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Third full year, and first real chance, for Saavedra to shine in 2014

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Sebastian Saavedra enters 2014 in a bit of an odd position.

The Colombian is only 23, but 2014 will mark his fifth different IndyCar season, and third full one. In each season, he’s been with a different organization.

He made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2010 by accident – literally – after he crashed late on Bump Day. But enough other cars withdrew their times to see Saavedra’s time still eligible for the field of 33. His debut was also the first race for Bryan Herta Autosport in the series.

Later in 2010, he started the season finale for Conquest Racing, which helped propel him into a full-time seat for 2011. With limited funding available, Saavedra struggled but occasionally overachieved despite missing two end-of-season races.

In 2012, he made a decision mature beyond his years, to step back to Indy Lights and learn more. In an AFS/Andretti Autosport entry, Saavedra won several races and had poor luck. But he got the chance at three more IndyCar starts with the same program, and again, did enough to merit some consideration for 2013.

So 2013 arrived and Saavedra entered the lair of Dragon Racing, but under controversial circumstances as an 11th hour replacement for Katherine Legge in the TrueCar-backed Chevrolet. Yet out of the gate, Saavedra turned in some sterling qualifying performances that left teammate Sebastien Bourdais scratching his head. Bourdais’ program improved in the second half of the year while Saavedra’s went the opposite direction entirely, in part due to crew changes.

You could argue for 2014, as Saavedra enters the AFS-backed KV Racing second seat – ironically as Bourdais’ teammate again – that he’s in exactly the same boat as the second KV driver last year, Simona de Silvestro (and yes, the names are confusingly similar).

Like de Silvestro, Saavedra has not had a full-season, top-flight opportunity and should improve from what was a trying previous season. Yet the field is so deep that given the lateness of this program coming together, it could take a few races for driver-and-team to hit their stride.

As it is, Saavedra’s relationship with Gary Peterson, through two Andretti stints and now for KV, has been the guiding force of his career.

“When I came from Europe in 2009, Gary was pretty much like my second dad, having my first dad present here of course,” Saavedra explained during IndyCar media day in Orlando.

“We built a very strong relationship.  He took me below his wing to develop me inside his driving development program. We come through since then.”

The step down to Indy Lights was something Saavedra had to do to stay in the frame. In recent years, he’s been the only example of a driver willing to make that decision rather than explore other series.

“It was that or doing nothing at all,” he admitted. “But it came with the opportunity to make ourselves stronger with AFS and Gary Peterson, trying not only to prepare, but keep learning.  At that time, being 20 years old, I had the opportunity to take chances, and still can.

“Now looking back, this is a reality because of those days.”

The KV/AFS partnership came together quickly, but KV team co-owner Jimmy Vasser has said this winter it is important to maintain teammate continuity. Saavedra learned from Bourdais last year, although both are optimistic they can forge their own paths this year to push the team forward.

“I’m actually being forced to,” Saavedra joked about working with Bourdais.

“No, we built a really great relationship last year. I think I respect Bourdais a lot and he respects me. I think that’s the key to building a great partnership with your teammate.

“I think we were able to understand each other and see development-wise that we needed each other to move forward. So I think it makes it a lot easier to have somebody by your side. As Jimmy said, you broke those barriers of who the heck is by my side. Definitely it’s a plus to have him on my side, something that is already natural.”

The “move forward” that both Saavedra and KV need to target in 2014 is an improved qualifying effort. Saavedra was tied for the worst qualifying average in the field in 2013 – 17.7 – with nary a Firestone Fast Six appearance and no starts better than 18th in the final 10 races.

The flashes of speed in the first half of nine races included five starts of 11th or better, with a best of sixth at Milwaukee.

He also only has two career top-10 finishes from 38 career starts. Those numbers can only improve if the qualifying does.

Road and street course qualifying was an area KV struggled in 2013. Both de Silvestro and Tony Kanaan had occasional highlights, but combined for only three Fast Six appearances between them.

Because Saavedra’s 2013 was such a struggle, he does enter 2014 from a position of strength knowing that he has nowhere to go but up. And Vasser expects his pair of “Sebs” to do just that.

“Jimmy sees Bourdais with a lot of respect, of course.  He saw me as the youngster that pretty much still has no limits,” Saavedra said. “He’s demanding a lot, of course. But that’s something we’re very welcome to.”

Magnussen scores breakthrough points for Renault in Russia

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Kevin Magnussen believes that his charge to seventh place in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix was no less than Renault deserved as he score its first points since its return to Formula 1 as a constructor in 2016.

Renault last raced in F1 with its own team back in 2010 before taking over the Lotus operation at the end of last year.

The French manufacturer has said that 2016 is very much a year of rebuilding, yet the chiefs were known to be disappointed with its point-less start to the season.

Magnussen made the most of a messy start to charge from 17th on the grid to eventually finish the race seventh, marking Renault’s first F1 points as a constructor since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The result was also Magnussen’s first top 10 finish since the 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix when he finished ninth for McLaren.

“Feels good. It’s nice to finally get points on the board, and not even just one,” Magnussen told NBCSN after the race.

“I’m really happy. I think the whole team deserves it after the hard work and tough races. We have points on the board now, so it gives us a bit of a boost.”

Magnussen made up a number of positions on the first lap when a number of drivers got caught up in incidents before maintaining his placing throughout the race.

“First lap was really messy, we knew it would be difficult with something like that,” Magnussen said.

“Everyone was spinning and hitting the wall. I went outside all the front wings. But we made it up just before Turn 1 and 2, and gained it back into Turn 3. The guys in front didn’t finish.

“In the end of the day, a bit lucky but we made the best of it and we deserved.”

Grosjean hails ‘great job’ by Haas after returning to points in Russia

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Romain Grosjean ensured that Haas’ first Formula 1 points drought lasted just a single race by finishing Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix in eighth place.

Grosjean gave NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas’ eponymous operation a fairytale start to life in F1 by scoring points in its first two races in Australia and Bahrain.

However, Haas came back down to earth with a bump in China two weeks ago when both Grosjean and teammate Esteban Gutierrez failed to score, spending the entirety of their races outside the top 10.

Grosjean started 15th in Russia and struggled with the setup on his car all weekend long, but a messy first lap for the cars ahead allowed him to make up a number of positions.

Grosjean found himself running P8 in the closing stages of the race, and managed to soak up the pressure from a charging Sergio Perez to hold onto the position at the flag and pick up another four points for Haas.

“75 percent is a good score!” Grosjean told NBCSN after the race, citing Haas’ points ratio thus far in F1.

“Very difficult weekend. We did a very good first lap to get around all the incidents. Lost a position at the pit stop. I’m still not 100 per cent happy with the behavior but it should be better for the next race.”

Haas’ biggest strength so far this season has been its strategy calls, but the lack of tire wear in Sochi meant that a one-stop race was the only logical move for all teams to take.

“It was a very close strategy in terms of tires,” Grosjean said. “Everyone knew it would be supersoft, soft.

“But we avoided incidents and pushed where we could. At the end we did a great job.”

Kvyat comes under fire from Vettel, Ricciardo, paddock in Russia

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Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat put himself in the headlines and in the crosshairs for the second consecutive Grand Prix, although this time, his aggression appeared to get the better of him on home soil in Sochi, Russia.

Kvyat barged into Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at Turn 2, which left Vettel driving wounded for the next corner, but the German didn’t even make it much further because Kvyat hit him again at Turn 3.

The second blow took Vettel out of the race, his second first lap retirement in four races.

Kvyat was later assessed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for causing a collision. He ended his race in 15th after the messy day at the office.

While Kvyat could have been excused for going for it in Turn 1 at China two weeks ago, ultimately getting past Vettel inside to Vettel’s chagrin post-race, most agreed he was at fault on Sunday in Sochi for this incident.

Kvyat, meanwhile, was defiant when speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton post-race.

“Obviously in future days we’ll see a lot of clever comments from everyone,” the 22-year-old Russian told Buxton.

“My point of view, I locked my rear wheels. Simple as that. I didn’t brake too late. Ran into his back. Felt like someone pushed me from behind. Car was a bit of out of control.

“The main problem came in Turn 3, not Turn 2, when I think Sebastian had a problem with his car. He stopped very suddenly and I was just two meters behind him, and at that speed there was not much I can do to avoid. I apologize for ruining his race. But I’m human. His sudden deceleration was too much for me at that point at Turn 3.”

Vettel exploded on the radio in the immediate aftermath of the collision but was far more restrained and diplomatic when speaking to Buxton after he got taken out.

“Today it’s fairly obvious, he did a mistake again, obviously, it doesn’t help me now because I’m not in the car,” Vettel said.

“In the end we’re here to race. Massively pumped up. Had a super start, made progress into the second corner and got hit, then a second hit, which destroyed our race.”

Kvyat, meanwhile, continued with his point that he thought Vettel’s sudden slowing was more to blame for the Turn 3 contact.

“Exactly, yeah. Turn 3 is very fast. It wasn’t deliberate. Maybe after the first light contact in Turn 2, maybe there was problem with the car. To be sure he dropped his speed rate suddenly. I still expected to keep him. He was flat out util then.

“The stewards thought I crashed into him deliberately. The penalty was very harsh… but probably fair enough. It cost us points. These things happen and I usually learn from them.”

While Vettel was the main driver taken out in the opening turns, he wasn’t the only one who had his race compromised. Nico Hulkenberg and Rio Haryanto also retired in the melee.

And worse for Kvyat, his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo also got caught up in the scrap. Ricciardo, the usually ebullient Australian, expressed his Kvyat frustration to Buxton post-race.

“It was a first lap incident that shaped the race for us,” said Ricciardo, who finished outside the points in 11th, his first non-score (and non-fourth place) this year.

“From then we tried putting the medium (tires) on it but it didn’t work. Too much damage. I saw the right hand side of the car and there was a lot going on. First lap, and people getting a bit impatient I guess.”

Asked whether he felt Kvyat owed him an apology Ricciardo replied, “Yeah. I expect an apology. He owes it to a few people today.

“I saw a bit of a replay during the safety car. Tried to look at the screens. I have a feeling that’s what happened. I’ll watch again, but it seems, that had us over.

“We’ll see. It’s up to him.”

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner also appeared less than pleased with Kvyat, judging from quotes via Mobil 1 The Grid, and linked below:

When Kvyat was told Ricciardo wanted an apology from him, he replied thusly:

“Probably the whole paddock wants an apology from me, but we’ll speak inside the team after analyzing.

“It’s easy to attack now. Go on, attack me, no problem.”

Hamilton: No doubt I could have won Russian GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP collects his trophy for second from Dmitry Kozak, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia on the podium next to Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says there isn’t a doubt in his mind that he could have won Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix had it not been for a water pressure issue on his car during the race.

Hamilton was forced to start 10th in Sochi after suffering a failure on his power unit after Q2 in qualifying on Saturday.

The Briton made a good start to run fifth at the end of a messy first lap before picking off Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas to sit second behind teammate Nico Rosberg.

The gap between them stood at 12 seconds after the pit stops, but Hamilton was able to whittle this down to just 7.5 seconds with over 20 laps of the race still to run.

However, Mercedes told Hamilton to back off after a water leak emerged on his car, allowing Rosberg to ease to his seventh straight win by 25 seconds.

“Not the easiest first corner but all races have been the same so far,” Hamilton said on the podium after the race.

“Really happy for the team and I’ve got the points.”

When asked if he had the pace to win the race, Hamilton said: “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind I could win it.

“I had the pace, but I had a problem with the engine again so I had to back off. Just trying to look after it.”

Hamilton heads to the start of the European season in Spain on May 15 with a 43-point deficit to Rosberg, but with 17 races remaining in the season, the championship race remains firmly alive.