Sebastian Vettel storms to pole position for Indian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has secured his third consecutive pole position at the Indian Grand Prix following an incredible performance that saw him finish over three-quarters of a second clear of the rest of the field.

Vettel came into the weekend boasting a perfect record at Buddh International Circuit, and following his domination of practice, a similar performance in qualifying was far from surprising. Nevertheless, it was a titanic effort from the German driver as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton failed to pose any serious threat, whilst Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso both opted for alternative strategies thus throwing away the opportunity to challenge the soon-to-be four time world champion.

Qualifying got underway in India in a quiet fashion as most drivers opted to wait before setting their first times due to the level of degradation. Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez was the first man to post a time, but his lap of 1:27.529 was around one second off the predicted ‘cut off’ time to get into the second session. Nico Rosberg was the first driver to come close to this theoretical time, going fastest whilst both Red Bulls remained in the pits in favor of a later run. When they did emerge, Vettel opted for the medium compound whilst Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso both elected for the softer tire to secure themselves a place in Q2. Alonso went fastest with his first timed lap, but Vettel was just 0.009 seconds slower despite the large pace difference between the compounds. Every other driver except Romain Grosjean opted to run on the soft tire, and this proved to be a costly call for Lotus as the Frenchman lost out to a final flurry of times to be eliminated in Q1. Pastor Maldonado also failed to make it through, joining both Caterhams and both Marussias in the dropzone, but Jules Bianchi finished just 0.128 seconds behind the Williams, suggesting that Marussia have made improvements of late.

Despite the obvious pace difference between the tires, Sauber opted to send Nico Hulkenberg out on the medium compound in order to make up for the time lost in FP3. However, the rest of the runners sensibly took to the soft tires with Fernando Alonso setting the first benchmark of 1:25.546 for the rest of the field, but both Mercedes drivers managed to topple the Ferrari after their first runs. Mark Webber ran very wide on his first lap but managed to go quickest, only for Vettel to beat his time by over half a second on his first soft-tire run of the day. Alonso split the Red Bulls with his final run as the rest of the field looked to get into the top ten, with McLaren running strongly to ease into the final session. However, Daniel Ricciardo was less fortunate to be eliminated in eleventh place ahead of the Force India pair of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, with Jean-Eric Vergne down in fourteenth. Valtteri Bottas also dropped out in P15 and Esteban Gutierrez’s good qualifying form came to an end as he finished down in sixteenth.

Q3 quickly became a question of strategy as the top ten drivers appeared to be unsure which tire to use as they would have to start on that compound in the race. Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren all split their strategy, sending one driver out on each compound, but Vettel looked to continue his 100% pole record in India by going out on the soft tires. Alonso set the first benchmark on the medium tire only for Vettel to go 1.7 seconds quicker on the soft tire with Vettel joining him on the provisional front row. Kimi Raikkonen followed Vettel’s example but was over one second slower. Rosberg and Hamilton were the only drivers to come close on their soft tire runs, qualifying second and third respectively ahead of Webber on the medium compound. Felipe Massa produced a great performance to finish fifth ahead of Raikkonen and Hulkenberg who also qualified on the soft tire. Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Jenson Button completed the top ten on the prime tire, hoping that their strategy will make up for their lack of pace in the race.

At the front though, there appears to be no stopping Sebastian Vettel, and it will take a remarkable performance to stop him from winning the race let alone recording the top five finish he needs to clinch his fourth title.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.