F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

Sebastian Vettel may be greatest athlete America doesn’t know

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Sebastian Vettel appears ready to equal his racing hero and German countryman Michael Schumacher and also Juan Manuel Fangio as the only drivers in Formula One history to win four consecutive World Championships. That alone places him in the Mount Rushmore of legends in the sport; since entering in 2007 as a teenager, Vettel has stormed through the F1 record books with nearly every single Grand Prix.

Schumacher’s all-time marks of 91 wins and 7 World Championships are eventually going to be in range for Vettel, who thus far has 35 and 3 at age 26. He’s already the youngest to win three titles. Schumacher had runs of seven and five straight wins in 2004, the year of his final title. Fangio never won more than three races in a row and won just 24 races in his career, but raced during an era when only nine to 11 Grands Prix were on the calendar.

Yet while his status among the all-time greats of F1 is being solidified, his awareness to an American fan base is not at the same level as his on-track achievements.

Compared to some of America’s most dominant and recognizable stick-and-ball athletes – such as LeBron James, Tiger Woods, and Tom Brady/Peyton Manning – Vettel matches up from a dominance and success level.

LeBron’s at least a third of the way to his “not three, not four, not five, not six” proclamation with back-to-back rings. Brady’s run of success netted three Super Bowls in a four-year run earlier this century. Woods’ streak included holding all four major titles at the same time from 2000 to 2001, and his total of 14 majors is still unrivaled among other golfers even though he’s been stuck on 14 since that U.S. Open win over Rocco Mediate in 2008.

And yet Vettel’s got a record streak that would trump them all, with four successive season-long championships assuming he caps it off this weekend in India. One site rates his marketability behind that of NBA star Blake Griffin and tennis player Sloane Stephens, not to mention fellow F1 driver Lewis Hamilton.

So why is he not as well-known in these parts? Several factors, actually.

The obvious, of course, was the lack of a United States Grand Prix until the event’s return at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas last year. Still, you can catch him for this year’s race on Nov. 17 on NBC, or in person at the track.

Looking historically, Vettel actually made his debut at the last USGP in Indianapolis in 2007 – as a then-long-haired, blonde, 19-year-old as an injury replacement for Robert Kubica at the BMW Sauber team. He scored a championship point with eighth place, the youngest driver to do so, and began his march on the record books.

Those who paid attention that weekend – and are F1 devotees – will know they witnessed the beginning of the legend. The more casual observers, though, likely would not have known of Vettel until the series’ return a year ago.

Second is his sponsor, Red Bull. For all its marketing brilliance over the years, Red Bull has not opted to make Vettel the focal point of its ads in the U.S. since he joined the team in 2009. There’s been more ads from new Red Bull partner Infiniti this year – one with generic Red Bull Formula 3 cars racing through streets I can think of off the top of my head – and Vettel’s not included directly.

Red Bull got more mileage from a marketing and buzz standpoint out of the “Red Bull Stratos” event last October, when Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner free fell from more than 125,000 feet in space. It truly felt like “an event;” a Vettel Grand Prix win seems like “just another Sunday.”

You could argue Mobil 1 has made McLaren driver Jenson Button and, previously, Hamilton bigger names in the U.S. Hamilton and fellow Mobil 1 driver Tony Stewart memorably exchanged rides for a day in a made-for-TV 2011 event, and the two were in commercials together as well. This year, Button’s starred opposite “Smoke,” as the term “Soda cookies” has officially entered the vernacular.

All three – Vettel and the pair of English World Champions, Button and Hamilton – are much bigger on the other side of the pond compared to here. The Barclays Premier League has gained recent traction in the U.S., but it and F1 are the two major sports in England by contrast to here, where the NFL rules all.

Perhaps comparable examples for Vettel in the U.S. are Spanish soccer players Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta, who have won multiple titles with their club team, Barcelona, and international trophies with Spain. But a U.S. sports fan may be hard-pressed to pick either out of a crowd. The same applies to Vettel.

Third, and the issue all F1 stars worldwide all seem to have here, is that the races often come on in the overnight or early morning hours. Only the most devoted, fervent fans have the desire and passion to want to wake up that early, or stay up that late, to watch Grands Prix.

And with Vettel’s recent run of success – five straight victories heading into this weekend – it has the potential to turn fans off with the notion that a race is as good as decided before it even begins. Say what you will about what it takes to achieve that, but unless you’re a fan of dominance and watching the best at their peak, it can get old.

We know Vettel’s an excellent shoe and from those who cover him every Grand Prix weekend, he has a sunny disposition, quick wit, sharp, insightful answers to journalist questions and an enthusiasm for winning that is evident every time that finger waves “number one.”

It just hasn’t waved “number one” here in terms of awareness of his level of dominance.

Williams confirms running order for Barcelona tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 25:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives during day four of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 25, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Williams Martini Racing has confirmed who’s running when ahead of the two Barcelona tests, starting next week.

At the first test, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll will alternate days, with Massa running days one and three and Stroll getting in for days two and four.

The second test will see the Canadian in the first two days before the Brazilian takes over the last two.

Stroll’s had testing in older Williams chassis, but this will mark his first running in the new FW40 chassis. Williams released renderings of the chassis last week.

Williams Martini Racing – Barcelona Test Schedule

Test 1
February 27 – Felipe Massa
February 28 – Lance Stroll
March 1 – Felipe Massa
March 2 – Lance Stroll

Test 2
March 7 – Lance Stroll
March 8 – Lance Stroll
March 9 – Felipe Massa
March 10 – Felipe Massa

KV Racing’s auction set for March 27

NEWTON, IA - JULY 11: Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the #11 Mistic KVSH Racing Dallara Chevrolet, leads Sebastian Saavedra, driver of the #17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers KV AFS Racing Dallara Chevrolet, during practice for the Iowa Corn Indy 300 at Iowa Speedway on July 11, 2014 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra in 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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The remaining assets from KV Racing Technology will be auctioned off on March 27 in a live and online auction put on by Key Auctioneers in Indianapolis.

Much of KV’s inventory has been sold to new Verizon IndyCar Series entrant Juncos Racing, which formally announced its arrival into the series on Tuesday. That includes three chassis, two full sets of pit equipment and one transporter, among other items per Trackside Online.

What’s left for KV of current equipment includes one of the Dallara DW12 chassis – it appears to be the chassis used by Stefan Wilson in last year’s Indianapolis 500 – dampers, drives, gears, lay shafts and more.

There’s also a bit of rolling stock, hospitality and other memorabilia available.

A full page of what’s available is linked here.

KV Racing was born out of the assets of the former PacWest Racing team (PWR Championship Racing in its final year of 2002), and launched as PK Racing in 2003.

Despite going through myriad name changes in the 14 years since, KV was still a fun part of the IndyCar fabric and thanks to Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser, a staple in the paddock. They never fully evolved into a championship-contending team but were an Indianapolis 500-winning entry.

With their demise, it left Dale Coyne Racing as the last of the Champ Car racing teams that switched over to IndyCar in 2008 still standing. But Juncos’ arrival as the ninth team gives new life to a new breed of team owners coming into the series and hopefully opens the door for more from here.

In the meantime, if you’re in Indianapolis and have the means or desire to get a piece of the KV history, March 27 represents that chance.

Lewis Hamilton reveals fan designed new helmet for 2017

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win in parc ferme  during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Three-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG Petronas has revealed his new helmet design for the 2017 season, which saw a competition opened to fans to design it the Bell Racing helmet.

Hamilton wrote in an Instagram post that from more than 8,000 entries, a design from Brazilian artist Raí Caldato most captured what Hamilton wanted to wear.

Hamilton wrote: “Raí evolves my layout by adding new stripe elements on the sides. As a tribute to my hero, Ayrton Senna the helmet features the colours of Brazil – green, yellow and blue. These are accompanied with the 3 stars that represent my Championship wins.”

The traditional yellow that’s been a large part of Hamilton’s helmets over the years remains the dominant color and is balanced by the candy apple red that follows.

The full post is below:

Here it is. The winning helmet design, a creation by Raí Caldato – @caldatodesign from Brazil. Raí evolves my layout by adding new stripe elements on the sides. As a tribute to my hero, Ayrton Senna the helmet features the colours of Brazil – green, yellow and blue. These are accompanied with the 3 stars that represent my Championship wins. There's yellow throughout that reminds me of my helmets in the past. The candy apple red balances with the yellow very well. Raí, I look forward to meeting you in person to present you with your prize! Thank you all for entering this competition, I'm taken back by your creativity. 🙌🏽 #LH44Design #TeamLH #Blessed @mercedesamgf1 @bellhelmetseurope #bellhelmetseurope​​​ T&C’s: http://lewis.social/TCs

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Force India unveils VJM10 Formula 1 car at Silverstone

The Sahara Force India F1 VJM10.
Sahara Force India F1 VJM10 Launch, Wednesday 22nd February 2017. Silverstone, England.
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Force India has become the latest team to unveil its new Formula 1 car ahead of the 2017 season after taking the covers off the VJM10 at Silverstone on Wednesday.

The team’s new car follows in the footsteps of Williams, Sauber and Renault’s efforts by being a great diversion from its 2016 effort following the overhaul of the new regulations for the coming campaign.

The VJM10 sports more radical aerodynamics, including the sharkfin engine cover that is set to feature on most cars on the gird this year, while the color scheme moves away from the black colors used last year and instead incorporates more graphite.

“From the data we have seen so far, this is a cracker of a car, and we hope it’s as quick as expected,” team owner Vijay Mallya said.

“Compared to previous seasons when we tried to carry over 50 per cent of a car, this one is as close to brand new as you can get, I’d say 95 per cent,” technical chief Andrew Green added.

“We’re essentially starting from scratch. We think we’ve got the basis of a car now.”

Force India enters 2017 off the back of its best season yet in F1, having finished fourth in last year’s constructors’ championship behind only Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.

“Many commentators of the sport have always said that we punch well above our weight and to add to that, the world champions for the amount of money spent is a huge compliment,” Mallya said.

“It speaks volumes for the passion, the creativity, the talent of my team and everybody at the factory. This passion is only going to get more intense, and the passion to improve further is going to be pretty radical in 2017.

“If we did not dream big, we would not have finished fourth in the world championship last year. To be in the company of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari is a huge accomplishment in itself. We have always dreamed big. We have never had conversations even in private that we cannot break into the top three. That is going to be our objective.

“We will certainly give it our best shot. I read an article this morning where Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul said teams like Force India may struggle in an arms race. Good luck to him. He may have to eat his words. It’s not about the size of your weapons, but their quality.”

The team’s charge was led by Sergio Perez, who returns for a fourth season in Force India colors after rejecting an approach from Renault.

“We were the fourth-fastest team and had a couple of podiums. That makes me confident,” Perez said.

“It makes me expect to have a very big year for the team.”

Instead it was teammate Nico Hulkenberg who made the move from Force India to Renault, paving the way for Mercedes junior driver Esteban Ocon to take his seat.

“I want to learn from this team, and they have a lot to teach me. I will have a lot to learn from Sergio, he’s a very experienced driver, a very great driver,” Ocon said.

“I hope I will learn a lot from him in the tests, and my goal is to be straightaway on the pace in the race.”

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with Manor after replacing Rio Haryanto, and impressed during his stint with the backmarker team to warrant a swift promotion up the grid.

“Esteban is a very, very talented youngster. When Hulkenberg decided to move on, we spent a lot of time thinking through who we could hire as a replacement,” Mallya said.

“Esteban has tested with us before, so we had some data on him. We then put him in the simulator, and he impressed all of us, so we made the decision. He’s young, he’s talented, he has limited experience in F1, but he is willing to learn.”