Vettel resumes normal service to finish FP2 quickest

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Sebastian Vettel has returned to the top of the timesheets in the second free practice session for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, posting a fastest time of 1:41.335 to finish just over one-tenth of a second ahead of teammate Mark Webber.

FP2 got off to a far busier start than the first session had as a number of drivers immediately went out on track, with Kimi Raikkonen being the first to post a time of 1:44.360. This remained the benchmark until Jenson Button went fastest in all three sectors to move up to P1 with teammate Sergio Perez in third place. However, the Mexican driver soon rose to top spot ahead of his McLaren stablemate, whilst Sebastian Vettel’s first effort was only good enough for fourth place as he wrestled with the car through the final sector.

Just as they had in FP1, many drivers struggled to find grip and went off as a result with Esteban Gutierrez experiencing a huge lock-up at turn eight. However, Vettel had finally found some pace and went fastest with the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg Lewis Hamilton a close second and third with fifteen minutes gone, but Webber soon out-did them all to move up to P1.

Kimi Raikkonen became the first driver of the weekend to fit a set of the quicker soft tires, and he immediately went over one second quicker than Webber to go fastest as the rest of the field pitted and duly followed suit with their tire choice. Nico Hulkenberg put in a good lap to move up into second place before being displaced by Hamilton, who was just over one-tenth shy of Raikkonen’s time at first before eventually going fastest. However, Webber proved that he was quick on the soft tires as well as the hards to re-claim top spot whilst Vettel late to make his move. The German driver eventually came out and went 0.056 seconds quicker than his teammate with his first lap time, making it a Red Bull one-two at the top of the timesheets.

Jenson Button’s poor luck from India failed to improve as he suffered from a puncture on his rear-right tire, forcing him to crawl back to the pits. Fellow Brit Max Chilton was also struggling, spinning his Marussia at turn two whilst fastest man in FP1, Romain Grosjean, complained of “something wrong” after locking up and missing the chicane. It was eventually diagnosed by the team as a brake disc failure, but he did manage to get back out for the final fifteen minutes of practice.

For the second half of the session, the teams turned their attention to long runs on their tires in preparation for the race on Sunday, meaning that Vettel’s time did not come under threat. The German driver will be keen on continuing this good form in qualifying tomorrow and the race on Sunday as the newly-crowned four-time world champion goes in search of a seventh successive victory.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.