Baron, Celis, Telitz lead Road to Indy Barber test

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The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at Barber Motorsports Park is in the books for all of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000. This test marked the first time all three series ran together while on Cooper Tires, as Indy Lights makes the switch this offseason ahead of 2014, and all under the Andersen Promotions umbrella.

As he did on his USF2000 debut in Monterey, when he won in his first start at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Frenchman Alexandre Baron led the timesheets in Indy Lights with a best lap of 1:15.726. Andretti Autosport teammates Zach Veach (1:16.026) and Matthew Brabham (1:16.234) were next up over the times combined from two days. Four other drivers tested.

Baron (pictured) will drive for Belardi Auto Racing in Indy Lights in 2014; he won two of his four USF2000 starts this season. And no, he’s not the same driver as 1997 Formula Atlantic champion Alex Barron, who drove portions of nine seasons between IndyCar and CART.

In Pro Mazda, Mexican rookie Alfonso Celis upset the regulars with a best lap of 1:20.490 driving for Juncos Racing. One-time race winners in 2013, Shelby Blackstock (Andretti) and Spencer Pigot (Juncos) were next up at 1:20.698 and 1:21.034, respectively. Neither Celis nor Pigot has a confirmed deal yet for 2014, while Blackstock, son of country music star Reba McIntyre, will lead Andretti’s Pro Mazda effort in his second season.

The two who dueled for the USF2000 championship in 2013, Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, clocked in 11th and 12th of the 18 testing.

Skip Barber Race Series Scholarship Shootout winner Aaron Telitz led the USF2000 field in testing driving for Afterburner Autosport, with a best lap of 1:23.283. Cape’s USF2000 driver, Jake Eidson, was second at 1:23.381 with one of Belardi’s four confirmed drivers, Nico Jamin, third at 1:23.598. 20 drivers tested for seven teams in USF2000.

Cold temperatures means this won’t be a great foreshadowing of the spring, when Indy Lights races there in April, but might be a good forecast for the Cooper Tire Winterfest for the races at Barber on February 25-26, 2014. The Winterfest will also be held at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans Feb. 21-22.

F1 2017 driver review: Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 5
Races: 20
Wins: 5
Podiums (excluding wins): 8
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 5
Points: 317
Laps Led: 286
Championship Position: 2nd

2017 was supposed to be the year Sebastian Vettel finally fulfilled his ambition of emulating Michael Schumacher by returning Ferrari to its championship-winning heyday.

Instead, it ended in disappointment and frustration – once again.

Ferrari arguably made a greater step across the change in technical regulations for 2017 than any other team, living up to its pre-season tag as favorite by winning the opening round in Australia in fashion.

Vettel and Ferrari led their respective championships following the Monaco Grand Prix as the German ended a 16-year win drought for the Prancing Horse in the principality, and even heading into the summer break, a shot at both championships was looking good.

However, cracks had started to appear. Vettel’s remarkable antics behind the safety car in Baku sparked controversy after driving into Hamilton, suggesting the tension of the title fight was beginning to take its toll on the German.

The final run of flyaways was where things really fell apart for Vettel, though. Singapore looked to be a slam-dunk win, only for a start-line crash also involving teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen to put 25 free points in Hamilton’s pocket.

Reliability woes then struck in Malaysia and Japan – two more races Vettel could realistically have won – to make it game over in the title race, with Hamilton wrapping things up in Mexico.

Vettel only finished the year 46 points back from Hamilton, proving the impact the three bad races in Asia had. Realistically, this was a title race that should have gone down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Vettel remains a four-time champion, level with Hamilton, who had just one to his name back in 2013 when his rival secured his fourth.

Ferrari’s internal issues will come under the microscope over the off-season, and Vettel himself knows there is plenty to work on. Staying cool under pressure and not letting things boil over as in Baku is the most obvious area for improvement.

But there is reason for hope. If Ferrari can keep up with Mercedes and repeat its impressive step into 2017 through the upcoming off-season, we may well be treated to another Vettel/Hamilton scrap at the front of the field, perhaps settling once and for all who is the greatest driver of the post-Schumacher era.

Season High: A crucial win in Hungary despite battling with a broken steering column.

Season Low: Letting tensions flare in Baku and hitting Hamilton behind the safety car.