Like Massa, Vergne is sitting in a shop window

2 Comments

After an association with Ferrari that has lasted over a decade, Felipe Massa is now entering his final four races for the Italian team. Having enjoyed the majority of his success in Formula One at Maranello – including his agonizing loss of the 2008 world championship to Lewis Hamilton – he is now facing a race against time to secure himself a place on the grid in 2014. Although seats remain at many of the teams lower down the grid, the Brazilian driver has remained defiant that he will only drive for a competitive team next season: so, Lotus. His refusal to follow team orders in Japan will have earned him some respect from potential suitors (even if Ferrari may not have been so receptive), but all the while to clock is ticking. However, he is not the only driver to be in this position.

Jean-Eric Vergne is, much like Massa, scratching his head and asking “where do I go from here?”. The Frenchman has gone through the majority of his motorsport career alongside current stablemate Daniel Ricciardo, but the Australian will fly the Toro Rosso nest at the end of a year as he steps up to parent team Red Bull to partner soon-to-be four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. His replacement is set to be the next protégé from the drinks giant’s junior programme: Antonio Felix da Costa. Despite losing out in the race to move to Red Bull in 2014, Vergne has been assured of his future at Faenza. However, the partnership is a puzzling one.

Vergne’s F1 career so far has been good in places, but far from spectacular. His run to sixth place at this year’s Canadian Grand Prix epitomised his time in the sport: a great drive, but largely unnoticed. Whilst the Frenchman has quietly gone about his business, Ricciardo’s results have stood out more, with the Australian driver coming out the victor of some great battles in this year’s Chinese and Italian Grands Prix. His friendly demeanor in the paddock has  also made him a favorite with the fans, whilst Vergne has been more reserved. All of these factors came to the fore in Red Bull’s decision to rebuff the Frenchman and take on his teammate, leaving him in limbo.

For Toro Rosso, the main reason for keeping Vergne is loyalty. After all, he hasn’t done a bad job during his time with the team, not warranting a fate that has befallen so many of his predecessors; Scott Speed, Sebastian Bourdais, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari have all fallen by the wayside in recent years. Then again, in cases of Buemi and Alguersuari, it is hard to find great flaws in their performances. Continuity can be crucial to the success of a team, as Jenson Button and Brawn proved in 2009 when the Briton finally won his first world title. Although Vergne’s presence may not have as much of an impact, he will be able to guide his new teammate and the team entering a new era in 2014.

However, the very purpose of Toro Rosso – to nurture drivers that will race for Red Bull – means that Vergne is at threat. The arrival of da Costa in 2014 is an assumption, but he is widely regarded as being the ‘next in line’ to step up. Below him, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat are making a great deal of noise in an attempt to please Red Bull, and both are doing an excellent job in their junior categories. Fernando Alonso has inferred that he believes Sainz (a fellow Spaniard) is ready for F1, but a more likely debut season is 2015. However, with both youngsters champing at the bit and looking to follow in the footsteps of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, Vergne’s seat is far from safe.

In fact, it’s merely a question of how long it takes Sainz and Kvyat to mature and be ready for F1. Should Sainz be in a position to be promoted at the end of next season, it is likely that Vergne would make way for him to partner da Costa. Theoretically, Vergne has a twenty-six race window (by no means a paltry number of grands prix) in which to say to the other teams on the grid “here is why you should hire me.”

However, there is something of a saturation in the sport at the moment. There are more drivers capable, willing or simply rich enough to get a seat than places available, meaning that even talented drivers such as Nico Hulkenberg appear to be at risk of not finding a spot on the 2014 grid. Having not done enough to make the jump to Red Bull and currently amid a point-less streak that stretches back to his sixth-place finish in Canada, is Vergne really a better option than the likes of Hulkenberg, Massa and Gutierrez?

For the Frenchman, the clock is ticking. Although he has a longer period than Massa in which to prove his worth, he also has a couple of young and well-funded drivers snapping at his heels. Now is the time for Vergne to establish himself as a mainstay in Formula One and secure a spot on the grid for years to come.

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Saturday times and notebook

New Tatuus PM-18. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a rundown of times and notes from Saturday at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, as all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder had their first day of testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A link to Friday’s notebook is here.

Times are below, followed by notes.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session); Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.8246 (Session 4)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.9875 (Session 4)
4. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.2067 (Session 4)
5. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
6. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.2563 (Session 4)
7. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
8. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
9. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:17.1030 (Session 4)
10. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.5179 (Session 4)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8920 (Session 2)
2. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
3. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
4. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.2252 (Session 2)
5. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:20.2456 (Session 4)
6. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.7373 (Session 4)
8. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
9. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:21.1250 (Session 2)
10. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:21.4425 (Session 4)
11. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:23.0447 (Session 4)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Gutierrez. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photgraphy

1. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
2. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
3. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.6882 (Session 3)
4. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
5. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:26.0760 (Session 2)
6. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:26.1432 (Session 3)
7. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
8. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2751 (Session 2)
9. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:26.3193 (Session 4)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.4349 (Session 4)
11. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
12. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5739 (Session 4)
13. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
14. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.8219 (Session 3)
15. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.0620 (Session 4)
16. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.2107 (Session 4)
17. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
18. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.6730 (Session 2)
19. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, No Time
20. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Kohl and McElrea joined Gutierrez in Pabst’s pace. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Drivers and teams alike have raved about the pace, and the rather loud sound, of the new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda. Reports from private testing had the new car rather close to Indy Lights pace at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and rather quicker than the old car at Road America. The first tangible evidence of that occurred today as all 10 of the Pro Mazda drivers who got representative laps (second BN Racing car of Leonard Hoogenboom ran only a few laps in session four after engine issues all day) supplanted the Pro Mazda lap record at IMS – 1:22.8800 by Pato O’Ward in 2016 – easily. Oliver Askew’s best time of 1:19.8920 in the second session was nearly a full three seconds quicker on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
  • Of the 11 Pro Mazda drivers that ran today, only Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin, Kris Wright and Sting Ray Robb ran in the 2017 season. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any or all five of them running full-time in 2018 for what would be each of their second seasons in the championship, as returning sophomores along with what should be a glut of strong rookies. Wright, who also races sports cars, looks poised to add a second program of some other series to a planned Pro Mazda full season.
  • Megennis is planning to test with other teams in the weeks to come, as he tests for Juncos this week after racing in USF2000 with Pelfrey the last two years. Both he and Robb missed portions of sessions today with new car issues.
  • Several Indy Lights spins and off-course excursions occurred but none produced any serious issues. Rinus Veekay and Anthony Martin were among those to test the course limits but kept on going unharmed. Veekay had a spin in session three on new tires, then promptly laid down the fastest lap of the session for Belardi later on.
  • His teammate this weekend, Nico Jamin, wound up with the fastest lap of the day in Indy Lights – although he wasn’t quickest in the cool evening session, the fourth of the day, when most of the field ran some sticker tire runs on their Cooper tires.
  • Pro Mazda title combatants Victor Franzoni (Juncos) and Anthony Martin (Andretti) made their Indy Lights test debuts. The perpetually happy Franzoni wrote on Instagram, “Awesome day!! We finished the day in P3!! The most import we learned a lot!! Tomorrow will be even better!!” Martin, meanwhile, said this: “It’s obviously a new car – bigger, faster and a lot more downforce, so I’m adapting to it and growing up to it nice and slowly. You don’t want to push yourself too early, so we’re working up to a few things. You have to do things a lot quicker and you have to use a lot more brake pressure.”
  • In USF2000, it was an excellent day at the office for Pabst Racing with Andres Gutierrez – who impressed in a pair of weekends with DE Force Racing this year – leading three of four sessions, while teammates Hunter McElrea and Lucas Kohl were also in the top-five. Pabst has been busy running cars in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda this weekend.
  • Beyond Pabst, Newman Wachs Racing also had an excellent day, mainly with sophomore Darren Keane and Californian rookie Jake Craig. Keane, who’s coached by Ozz Negri, led the fourth and final session of the day, and stands as a driver who could make a big leap forward in performance if he secures a full season in 2018.
  • Another team of note today was BN Racing, with Callan O’Keefe – Keane’s teammate when both drove for Team BENIK at this race weekend last May – second best on the day. The South African is poised to be that team’s lead driver next season. Teammates Elliott Finlayson and Zoey Edenholm are working towards seasons of their own; Finlayson having coming off a recent Super Sweep in SCCA Runoffs competition at IMS last month and Edenholm having only just graduated from karts into cars just this month.
  • While the USF2000 field was primarily rookie-dominated, two-year series veteran Aaron Telitz made a cameo return today with RJB Motorsports, and brought the ex-ArmsUp chassis its best pace yet in RJB’s hands as the Wisconsinite ran with Mirl Swan and Alex Barron’s crew support. Past RJB driver and two-time Team USA Scholarship, Michai Stephens, was also on site today.
  • Speaking of ArmsUp, its top rookie from 2017, Devin Wojcik was on hand today making the rounds as well, although wasn’t in a car. He looks to return to USF2000 for a second season in 2018.
  • USF2000 boasted some good diversity with Pabst, BN, Newman Wachs, Exclusive, Pelfrey, BENIK and RJB teams in the top 10 today, but there’s one notable omission: Cape Motorsports. The seven-time defending champions in the series are not testing in USF2000 this weekend, and has just a single Pro Mazda car on site for Oliver Askew. Granted, the team is also at Circuit of The Americas this weekend for F4 U.S. Championship action, where Kyle Kirkwood has taken that series’ championship. DE Force, which also ran in USF2000 this year, is also not here this weekend as it’s at COTA. ArmsUp isn’t here this weekend either.