Sebastian Vettel

Jacques Villeneuve: Vettel’s World Championship reign over

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Former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has declared that four-time reigning champ Sebastian Vettel will not continue his title-winning run into a fifth year.

The always outspoken Canadian, who is set to return to the Indianapolis 500 this May, told a pair of Italian publications that Renault’s problematic preseason testing has already finished off Vettel and Red Bull Racing’s hopes for another crown.

“He’s not going to win this year for sure,” Villeneuve told Autosprint and La Repubblica. “To me, Renault seems completely lost and unable even to finish a Grand Prix. Even if [Red Bull] are making a new car for the European races, it won’t change anything — maybe they’ll do 30 laps instead of 15. It’s not the car but the engine.

“I’m joking, but why bother going to Australia? They can’t do half a Grand Prix and are slower than most.”

Red Bull and Renault’s work in the preseason was repeatedly marred by gremlins on both the new RB10 and Renault V-6 engine. While it’s never wise to count out a defending champion, let alone a four-time defending champion like Vettel, reliability figures to be the top priority for him and the team through the early stages of the season, which begins this weekend in Australia.

For his part, Vettel has conceded that Red Bull is not a favorite to win in Oz but has not given up completely.

“[Red Bull and I] have achieved a lot together and I know everyone is working flat out as normal,” he said last weekend.

Going back to Villeneuve, he believes that Mercedes has to be considered the early favorite for the 2014 title but saw the team’s driving tandem of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as “without a spark.”

He also told the Italian papers that Ferrari remains in striking distance equipment-wise and that he thinks Kimi Raikkonen’s move back to the Scuderia – where he’ll go head-to-head with fellow ex-World Champion Fernando Alonso – will pay dividends.

“For the first time, I see [Raikkonen] working seriously. Maybe his year without pay was good for him,” he said.

“Alonso is a fighter from the first lap and so he might use too much fuel. It also depends on the attitude that he has…The Alonso of 2012 could win this year, but not the Alonso of 2013.”

The Aussie GP weekend officially begins with Thursday night’s opening practice at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN with the Countdown to F1 season preview show.

A full weekend schedule can be found here.

Graham Rahal visits the Honda Classic (PHOTOS)

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Rahal for the putt. Photo courtesy Honda Racing
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In the buildup to the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opener at St. Petersburg on March 12, a number of drivers are visiting other sporting events of note.

Graham Rahal has been one of the busiest. The driver of the No. 15 Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing made a pit stop at the Bridgestone Winter Classic in January and this week has been out to the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Anyway, 28-year-old Rahal is an avid PGA Tour follower and fan and when time allows, brushes off his own set of clubs for the event’s Honda Classic Cares Pro Am presented by Tire Kingdom. He’s also used golf as a fundraiser; he’s raised over $300,000 to benefit children’s charities (with the golf tournament he did around the Indy 500).

Rahal, who won the Pro Am twice in 2011 and 2012 and came second the next year with motorsports fan Rickie Fowler, himself one of the young stars on the PGA Tour, was only able to get in four holes this week owing to poor weather. But with a new putter that’s the same model as the one used by recent world number one player Jason Day, Rahal sank a rather impressive 40-foot putt. Rahal was playing in a group with Smylie Kaufman, and credited him for the advice.

A handful of photos from the event are below (courtesy Honda Racing):

Rahal with Rickie Fowler.
Rahal with Rickie Fowler.
Rahal with Smylie Kaufman.
Rahal with Smylie Kaufman.
Rahal with Daniel Berger, golfer and car enthusiast.
Rahal with Daniel Berger, golfer and car enthusiast.
Rahal with Emma Talley, LPGA Tour rising star and Crimson Tide alumna.
Rahal with Emma Talley, LPGA Tour rising star and Crimson Tide alumna.
Rahal tees off.
Rahal tees off.
Rahal with Shane and Wyatt Vince.
Rahal with Shane and Wyatt Vince.

Shell, Penske extension sees Shell back for Castroneves at Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 18:  Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell V-Power/Penzoil Ultra Team Penske Chevrolet, poses after qualifying for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 18, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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With Shell and Pennzoil having had a longterm business relationship with Team Penske, today’s long-term extension through 2022 and beyond also means Shell’s relationship on Penske’s Verizon IndyCar Series program continues.

Helio Castroneves’s No. 3 Chevrolet will be adorned in Shell V-Power NiTRO+ colors at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28, with Shell and Pennzoil continuing as associate sponsors on all Team Penske cars in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and IndyCar.

Castroneves’ car has had either Shell or Pennzoil on his car each of the last six Indianapolis 500s dating to 2011, but has not yet won an Indianapolis 500 with Shell or Pennzoil as the primary sponsor. The Rick Mears tribute “Yelio Submarine” ran in both 2014 and 2016, with the 2014 race a particularly tough loss as Castroneves came second by a fraction to Ryan Hunter-Reay.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17: Helio Castroneves appears at a Shell station on May 17, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images for MATTER)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 17: Helio Castroneves appears at a Shell station on May 17, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images for MATTER)

Castroneves has had Shell V-Power for the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra in 2012 and 2013 and Shell V-Power Nitro+ in 2015.

In those six races, Castroneves has finished 17th, 10th, sixth, second, seventh and 11th.

“It’s an iconic sponsor; a partner actually, to be honest,” Castroneves said during the announcement at Daytona International Speedway for the Daytona 500.

“Since I was a kid in Brazil, watching Formula 1 and IndyCar, now I’m the one to be wearing that patch in my suit.

“I’m really excited to be back for the Indy 500. We’ll be with Shell NiTRO+ V-Power. They’re always innovating and in the technical part.

“We’re going for our fourth win… we’ve been so close. We know we can make it happen. We have the equipment and teammates to make it happen. It’s an amazing organization, and I’m so thankful to be part of it.”

Castroneves is the longest tenured active member of Team Penske’s driver lineup in all its series as he heads into his 18th season with the team and 20th overall since joining IndyCar in 1998.

Full-season teammates are defending champion Simon Pagenaud, 2014 champion Will Power and new recruit Josef Newgarden, with two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya joining the field in a fifth car for the ‘500.

Commercial partners for Montoya’s car haven’t yet been announced but with Menards (Pagenaud), Verizon (Power) and likely Verizon (Newgarden) for the ‘500, it stands to reason another of Penske’s longterm sponsors will be present for Montoya.

Roger Penske, who turned 80 earlier this week, made a great and key point during the Daytona announcement; he noted that of his 38 sponsors for the race team, he has business relationships with 25 of them.

Sauber confirms Giovinazzi to deputize for Wehrlein at first test

MACAU, MACAO - NOVEMBER 17:  Double R Racing driver Antonio Giovinazzi of Italy in action during the Formula 3 event as part of the 60th Macau Grand Prix on November 17, 2013 in Macau, Macau.  (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images)
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As expected, but not necessarily official until confirmed directly by Sauber F1 Team, Ferrari third driver Antonio Giovinazzi has been confirmed to fill in for Pascal Wehrlein at next week’s first test of the Formula 1 season at Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona which runs from February 27-March 2. The second test, also in Barcelona, is March 7-10.

Sauber called Wehrlein’s injuries, reported as either neck or back injuries in other outlets, “back problems” and said further information will follow when available.

The team has not, as yet, confirmed its test plan of when Giovinazzi and Marcus Ericsson, who ran the team’s filming day earlier this week, will drive.

“We took the decision that Pascal will not be driving in the first test in Barcelona. We will monitor his medical progress and will then decide on the next steps,” Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said in a release.

Wehrlein had already confirmed his absence but the team hadn’t, yet. He will be on site though.

“It is a pity that I cannot be in the car during the first test days, but I will be in Barcelona in order to get familiar with the team’s procedures and also to follow the Sauber C36-Ferrari on track,” he said.

Giovinazzi, who made his first test with Ferrari at the tail end of last year, added, “I thank the Sauber F1 Team for making this real, and also Ferrari for allowing me to replace Pascal for test one in Barcelona.”

Williams announces deal with JCB manufacturing

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Photo: Williams Martini Racing
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Construction equipment manufacturer JCB has pegged a deal with Williams Martini Racing, to see the logo on the rear wing endplate of the Williams FW40 chassis, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll’s helmets, and the full crew uniforms after the British Grand Prix.

Interestingly, the team’s release says this will be the first of “a number” following the signing of Stroll this season.

Company chairman Lord Bamford caught the racing bug in the early 1970s and, according to the team, the JCB Dieselmax car still holds the world diesel land speed record of 350.052mph, more than a decade after it was set on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA.

“I am an engineer and a manufacturer and designing and engineering innovative products is at the core of what JCB does,” Bamford said in the release.

“We frequently combine our engineering expertise with some of the best automotive technologies which means our machines are very fuel efficient and intuitive to operate. Our partnership with Williams Martini Racing builds on that innovative and technological link and our company’s long association with motorsport.”