totally different” situation

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Details as to why E.J. Viso was taken out of his Andretti Autosport seat for this weekend’s IZOD IndyCar Series season finale still remain murky at best. Viso did tweet late Friday, “Wishing the best to @CarlosMunoz026 driving my car this weekend. Trying my best to recover from food poisoning. So frustrated.”

But regardless of what the situation was, the team still had to figure out a backup plan, and had the best possible choice ready to go with its Indy Lights driver Carlos Munoz.

Munoz now has the unique opportunity of being a Colombian driver stepping into the No. 5 Team Venezuela/Andretti Autosport/HVM Chevrolet. Additionally, he’s the only driver of the 38 who have started an IndyCar race this year to have driven three different cars (Nos. 26 and 5 for Andretti, No. 4 for Panther Racing).

It’s the second time he’s been called on as a replacement driver this year, having also filled in for the injured Ryan Briscoe at Toronto Race 2 for Panther Racing. The situations, however, could not have been more different.

“It’s a totally different situation actually,” Munoz explained to me after qualifying. “The first practice here was really tough and difficult after Indy lights. It’s a different track, with different line to run, so you’re trying to learn that. Toronto was the day of race and I had a morning warmup. But I think rookie drivers struggle more on the ovals.”

It was interesting to hear Munoz say that because the Colombian dominated the Indy Lights race here a year ago. But, IndyCar and Indy Lights are about as similar at Fontana as are apples and oranges.

Munoz now has the unintentional bonus of being the second straight Andretti Autosport driver to do the 600 miles of Indianapolis and Fontana in the same year, following Sebastian Saavedra last year. But, he agreed these are totally different situations as well.

He qualified 14th on Friday and should move up at least two more spots on the grid with 10-grid spot engine penalties to Scott Dixon (seventh) and Josef Newgarden (10th) to be enforced.

F1 2017 driver review: Max Verstappen

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Max Verstappen

Team: Red Bull Racing
Car No.: 33
Races: 20
Wins: 2
Podiums (excluding wins): 2
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 168
Laps Led: 133
Championship Position: 6th

Max Verstappen rise as a once-in-a-generation talent continued through the 2017 Formula 1 season, even if reliability issues meant we were made to wait for his best form to arrive.

Verstappen stole the show in a wet-dry Chinese Grand Prix by charging from 16th to seventh in the opening lap before ultimately finishing third for Red Bull, yet he would not grace the podium again until the Malaysian Grand Prix at the start of October.

A combination of power unit problems and on-track clashes saw Verstappen retire from seven of the 12 races in the intermittent period, with incidents in Spain and Austria being avoidable.

Perhaps most embarrassing of all was his stoppage due to a power unit failure in front of a grandstand swathed in orange at the Belgian Grand Prix, a race tens of thousands of Dutch fans had attended to cheer Verstappen on.

But when Verstappen got things right, it was – as he frequently quoted – simply, simply lovely. There was plenty left in the tank, as proven by his sheer domination of the races in Malaysia and Mexico as he took the second and third wins of his career.

Perhaps even more impressive was Verstappen’s victory over Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the qualifying head-to-head battle this year, an area the Australian has traditionally been strong in. Verstappen outqualifed his teammate 13-7 – it wasn’t even close…

All in all, Verstappen once again proved that on his day, he is one of the finest talents to grace F1 in recent years. With the right car underneath him next year, a title fight is certainly possible and will be the target – but there is always room for improvement.

And that is the scary part: Verstappen is only going to get better and better.

Season High: Dominating in Malaysia after an early pass on Lewis Hamilton.

Season Low: Crashing out on Lap 1 in Austria.