IndyCar’s final five seats still to play for over next few weeks

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There’s been little to no movement on the IndyCar driver front since the start of the new year. But at this point in the winter, if you haven’t got your program set, you’re likely to start the 2014 season off on the back foot with limited testing before the March 30 St. Petersburg season opener.

As it stands, there are five full-time seats remaining to be filled. They are:

  • Bryan Herta Autosport’s first seat
  • Panther Racing’s first seat
  • Second seats at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, KV Racing and Dale Coyne Racing

Those seats, when they are filled, would push the projected full-season number of cars to 24. So far, 19 seats have been filled, with only Ed Carpenter’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet operating under a ride-share format between Carpenter and Mike Conway.

We last updated the IndyCar silly season roster and free agent pool in December … and we could pretty much write the same thing now.

The biggest difference since that point is seeing which drivers took the opportunity to race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, opening round of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season. Those who raced there included: E.J. Viso, Tristan Vautier, Sebastian Saavedra, Alex Tagliani, James Davison, Conor Daly, Townsend Bell, Katherine Legge, Sam Bird and Sage Karam.

Of the above list, Saavedra, Tagliani, Daly and perhaps Bird could still be in play for full-time IndyCar seats. Karam’s hopes seem to be more aligned with whatever Chip Ganassi opts to do with him in a development-type program. Viso could still spring a surprise after speaking with him in Daytona.

Veterans Oriol Servia and James Jakes are likely to be in play for the “final five”; JR Hildebrand could be, although he just revealed a partial move to Colorado this week; and Simona de Silvestro’s name has fallen off the radar a bit since the dawn of the new year. She was not in Indianapolis for the series’ winter meetings, but did resurface as a guest instructor for the SAFEisFAST online driving tutorial series.

Herta’s and Panther’s seats have been linked to just one driver over the winter, Luca Filippi (Herta) and Carlos Huertas (Panther) respectively. But despite the overtones each team has made to the driver, or vice versa, nothing is set in stone there yet for either single-car operation. Both, additionally, have had PR rep changes over the winter with longtime team veterans moving onto other opportunities.

Which leaves the second cars at the other teams. RLL has a strong engineering base, but has yet to confirm the commercial partners on its second car. KV is still in the process of determining whether its second car will be run as a sole KV or joint KVSH entry, with team partner James “Sulli” Sullivan. Coyne’s second car, as always, remains a question mark.

This post may not answer any questions, but the read at this juncture is that there’s perhaps eight or nine drivers in contention for the final five seats on the IndyCar grid. It’s certainly a smaller list than earlier this winter; however, there’s still no telling who will gather the budgets necessary to fill the field, at what team and at what time.

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN, NBC Sports App this week

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After five years and 98 Grands Prix broadcast since 2013, NBC Sports Group’s coverage of Formula 1 concludes with the 2017 season finale from Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit this week.

The lights come on for the day-into-night Grand Prix of the year as the sun sets on five years of broadcasts, original content and additional digital specific features such as Paddock Pass.

For Abu Dhabi this week, all of the race, qualifying and second free practice will be live on NBCSN with first and third free practice live on the NBC Sports App. The race returns is back in the usual morning a.m. time slots after three mid-day races in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, and a pair of overnight affairs in Kuala Lumpur and Suzuka. Formula 2 coverage of its season finale from Abu Dhabi also airs both on NBCSN and online.

With this the final race of the season before F1’s winter break, there’s still a handful of things to get sorted even though Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have wrapped their respective championships.

Sebastian Vettel (Brazil) and Max Verstappen (Mexico) have won the last two races, with Hamilton’s most recent win coming at Circuit of the Americas. Will it be any of these three that wrap the year on a high or could any of their teammates – Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas – upend the script?

Mercedes has won the last three races in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton winning in 2014 and 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking the 2015 crown.

Vettel and Hamilton have three wins apiece in Abu Dhabi, Vettel having taken all of his with Red Bull in 2009, 2010 and 2013, and Hamilton adding a 2011 McLaren triumph to his last two with Mercedes. Raikkonen (2012, Lotus) and Rosberg are the other Abu Dhabi winners, and while both Vettel and Raikkonen have won in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari never has in the first eight races here.

The last place up for grabs in the constructor’s battle is for sixth, with Toro Rosso (53 points), Renault (49) and Haas (47) separated by only six total points. Toro Rosso and Renault got into a nasty war of words in Brazil, and will part ways after the weekend.

Felipe Massa signs off his career in F1 for the second and expected final time at Williams, and with Toro Rosso having confirmed Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley last week, his seat is one of only three left to fill for 2018, and the most attractive.

McLaren and Honda also bring to an end their partnership after three troubled seasons, but on the bright side will look to score points for a third straight race together, which hasn’t happened since the Hungarian, German and Belgian Grands Prix of 2016.

As ever, and perhaps for the final time as a collective unit, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Nov. 24, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Nov. 24, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Nov. 25, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 10 a.m.-10:55 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)