Grosjean’s challenge for points in China goes unfulfilled

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What appeared to be a good day for Romain Grosjean and Lotus ultimately proved to be a point-less one.

After qualifying 10th for the Chinese Grand Prix, the Frenchman was in the midst of his best run of the season Sunday at Shanghai until a terminal gearbox problem forced him to abandon his battle with Kimi Raikkonen for ninth.

Grosjean lost fourth gear initially on his No. 8 Lotus-Renault E22 and then lost more gears before he bowed out of the race at Lap 29.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a problem like this so we’ll have to understand what happened,” he said on Sunday. “It had been quite nice in the race as we’d been fighting for ninth position so we were in the points, which is a good improvement from before.”

It’s a hopeful sign ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in May, for which upgrades to the chassis and engine are expected to debut.

“We have identified some further development with the power unit here so with the three weeks between this race and Spain, we’ll work with the team to capitalize on the potential,” said Renault support leader Laurent Debout.

Another bit of progress came from Pastor Maldonado, who brought his Lotus home in 14th after having to start 22nd due to missing qualifying on Saturday with issues on his power unit.

The Venezuelan made the biggest leap of all drivers on the grid, moving up eight positions – half of those coming off of a strong start.

“My pace wasn’t fantastic but at least we moved forwards and I pushed as hard as I could,” said Maldonado, who put an embarrassing wreck with Esteban Gutierrez at Bahrain behind him. “We will look at the data as we seemed to lack pace on the straights which made it difficult to overtake and also difficult to defend.

“It will be nice to have a race weekend without any problems, and that’s what we are all working for when we head to Europe.”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.