Bell and Will Power. Photo: INDYCAR

Indy 500 Insights: Townsend Bell’s take on latest IMS practice week format

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Every year, Townsend Bell puts together a one-off Indianapolis 500 program. The 2014 edition will be Bell’s eighth ‘500 appearance, after making his debut in 2006 and running every year consecutively since 2008. This year, he returns to KV Racing Technology, the team where he posted his career-best ‘500 finish of fourth in 2009, and where he seeks to improve upon it this year. The NBC Sports Group Verizon IndyCar Series analyst is able to provide both a driver’s an analyst’s perspective in the field. For part three of this daily series through this week (see parts two, one here), we get Townsend’s take on Indianapolis’ latest new practice and qualifying week format.

Change is constant. Change has been rapid over the course of the last 20 or so years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and certainly since 1996, when American open-wheel racing was fractured into a state that it’s been attempting to crawl out of ever since.

With past IMS elements such as “traditional qualifying,” or single-weekend qualifying, or “25/8,” or other tried-and-discarded formats utilized in the past, IMS has shook it up once again for 2014.

This year, there’s the new Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the week of practice before turning up the boost from 130 kPa to 140 kPa for Fast Friday (increases horsepower), and a new extra day of practice added Monday back to race boost to allow for more race running

For Townsend Bell, in his usual one-off appearance in the Indianapolis 500, the latest schedule adjustment is a welcome change of pace.

“The format is such that it’s difficult right now for the big teams to develop a technical advantage,” he explained in an interview with MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “There are lots of little things that can be done. But you see the ‘science projects’ pay off a bit more in qualifying.”

It’s not easy to find even a single mph – to go from 224 to 225 mph laps in race trim or from 229 to 230 in qualifying, for instance – but this format has allowed that to do so.

Still, the field is ridiculously tight. The 2014 field is both the closest in time (only 2.5399 seconds separate 1-33) and fastest (229.382 mph field average, beating the 2002 field of 228.648).

And for the race, after the week of practice, Bell noted the year-on-year improvement from Firestone in terms of grip level and more consistency over the course of a run.

“Firestone has made a dramatic improvement in the tire, without a loss of grip,” he said. “So we should see more green flag racing, by virtue of the balance not going away as much over the course of a stint.

“I’m hoping for hot conditions – as hot as we can get – so that some of the cars don’t have as great a balance,” he added, noting his car seems to run better in warmer conditions. “But if last year’s any indication, by halfway, it was still a pack of 20-24 cars in a freight train.”

Bell, driver of the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet for KV Racing Technology, ran his first 230-plus mph lap in practice at Indianapolis this year with the extra boost. His best 230-plus lap of 230.830 ranked him 14th in the field of 33.

Over the course of the week, in race boost, Bell had a best lap of 225.484 mph and an average, spread over his fastest lap from the six practice days, of 222.499. Both times were in the middle of the pack.

But Bell’s pleased with his car’s handling in traffic, and was the busiest driver in the 33-car field on Monday, that ultimate last real day of practice. He ran 148 laps, one of only six who ran more than 100.

We’ll see how his work during the new format translates to the traditional Friday Carb Day practice, and then ultimately for race day, Sunday, for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Button left fuming by ‘joke’ radio penalty in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 22: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 22, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button was left fuming after being penalized for a radio message during Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix in reaction to a brake problem.

New restrictions were introduced to radio communications in Formula 1 in 2016 in a bid to place a greater onus on drivers to manage their own races.

Nico Rosberg was given a 10-second penalty at Silverstone two weeks ago after Mercedes was deemed to have broken the rules, prompting a tweak ahead of the race in Hungary.

Button reported an issue to McLaren on lap five in Hungary, saying that his brake pedal was going all the way to the floor.

Button was told not to shift gear and pit before the issue resolved itself, prompting McLaren to tell him to stay out.

However, the stewards investigated the message and deemed McLaren to have breached the radio rules, resulting in a drive-through penalty for Button.

“So the brake pedal going to the floor isn’t classed as a safety issue?” Button fumed over the radio.

“That’s quite interesting. I think someone needs to read up on what is a safety issue and what isn’t.” Button was the only driver to retire in Hungary, parking up with nine laps remaining.”

Button eventually retired with nine laps remaining after spending all of his race at the back.

“It was boring,” Button told NBCSN after the race.

“Being last and so far back. Then we had a failure with the car. Massive understeer. Car was broken from the start. You’re last and you get a drive through for stopping an incident from happening.”

Although the message was in breach of the regulations, Button said that the rules were a “joke”.

“That’s what the regulations say, but are they correct? I don’t think so,” Button said.

“It’s a joke really. Stopping an incident should be praised, not penalized.

“I understand the regulations in terms of information to drivers. We’re not told how to push, what to save.

“But when it comes to that – a sensor failure – the sport has a long way to go before it is good again.

“F1 needs to realize it’s mistakes in terms of where the cars are. Next year’s regulations are quite exciting.

“It shouldn’t need the drivers to speak out. It’s common sense that’s missed by the regulations that are being written.”

Start makes Hamilton’s Hungarian GP, breaks Rosberg’s

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer battle for position at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes’ drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were both left to reflect on the start of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix where their races were respectively won and lost.

Rosberg started from pole after snatching P1 away in the last minute of qualifying, but a slow start saw him fall behind Hamilton at Turn 1.

Hamilton moved into the lead ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who swept around the outside of Rosberg at the first corner.

Rosberg regained second place at Turn 2, but was then left in second place for all but two of the remaining laps behind Hamilton.

Despite coming under pressure from Rosberg on a couple of occasions, Hamilton crossed the line to claim his fifth Hungarian Grand Prix victory by 1.9 seconds.

“The start was everything,” Hamilton said on the podium.

“I got a good start. I had one of Red Bulls on inside of me, so I was pressured quite a lot into Turn 1.

“The team did a fantastic job with strategy and preparing the car as always: guys back in the factory continuing to push flat out, so a huge thank you to them.

“This is a great result for us as a team. What a day.”

Just as the start had made Hamilton’s race, it broke Rosberg’s.

“It was all down to the start at the end,” the German said.

“I lost out a little bit and into Turn 1, I had Daniel on the outside and Lewis on the inside, ran out of space so I had to bail out of it.

“That was it really. I was happy to take Daniel back in Turn 2.

“Then I was trying to put all the pressure possible on Lewis. But it’s not possible to pass at this track.”

Rosberg now trails Hamilton for the first time this season ahead of his home grand prix in Germany next weekend.

Hamilton dominates Hungarian GP to take F1 championship lead

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain leads ahead of Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany during the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at the Hungaroring racetrack near Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, July 24, 2016.(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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Lewis Hamilton moved into the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time in 2016 after dominating Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix and picking up his fifth win in six races.

Hamilton started second at the Hungaroring, but never looked back after passing Mercedes teammate and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg into the first corner, leading all but two laps en route to victory.

Despite expecting to face a challenge from Red Bull and Ferrari in Hungary, Mercedes eased clear at the front of the pack to easily score a one-two finish.

The margins between Hamilton and Rosberg were fine in the closing stages, but the Briton did enough to take a record-breaking fifth victory in Hungary, pulling clear of Michael Schumacher in the record books.

Off the line, Hamilton made a slightly better start than Rosberg to dive down the inside at the first corner and seize the lead of the race. Rosberg dropped back to third behind Daniel Ricciardo after the Australian swooped around the outside at Turn 1, but reclaimed the position at the next corner to sit second behind Hamilton at the end of the first lap.

Rosberg tried to stick with Hamilton through the first stint of the race on the super-soft tire, but struggled to match his teammate’s pace. By the time the first round of pit stops came around, Rosberg trailed his teammate by 2.5 seconds, but was able to cut the gap by pitting one lap earlier and getting the undercut, drawing to within a second of Hamilton.

In the battle just behind, Ricciardo managed to retain third despite coming under pressure from Sebastian Vettel after both made their first stop. Max Verstappen had been running fourth behind Ricciardo before pitting, but lost a place to Vettel on the undercut. The Dutchman emerged from the pits stuck behind the prime-shod Raikkonen, causing him to lose more ground on the other Ferrari.

Not long into the second stint, Hamilton reported over the team radio that he was “struggling for pace” as Rosberg drew nearer at the front. Third-placed Ricciardo was given the hurry-up by Red Bull as he lapped almost one second quicker than the Mercedes drivers, allowing him to work the gap down to just over five seconds.

With Ricciardo catching and traffic also hindering Hamilton and Rosberg, the Mercedes pit wall was eager to respond. Hamilton was given the hurry up, being told that unless he went quicker, Rosberg would be given precedence at the next pit stop for fear of putting the win in jeopardy. Hamilton duly responded by going fastest, with Rosberg following suit.

Red Bull looked to pounce on the concern at Mercedes by bringing Ricciardo in for his second and final stop on lap 33. The Australian made the switch to the soft tire, hoping to get the undercut on Rosberg. Mercedes did not respond as it looked to drop Rosberg into clean air, its cause being aided by Ricciardo hitting traffic while trying to go a lap up. Once Verstappen had pitted from P4 and Ricciardo’s fresh tires began to lose their initial perkiness, a gap was clear for Mercedes.

Satisfied that Hamilton had upped his pace, Mercedes brought the race leader in first at the end of lap 41. The Briton emerged on a fresh set of softs well clear of Ricciardo, with Rosberg following suit one lap later. The Mercedes drivers were back running first and second, meaning Red Bull’s undercut had failed.

Hamilton’s lead over Rosberg looked comfortable heading into the final stint, only for Esteban Gutierrez to play a part in wiping away his lead. With less than 20 laps to go, Hamilton’s advantage over Rosberg stood at just under two seconds, but when Gutierrez failed to get out of the way in the final sector, the gap fell to just six-tenths. Hamilton gave Gutierrez a wave when passing, with the stewards then handing the Haas driver a five-second time penalty.

Hamilton reacted well to the increased pressure from Rosberg, opening the gap back up again. Traffic caused Rosberg to drop back further, cooling his hopes of a breakthrough victory in Hungary.

The result was that Hamilton could manage his pace through the closing stages of the race, before crossing the line to score his fifth victory in six races despite suffering a scare when he ran wide with eight laps remaining. The victory was Hamilton’s fifth in Hungary, taking him into the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in 2016.

Rosberg was forced to settle for second, two seconds behind, leaving him with a six-point deficit heading to his home grand prix in Germany next weekend.

Ricciardo faded in the final stint after his early second stop, causing him to drop into the clutches of Vettel in the final few laps. However, the Red Bull driver did enough to hold on and complete the podium, with Vettel finishing narrowly behind in fourth place.

The battle for fifth went down to the wire as Spanish GP adversaries Verstappen and Raikkonen renewed their fight. Raikkonen got close heading into Turn 2 before clipping the rear of the Red Bull, sustaining front-wing damage in the process. Raikkonen was able to continue, remaining latched to Verstappen’s gearbox through the closing stages, but was left to settle for sixth at the line behind the Dutchman.

Fernando Alonso was McLaren’s sole point-scorer in seventh, while compatriot Carlos Sainz Jr. followed in eighth for Toro Rosso. Valtteri Bottas had a quiet race en route to ninth for Williams, while Nico Hulkenberg crossed the line 10th to score the final point for Force India.

Sergio Perez was left disgruntled in P11 after the Force India crew was not ready for his final pit stop, costing him a chunk of time. Esteban Gutierrez crossed the line 12th, but dropped to 13th due to his time penalty. Haas teammate Romain Grosjean was P14 ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat, while the Brazilian pair of Felipe Nasr and Felipe Massa had quiet races in 17th and 18th.

Pascal Wehrlein ended up 19th despite making a stunning start for Manor, finishing ahead of Marcus Ericsson and Rio Haryanto.

The contentious rule restricting radio communications came into play once again when Jenson Button was handed a drive-through penalty for an “unauthorized radio message”. Button reported an issue with his brake pedal and was told not to shift gear on his car – the same message Rosberg was penalized for at Silverstone.

Although the problem resolved itself, Button was forced to come into the pits and take his penalty, much to his chagrin. “So the brake pedal going to the floor isn’t classed as a safety issue?” Button asked his team over the radio. “That’s quite interesting. I think someone needs to read up on what is a safety issue and what isn’t.” Button was the only driver to retire in Hungary, parking up with nine laps remaining.

Sirotkin takes first GP2 win of 2016 in Hungary

2016 GP2 Series Round 6
Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary.
Sunday 24 July 2016.
Sergey Sirotkin (RUS, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBB8505
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Sergey Sirotkin battled from sixth place on the grid to pick up his first victory of the 2016 GP2 Series season for ART Grand Prix.

Sirotkin entered 2016 as one of the favorites for the title, but a luckless start to the year meant he arrived in Hungary far behind series leader Oliver Rowland.

The Russian finished third in Saturday’s feature race before a scintillating start saw him rise from P6 to P2 in the opening stages in Hungary.

The safety car was deployed on the first lap following a clash further back sparked by a spin for Arthur Pic that eliminated four cars.

Racing Engineering’s Jordan King headed the pack after starting from reverse grid pole, but a mistake when coming back to the green flag allowed Sirotkin to close up.

The ART driver perfectly positioned his car as he went side-by-side with King through the opening complex of corners, eventually pulling ahead at Turn 4.

From there, Sirotkin managed to pull clear and hold on to his lead through to the end of the race, picking up his first GP2 victory in over a year.

King held on to second ahead of teammate Norman Nato, who rounded out the podium positions ahead of Artem Markelov and Mitch Evans.

Oliver Rowland salvaged some points from his difficult weekend in P6, while Saturday winner Pierre Gasly extended his championship lead in seventh, also chalking up the fastest lap in the process. Raffaele Marciello picked up the final point for P8.

The GP2 Series continues next weekend in support of the German Grand Prix.