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Vettel wins Indian GP and becomes four-time world champion

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Sebastian Vettel has won his fourth consecutive Formula One world championship in India today after taking a dominant victory at Buddh International Circuit, perfecting his strategy and laying down an impressive pace to maintain his record as the only winner of the Indian Grand Prix.

Whilst championship rival Fernando Alonso endured a luckless race, the German driver dominated to secure the title in style, becoming just the fourth driver in the history of the sport to win four world championships. The strategic ‘threat’ failed to concern Vettel with Mark Webber’s poor luck returning in the form of a gearbox problem that forced him to retire from the race, whilst the battle for second place was eventually won by Nico Rosberg who followed Vettel’s strategy.

The start saw Vettel pull away with his regular confidence and authority, but teammate Mark Webber was less fortunate has he dropped back a couple of places off the line. However, heading through turn two, the Australian driver was forced wide by Kimi Raikkonen, causing Fernando Alonso to run into the back of the Red Bull. However, Felipe Massa led Ferrari’s charge by leapfrogging both Mercedes drivers heading into turn three, and the Brazilian assumed the lead of the race when Vettel pitted on lap two. He was joined in the pits by Alonso who required a new front wing, and the stop dropped him down to P20 and forced Ferrari to change the Spaniard’s strategy, appearing to end his faint hopes of taking the title race to Abu Dhabi. The drivers tried to make their tires last as long as possible, with Vettel’s early stop being juxtaposed by race leader Massa who did not stop until lap nine. When he emerged from the pits, he was just a couple of seconds behind Vettel, putting himself in a position to challenge the German driver.

Webber’s decision to start on the medium tire meant that he took the lead of the race from Massa when the Ferrari driver stopped, and he began to set some impressive times as he looked to beat his teammate who was quickly making his way through the field. On fresh mediums though, Vettel was flying, posting fastest lap after fastest lap to cut the gap to Webber. Massa’s hopes of challenging him took a hit when he got stuck behind Esteban Gutierrez, but the Mexican driver soon dropped down the order thanks to a drive-through penalty due to a jump start. He came out ahead of Alonso and the two drivers became embroiled in a battle for thirteenth, with Alonso struggling to find a way past thanks to the straight line speed of the Sauber. However, he eventually made the move stick heading into turn five.

Due to the lack of degradation on the medium tires, the drivers who started on the white-ringed compound were able to go deep into the race and match the pace of the drivers who had already stopped. When Webber and third-placed Sergio Perez did stop, they took on the soft tire to try and make up time quickly and the Australian’s lap times immediately reflected this as he looked to bridge the gap to new leader Vettel. The German driver pitted for the final time to give Webber the lead, but the Australian came in just one lap later. As a result, Webber fell 12.5 seconds behind Vettel with both drivers having made their final stop, giving the team’s lead driver a huge advantage.

Red Bull’s perfect race came to a shattering end on lap forty though when a loss of hydraulic pressure forced Webber to pull over and retire from the race. As a result, the battle for second became a close-run thing between Raikkonen, Rosberg, Grosjean, Massa and Hamilton with the two Lotus drivers both one alternative strategies. Hamilton began to hound Massa as Rosberg pulled away from the pair in pursuit of second-placed Raikkonen. Lotus ignored Pirelli’s advice and opted to one-stop their drivers, but the Finn found himself defenceless when Rosberg made his move for second place. Despite starting down in seventeenth place, Romain Grosjean was able to one-stop and make his tires last, forcing Raikkonen to eventually yield to both him and Massa. The Finn soon fell into the clutches of Hamilton and Perez, but the Mexican driver managed to pull off an opportunistic move to pass both drivers and move up into fifth place. Lotus opted to pit their ailing driver to salvage some points, but Grosjean continued to plough ahead in third place.

At the head of the field though, there was no doubt about who the star was: Sebastian Vettel crossed the line almost thirty seconds ahead of Rosberg to win his fourth consecutive world championship and secure Red Bull the constructors’ title. Over the radio, team principal Christian Horner summed it up: “You’ve done it in style, you’ve become a four time world champion. You’ve joined the greats.” Having surpassed the likes of Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda for championship victories, there is no doubt that he has earned to right to be called a great, and Vettel celebrated by performing donuts on the start-finish straight in front of a baying crowd before taking to the top step of the podium for the tenth time this year.

Ricciardo: In-cockpit visibility ‘pretty good’ with aeroscreen

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer fitted with the aeroscreen on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo has given a thumbs-up to the Red Bull-designed ‘aeroscreen’ cockpit protection device after giving it its first public trial in Russia on Friday.

Cockpit safety has been high on the FIA’s agenda following the deaths of Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing.

There are two leading solutions to improving cockpit safety: the ‘Halo’, which made its public debut in F1 pre-season testing, and the ‘aeroscreen’ that broke cover on Friday.

Ricciardo completed an installation run with the aeroscreen attached to his car, leading to a mixed response from the paddock, but the Australian reported that visibility was still good in the cockpit.

“I think in terms of visibility it was pretty good,” Ricciardo said.

“The peripheral vision was fine. The structure is by the mirrors, so you’re not really hindered.

“It’s just a bit weird having a structure there. I had a Ferrari driving in front of me and the points on track seemed pretty much unaltered. For sure, it’s different, but the crux of it was pretty good.”

Ricciardo does not think that the height of the aeroscreen would change a driver’s view of the starting lights from the front row of the grid.

“I tried to have a look around and see. It seemed pretty high up,” Ricciardo said.

“If I was to stop on starting grid, I don’t think it would hinder vision.”

The aeroscreen and the Halo are both under consideration for possible implementation in 2017, with a decision set to be made in the near future regarding next season’s technical regulations.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: On rules, regs and female race drivers

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer battles for position with Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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With the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy now off until the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend May 12-14 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s a break for Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist.

Not so, a break for Stefan Johansson, the F1 veteran-turned their driver manager and also the sporting director for Scuderia Corsa.

The Los Angeles-based sports car team heads up the California coast to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race in Monterey, where once again the team’s Ferrari 488 GTE and GT3 variants will compete in separate GT Le Mans and GT Daytona class races.

Johansson has checked in with Jan Tegler for a catch-up following F1’s Chinese Grand Prix, and the last two IndyCar races of the year in Long Beach and Barber.

While the racing is part of Johansson’s latest blog entry, the majority centers on rules, regulations and recent comments from F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone about whether female drivers could make it in F1.

Although the first round of 2017 regulations have been confirmed with today’s earlier news that new engine regulations have been signed off on for a four-year period from 2017 to 2020, Johansson is skeptical that as long as the teams are involved, there won’t be a consensus when it comes to the new technical regulations.

“I don’t think we’ll see anything of any substance,” Johansson writes. “I’ve been saying it for three years now but it will be the same old thing. You have to get the teams out of the decision making process or nothing will happen. They can’t agree on anything.

“If something does come out the meeting it will be a half-baked compromise that will drive costs even higher and make the racing even more complicated. There won’t be a simple solution. It will be something so convoluted and expensive that it would be better if they did nothing.”

Johansson added that rules stability is needed more than a shakeup; inevitably the more rules change, the more costs increase to keep pace with the changes.

Officiating was in the crosshairs at Long Beach, when an official warning was assessed to Simon Pagenaud rather than any sort of official penalty – drive-through or otherwise – for when Pagenaud violated the Lane Usage rule in INDYCAR’s rulebook.

While Johansson disagreed with what Pagenaud was assessed, he also said INDYCAR Race Control was almost put into an untenable position anyway because of the way the rulebook – and INDYCAR’s new-for-2016 Penalty Guidelines sheet – is written.

“Long Beach was interesting and confusing,” Johansson admits. “I ended up having a long conversation with Max Papis (one of the three stewards along with Arie Luyendyk and Dan Davis) about it because no one could understand their illogical decision.

“As stupid as it may sound, I think the bottom line is that they’ve been handed such a convoluted set of rules that they just couldn’t act because there wasn’t anything in the rulebook that applied to this particular situation. Which is totally bizarre as this must be one of the easiest rules of all to enforce.”

Like others within the INDYCAR paddock, Johansson argues a clearer, more black-and-white form of rules will be a better way towards officiating in the future.

“I just wish they could make decisions and then stand behind them rather than the wishy-washy situation we have now. No one knows where they stand,” he writes.

He did give credit to Race Control for staying out of the way at Barber, as Pagenaud and Graham Rahal enjoyed a spirited battle for the win in the final 10 laps.

“The racing between Pagenaud and Rahal was just that, hard racing. To me, their contact was a racing incident. In this case, I’m glad IndyCar didn’t issue a bunch of penalties. You have to let drivers race sometimes,” he writes.

When it comes to female drivers in racing, Johansson says it isn’t gender that’s holding them back: it’s pure numerology.

“I don’t know the exact number of professional drivers worldwide right now but let’s say there are at least 2,000 each year. How many of those are females? Ten maybe? What are the chances that one of those ten is going to be competitive with the best of the rest? Sheer statistics are against it,” he notes.

Johansson writes that he thinks a woman driver could make it to F1 based on physical ability – he says the cars aren’t nearly as hard to drive as they used to be. But whether any female driver makes it, or similarly any males with similar record, comes down to results.

“I don’t think it would difficult for a woman do to the physical training required to get to that level but the point is that motor racing is a fairly pure culture. It’s survival of the fittest. If you’re not good enough, you won’t make it,” he says.

“My point is that once there is a female good enough they should and will have to prove themselves. There are many men who are very good but not good enough. There is a lot of noise being made about female drivers but if you look at the results, the facts… that’s all you need to see. You’re not entitled to something until you prove yourself. May the best driver win, independent of gender.”

Those thoughts, as well as Johansson’s take on the Chinese Grand Prix, the crazy first lap there, Dixon’s own tough luck at both Long Beach and Barber, an update on how Rosenqvist did in his first U.S. road racing weekend (as opposed to ovals and street courses) and thoughts on the FIA WEC opener from Silverstone are also included in Johansson’s blog.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Sirotkin enjoys strong first Renault F1 practice outing

Sergey Sirotkin (RUS) Renault Sport F1 Team RS16 Test Driver.
Russian Grand Prix, Friday 29th April 2016. Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.
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Sergey Sirotkin’s first Formula 1 practice run-out for Renault on Friday in Sochi proved to be a successful one as he finished eight-tenths of a second quicker than full-time driver Jolyon Palmer.

It was announced earlier this week that GP2 race winner Sirotkin had joined Renault in the role of test driver for the 2016 season, and would take part in FP1 for his home race in Russia in place of Kevin Magnussen.

Sirotkin posted a quickest lap time of 1:40.898 around the Sochi Autodrom in his first run in the Renault R.S.16 car to finish the session 13th overall, eight-tenths clear of Palmer.

The Russian’s time was made all the more impressive by the fact he had a problem with his seat position in the car throughout the session.

“My target for today was to give the team exactly what they wanted from the session,” Sirotkin said.

“I tried to remain very calm even though it is, of course, very exciting to get to drive a Formula 1 car. Obviously, it’s always beneficial when your lap time looks good but I felt comfortable delivering at today’s level even if it wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been with my seat.

“I am happy that I have started this long programme with Renault Sport Formula One Team in a positive manner.”

Renault trackside operations manager Alan Permane was happy with Sirotkin’s efforts, and felt that the team had made a fair start to the race weekend in Sochi.

“A productive first day for us. It was Sergey’s first time in the car and he did a very positive job for us,” Permane said.

“We weren’t able to get the seating position perfect for him yet despite this he delivered good pace and feedback.

“Jolyon had a straight-forward couple of sessions concentrating on aero development in the first session and a further front wing back-to-back comparison as well as tyre work in the afternoon.

“Kevin didn’t suffer from missing FP1 and was able to deliver everything required from FP2. We’ve still got some work to do, in particular with an oversteer balance.

“There are improvements possible, but it’s a reasonable start to the weekend.”

Luckless Bottas confident form will improve soon

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Valtteri Bottas is confident that he will bounce back from a luckless start to the 2016 Formula 1 season sooner rather than later.

Bottas entered 2016 hopeful of continuing Williams’ impressive recent form that saw the team finish third in the constructors’ championship for the past two years.

However, while teammate Felipe Massa has managed to battle up the order to sit sixth in the drivers’ championship with 22 points after three races, Bottas has finished no higher than eighth, picking up just seven points in the same period.

Bottas is confident that his luck will turn soon though, and believes that he is still driving well despite his disappointing start to the year.

“The first two races were really unlucky,” Bottas told the official F1 website. “I drove well but fortune wasn’t on my side. It is never a good feeling when you drive well but don’t get the results, but at least you know you’ve given your best.

“In Melbourne, I had the penalty for the gearbox and that ruined my race a bit. In Bahrain I had a collision with Lewis Hamilton and had damage on the car which affected the whole race. And in China again damage on the car before my last stint and cost me three tenths of a second per lap.

“So here we are! But believe me, luck will turn. I know myself: I am driving well, I know what I am capable of, so I will stay consistent and wait for my opportunity.”

Bottas was linked with a move to Ferrari for much of 2015, but talk of a move away from Williams has cooled in light of Max Verstappen’s impressive rookie season and Romain Grosjean’s move to Haas for 2016.

The Finn is not bothered about driver market speculation though, saying that it is normal for people in F1 to doubt ability in a tough patch of form.

“One day you’re hot, next day you’re not,” Bottas said.

“People do have very short memories here in terms of what happens, but I think there are also people who really do understand F1, who can look behind the scenes and understand why a driver hasn’t had the results they should.

“For me, yes it’s not been the best start to the season, but I know there will be enough chances to shine. I’m ready for that.”