Mercedes remains dominant, but there have been changes further back

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Yesterday, I wrote a feature on why Red Bull cannot be discounted from the championship fight just yet. Today, that kind of fell to pieces as Mercedes went faster still and extended its advantage at the front, whilst Red Bull saw Sebastian Vettel complete just four laps all day.

So perhaps at the front, things haven’t changed a great deal. Mercedes still rules the roost, and the gap to the rest of the field is just as big as it was before (if not bigger). On qualifying pace – the raw times that we get at the end of the session – the gap is at least half a second between Mercedes and the rest of the field. Daniel Ricciardo finished third for Red Bull some 0.536s behind Nico Rosberg in P2.

If we take a look at the race pace, though, half a second is being kind.

As per usual, the second half of FP2 on Friday was all about long runs and race pace. The times rarely change in the second half of the session as the teams whack on the harder tire and fill the car full of fuel. Unlike the qualifying sims, the drivers complete far longer runs of around 15 laps to evaluate a normal stint. It gives us an insight into how they might shape up on a Sunday.

And if the script does indeed follow FP2, Mercedes will waltz to a win. Throughout their long runs, Hamilton and Rosberg continually lapped in the 1:30s and 1:31s region – a full one second faster than Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull, and almost 1.5 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari.

So at the front, not much appears to have changed. However, further back, there certainly are a few movers.

Lotus is the team that finally could break its duck this weekend. Zero points from the first four races isn’t much to shout about, but Romain Grosjean did look set to finish in the top ten in China only for a gearbox problem to force him into retirement. However, Pastor Maldonado finished an excellent P9 in FP2, whilst Grosjean would most probably have done a bit better than 17th had it not been for a problem on his car.

Marussia is another team to keep an eye on. Sure, points aren’t on the cards, but after a close-run battle with Caterham over the last few races (and years, in fact), the team appears to have forged ahead. Jules Bianchi finished 16th in FP1, some 1.2 seconds ahead of the Caterhams, and in FP2 extended this advantage to 1.4 seconds. Max Chilton might have been a bit unrealistic saying that he wanted to take on Sauber this weekend, but his French teammate could have a shot.

Finally, McLaren also appeared to be in better shape on Friday as Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button both finished inside the top ten in FP2. After a difficult few races in cold conditions, the return to the warmer coast of Spain is certainly suiting the MP4-29.

It might seem all the same at the front, but there has definitely been some movement further back over the past three weeks.

Indy Lights: Chad Boat to make Indy Lights debut with Belardi

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Belardi Auto Racing, which currently fields entries for Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Shelby Blackstock in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, announced on Tuesday that USAC standout Chad Boat, son of former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Billy Boat, will make his Indy Lights debut with the Brian Belardi led-outfit. Boat will contest the July 9 race at Iowa Speedway, a track he has previously raced on in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and will return for the August 26 event at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“We’re extremely pleased to announce the addition of Chad Boat to our stable of drivers for the Iowa and Gateway Indy Lights oval races this summer,” team owner Brian Belardi detailed. “It’s exciting to have a second-generation driver running with us, and we’re certainly looking forward to getting Chad on track in Iowa.”

The younger Boat has become a star in his own right in USAC, winning Rookie of the Year honors in both the USAC National Midget and Sprint car divisions. The 25-year-old will pilot the No. 84 entry, with sponsorship from Pristine Auction.

“I grew up watching my dad race Indy cars, so having the opportunity to run Indy Lights this year is absolutely surreal,” said Boat. “I have to thank Belardi Auto Racing for giving me a shot behind the wheel of the No. 84 Dallara, as well as Pristine Auction for their continued support in my racing career. I can’t wait to get to Iowa Speedway.”

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Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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