Hulkenberg leads Day 1 of Bahrain testing on Wednesday

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The theme of surprise pace-setters in Formula One testing, as it was in Jerez a few weeks ago, continued Wednesday on the first day at Bahrain. Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India clocked in at 1:36.880 on Pirelli’s soft tires, in a lap actually faster than the 2013 fastest race lap in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

What is a trend though, is that Hulkenberg is in a Mercedes-powered car, and was able to clock a substantial amount of laps on the day. His fellow Mercedes-powered drivers did as well and the Renaults, again as in Jerez, didn’t.

Hulkenberg was third in the morning session behind McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, as times dropped by a couple seconds once teams switched onto the softer compounds.

By day’s end only Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari was within a second, and only just, at 1:37.879.

With times not as important as lap counts on the first day, here’s the breakdown by manufacturer:

  • Mercedes: 238 (Hulkenberg 78, Hamilton 74, Magnussen 81, Felipe Massa 5)
  • Ferrari: 149 (Alonso 64, Adrian Sutil 82, Jules Bianchi 3)
  • Renault: 95 (Sebastian Vettel 14, Robin Frijns 68, Daniil Kvyat 5, Romain Grosjean 8)

Neither Massa or Bianchi set an official time; Williams’ Massa had a fuel system issue that cost him most of his day, while Marussia’s Bianchi had what was deemed an “IT configuration problem” per the team.

Meanwhile for Renault, Red Bull’s Vettel encountered more issues as he stopped on track with a broken down car. The team didn’t reveal the reason as yet. As it is, a disconcerting sign after his Jerez problems.

Kyvat had an oil leak in the Toro Rosso, while Grosjean was out mainly for installation laps and didn’t put up a representative time.

Caterham’s Frijns impressed on his only day of running, before race drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson take over later this week.

1. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes, 1m36.880s, 78 Laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m37.879s, 64
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m37.908s, 74
4. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m38.295s, 81
5. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault, 1m40.224s, 14
6. Adrian Sutil, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m40.443s, 82
7. Robin Frijns, Caterham-Renault, 1m42.534s, 68
8. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m44.346s, 5
9. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault, 1m44.832s, 8
10. Felipe Massa, Williams-Meredes, no time, 5
11. Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari, no time, 3

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.