Shell And Pennzoil Grand Prix Of Houston

IndyCar 2014 Primer: Some key story lines

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There is no shortage of story lines to follow in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Here are just a few…

-DIXON VS. POWER

It’s perhaps the best rivalry in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Scott Dixon and Will Power, few would argue, are two of IndyCar’s best drivers at the moment. One’s from New Zealand, the other from Australia. One drives for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, the other Team Penske.

They’ve sparred numerous times, most recently in the back-to-back races of Sonoma and Baltimore in 2013. But they haven’t yet fought head-to-head for a series championship.

Dixon’s two when Power was in the series (2008 and 2013) came when Power was in his first year under INDYCAR sanction and driving with KV Racing, and when Power was essentially eliminated last year and wasn’t able to contend as he had from 2010 through 2012.

It had been a Power-Dario Franchitti showdown those years, with Dixon’s luck taking him out of the equation. Now, with Franchitti retired, the stage is set for these two to have a potentially epic bout for the crown.

Of course, that’s unless any of their respective teammates, three of the four Andretti Autosport, or potentially another wild card, have anything to say about that…

-BIG THREE HAVE HALF THE FIELD, BUT WON’T HAVE ALL THE WINS

With 11 of the 22 full-season entries, Chip Ganassi Racing (Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Charlie Kimball), Team Penske (Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves) and Andretti Autosport (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Carlos Munoz) on paper could lock out the top 10 in the final points standings. But it’s not going to be that simple, with several other top-flight operations looking to overachieve.

Any of Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing), Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing), Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing) or Mike Conway (Ed Carpenter Racing) pose a true threat to the establishment on the road and street courses. Swap Ed Carpenter in for Conway on the ovals and there’s another win threat.

That’s without even projecting some of the emerging young guns – a Josef Newgarden, Sebastian Saavedra, Mikhail Aleshin or Jack Hawksworth – making strides as well.

Simply put, there is no shortage of depth in team or driver talent throughout the grid. There were 10 winners in 19 races in 2013; there could well be 10 or 11 in 2014, even with a reduction to 18 races.

-WHO’S THE “NAME” DRIVER?

With Franchitti retired, IndyCar is unfortunately down to just a handful of “big names” that are truly well known on a national stage. Penske’s Castroneves and Montoya and defending Indianapolis 500 champion Kanaan certainly qualify. But they all have at least 15 years in the North American racing sphere to fall back on.  Andretti and Rahal have the right last names, but not the overall results as yet.

One of the elements new entitlement partner Verizon may seek to work on this year is developing a true new generation of mainstream stars that can be as recognizable beyond the entrenched set of hardcore IndyCar fans. Power and Hinchcliffe are getting there, and Dixon and Hunter-Reay should be better known than they are now.

GENERATIONAL GAP

I touched on this earlier this offseason, but seeing which of the old guard versus the mid-level veterans versus young guns will take flight this year is going to be fascinating to watch. Key in this segment is how well JPM will do after an eight-year absence since his last season of Formula One, and after 14 years since his last season in North American open-wheel racing.

HANDLING THE RULES CHANGES

Whether it’s a shift from single to twin-turbo if you’re a Honda team, or whether you’re the field adapting to any of restart, pit lane opening/closings or qualifying adjustments, there are still plenty of new things teams will need to get a handle on even if the equipment basically stays the same for 2014.

-NO REST FOR THE WEARY

It’s been discussed in brief, but with the condensed schedule from the end of March through the end of August, with only one three-week gap in-between races (from Texas to Houston June 7 to June 28-29), how will the crews and drivers hold up through the relentless stretch of races? The ones who can maintain their composure and top level of performance are likeliest to succeed.

Perhaps the toughest stretch this year is from that Houston weekend June 28-29, followed in immediate succession by a 500-mile race at Pocono, 250 laps on the Iowa bullring, and another double-header in Toronto to make for six races in four weekends.

The relief comes with only a single off weekend before Mid-Ohio August 3, another off weekend, and three straight weeks in Milwaukee, Sonoma and Fontana to end the season.

Vettel ‘expected a bit more’ than fourth in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel says Ferrari “expected a bit more” than fourth place in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix as Red Bull moved to within a point of the Italian marque in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship.

Vettel claimed his second race win for Ferrari in Hungary last year, but was left to settle for P4 this time around after failing to pass Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo for third in the closing stages.

The result extended Ferrari’s winless run in 2016, and allowed Red Bull to pull up just a point behind in the constructors’ championship.

When asked by NBCSN if Ferrari now how to admit it was in a battle for second, Vettel said: “We never denied it! We have to fight Red Bull.

“Our target is always to fight for P1 but Mercedes is strong. It’s not big news. We try everything. So is Red Bull.

“I think we had a good package today. We expected a bit more. But we’re up against it trying to improve it. We have the best pace right behind it.

“We need to get better Saturdays to have a chance on Sundays.”

Vettel was left fuming over the radio on multiple occasions during the race on Sunday after getting stuck behind lapped cars, calling for blue flags to be respected.

“I calmed down. I don’t think they showed the bit where I said please wave a blue flag,” Vettel said after a couple of his messages were broadcast, albeit censored.

“Obviously you get the impression you lose more than others. Lapped cars are usually doing a good job.

“Mirrors aren’t that big. It’s not like a 75 inch 4K resolution mirror you’re looking into. And we’re quite a bit faster in three to four corners.

“I know that I got pretty loud in the car but I’m not going to criticize anyone.”

Gutierrez calls Hamilton ‘disrespectful’ after in-race gesture

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23:  Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Esteban Gutierrez has called three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton  “disrespectful” after being shown the middle finger during Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Towards the end of the race at the Hungaroring, leader Hamilton got stuck behind Gutierrez while trying to lap the Haas driver in the final sector.

Hamilton’s lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg dropped by two seconds, with Hamilton only managing to pass Gutierrez down the start/finish straight.

While passing, Hamilton raised his hand and showed Gutierrez his middle finger, angered by the incident.

Hamilton managed to retain his lead and win the race, while Gutierrez was handed a five-second time penalty for ignoring blue flags that dropped him to 13th in the final classification.

Hamilton batted away a question about the incident after the race, but Gutierrez took to Twitter to express his thoughts.

Ricciardo feels “really satisifed” in happy return to podium

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.
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Daniel Ricciardo’s first podium of the year at the Monaco Grand Prix was soaked in disappointment, with a sure win going away thanks to a botched pit stop and a hard luck second place.

His second podium of the year, at a similar short track that suits both the Red Bull RB12 chassis and the likable Australian, brought the return of the smiling Daniel we all know and love in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo was the only driver to even make a remote crack at the Mercedes teammates at Turn 1, launching strongly from third place on the grid into an attempt at the lead around the outside of the corner.

Problem was, Lewis Hamilton got out ahead in the lead and then Nico Rosberg made it back past Ricciardo for second into Turn 2.

Third was always going to be the best case scenario from there for Ricciardo, and he held off Sebastian Vettel’s late-race charge to the finish en route to third place.

“It’s great to have another podium this year. First one was bittersweet but this one I can definitely enjoy,” Ricciardo said on the podium.

“I’m super happy to be here today. Three years in a row at this circuit. Thanks to the team. We’re continually getting better, and I’m having fun.”

Ricciardo’s third place is his second third place at the circuit after coming third last year, and then winning in 2014.

His result, plus the fifth place achieved by Max Verstappen after his battle with Kimi Raikkonen, has put Red Bull within one point of Ferrari for second place in the Constructor’s Championship (224-223).

Ricciardo expanded on it in a separate post-race interview with NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“I’m so happy to be back up here. It’s been a while since I’ve left Sunday feeling really satisfied,” he said. “Podium is the icing on the cake but all weekend I got the maximum out of the car. For that, I’m pleased.

“At the time we looked quite competitive. But in the end they were quite quicker. They sucked us into that, but I held Seb behind. Anyway I enjoyed it and it was quite fun to cross the line and knowing I’m back on the podium.

“From my side it was nice to be first out of Red Bull and Ferrari. I felt I did my job. Hopefully this means second in Constructor’s later in the year.”

Raikkonen: ‘Very questionable’ not to penalize Verstappen

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Kimi Raikkonen believes it was “very questionable” of the Formula 1 stewards not to penalize Max Verstappen following their clash during Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Raikkonen lost part of his front wing while trying to pass Verstappen for fifth place late on, the pair making contact at Turn 2.

Raikkonen fumed over his radio to Ferrari after the incident, claiming that Verstappen moved more than once while trying to defend his position.

Both drivers were able to continue, their scrap lasting to the line where Verstappen finished 0.3 seconds clear.

Speaking to NBCSN after the race, Raikkonen questioned the decision not to penalize the Dutchman.

“I think it was very questionable, but it’s not my decision to decide,” Raikkonen said.

“I’ve seen penalties for much less. It depends on the stewards.

“In the end it didn’t damage our race, but it’s more disappointing to have such a good car and not be in a better position since we started so far back.”

Verstappen had been in the battle for the podium early on, but his race was compromised when he emerged from the pits behind Raikkonen, who was running a reverse strategy after starting down in 14th place.

“It was very frustrating,” Verstappen told NBCSN after fading from the podium fight.

“We were quick but then I got stuck. Ferrari was catching me… then you get stuck behind Kimi, destroy your tires, and do your own races, and the guy behind you catches up on fresher tires.”

Of Raikkonen’s penalty claim, Verstappen simply replied: “It’s his opinion. I tried to defend my position.”