Vettel makes it eight-in-a-row by dominating US GP in Austin

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Sebastian Vettel has won the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin today, becoming the first driver in the history of the sport to win eight consecutive races in a single season as well as claiming his first victory in the United States.

The German driver dominated proceedings in Texas today, leading all but two laps and eventually finishing over six seconds ahead of second-placed Romain Grosjean, who in turn held off Red Bull’s Mark Webber in the final few laps of the race to secure his best result of the season so far. Lewis Hamilton’s winning streak in the USA came to an end as he was forced to settle for P4, whilst Fernando Alonso fought back from a poor start to finish fifth ahed of Nico Hulkenberg. Sergio Perez impressed in front of a sizeable Mexican fan-base to finish seventh, whilst Valtteri Bottas scored his first points in Formula One in eighth place.

Vettel made his usual good start from pole position, but teammate Webber was not so fortunate as Grosjean managed to slingshot around the outside of turn one to jump up into second place. Lewis Hamilton followed suit to claim P3 whilst Fernando Alonso struggled and dropped down to seventh. Further back, Heikki Kovalainen’s lack of recent racing showed as he dropped down to P12, but the real drama came further back as Adrian Sutil made contact with Pastor Maldonado, resulting in the Force India driver spinning into the wall and out of the race on the main straight. The safety car was deployed on the first lap to allow his car to be recovered, giving Esteban Gutierrez the chance to pit for repairs.

Racing resumed on lap five and Vettel quickly set about establishing a gap to the chasing pack, pulling out a six second lead before stopping. However, Hamilton was more concerned by the other Red Bull as Webber got within DRS range and began to close on the Mercedes driver. The Australian pulled out nine-tenths of a second through the middle sector and, thanks to DRS, managed to make a move around the outside of Hamilton to move up into third place as the Briton struggled for grip. Nico Hulkenberg had started well to remain in fifth place, but he was soon coming under pressure from Sergio Perez and Alonso in sixth and seventh respectively. However, the Ferrari driver soon dropped back into the clutches of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who was looking on-course for his first points in Formula One ahead of the first round of stops. Alonso soon managed to find his feet and close on Perez once again. Kovalainen was the first driver to stop as he looked to get the undercut on the drivers ahead, but a front-wing problem meant he had to come in for a second stop early. At the front, Vettel was told to save his tires and go as far as possible into the race. Jenson Button and Felipe Massa took their battle to the pits with the Brazilian driver staying ahead as Alonso closed on Perez before the Mexican driver stopped. However, the front-runners managed to make their tires last, allowing Alonso to come back out ahead of Perez and move up a position.

Vettel eventually made his first stop on lap 27, releasing Grosjean into the lead with Webber in second place, but the Australian driver pitted just one lap later and emerged in third. Grosjean failed to last much longer, coming in on lap 29 and retaining second place as Vettel steamed into the lead with the fastest lap of the race. Further back, Gutierrez was well into the points after pitting on lap one, but he could not hold back a fiery Alonso for sixth place. Perez soon followed to pass his compatriot, and Valtteri Bottas eventually picked off his fellow rookie with a close pass heading into the esses. Nico Rosberg continued his charge further back, picking off Daniel Ricciardo and Paul di Resta to move up into the points whilst Massa and Button continued to languish outside of the points. Further back, Mark Webber looked to catch Grosjean for second place, but he soon dropped back as he looked to save his tires before closing again.

Fernando Alonso looked to keep Ferrari’s bid for second place in the constructors’ championship alive by catching Hulkenberg and Hamilton, but the decision to stop Massa for a second time ended the Brazilian driver’s faint hopes of points. His teammate did manage to pass Hulkenberg, though, making the pass on the inside of turn one, but Hamilton was just out of reach. Further ahead Webber made another pursuit for Grosjean’s second place. Thanks to DRS, the Australian was able to close right up to the back of the Lotus, but he lacked the pace through the final sector to make a move stick.

At the front, Vettel was given the usual warnings by engineer Guillaume Rocquelin, but he did not heed them by setting the fastest lap late on. Come the checkered flag though, there was no stopping the German driver who waltzed to his eighth straight victory and his first on US soil, put Alberto Ascari’s record of nine in a row (split across two seasons) well within reach.

Hulkenberg, Perez and Bottas all produced fine displays to finish sixth, seventh and eighth respectively, with the points being Bottas’ first in Formula One. Nico Rosberg battled his way through the pack to finish ninth whilst Jenson Button made a late pass on Daniel Ricciardo to pick up the final point in tenth place as Gutierrez spun off on the final lap as he tried to pass Jean-Eric Vergne. The second stop for Kovalainen proved costly as he could only finish fifteenth, whilst Pastor Maldonado’s terrible weekend came to an equally-poor end down in P17.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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