Canadian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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Friday practice for the Canadian Grand Prix was business as usual for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg finishing first and second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in FP2. His Ferrari teammate, Fernando Alonso, had finished fastest in the first session this morning, and the Italian team appears to be leading the race to be ‘best of the rest’ in Montreal this weekend.

As well as the on-track formalities, there were a number of stories breaking off-track, so here’s today’s paddock notebook from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

SESSION REPORTS

  • Fernando Alonso drew first blood in Montreal by finishing fastest in FP1 on Friday morning. He was closely followed by the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
  • Hamilton managed to redress the balance in FP2, though, finishing in first place ahead of Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen. Once again, the advantage appears to lie with Mercedes in Montreal.

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Despite a few drops of rain threatening to spoil the first session in Montreal, it actually turned out to be a hot and sunny day on the Île Notre Dame, perfect for practice. We’re expecting another hot day tomorrow, and it could aid the likes of Lotus and McLaren who have struggled in the cooler conditions so far this season.

During both practice sessions, I took some time to head out of the media centre and watch part of the session trackside. During FP1, I went down to the first complex of corners (T1/T2) to see how the cars were going through there. Surprisingly, Mercedes appeared to be struggling a bit, with Rosberg locking up three times at the first corner. Lewis Hamilton also made an uncharacteristic error, and had to take to the run-off area at one point. Maybe that car is just too fast!

Red Bull has been better through the corners than most so far this season, and it was clear here as Vettel and Ricciardo easily negotiated the difficult left-right complex. The same can also be said of Williams, with Valtteri Bottas looking particularly aggressive and happy to take a big chunk of the kerb. Caterham, on the other hand, looked very uncomfortable. Alexander Rossi’s first few laps were tentative, and even regular driver Marcus Ericsson was struggling to tame the CT-05 car.

On the whole, though, Alexander did a great job. He was upbeat when we spoke to him after the session, and is now ready to turn his attention back to his GP2 campaign with Caterham Racing.

For FP2, I headed on down to the final chicane on the track (T12/T13), and once again Bottas was not afraid to attack the corner. Hamilton and Rosberg both had different approaches, with Nico’s appearing to be a little more ragged. It is here where you can make or break a lap time, so it was good to see the drivers pushing hard and trying to be as brave as possible without binning the car in the notorious Wall of Champions.

Looking at the lap times, it is quite clear that the advantage once again lies with Mercedes. However, Red Bull and Ferrari appear to be closely matched in the race to complete the podium. We could see quite an interesting battle between Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Alonso unfold on Sunday.

Today also marked my first encounter with the 2014-spec cars – or, more importantly, the 2014-spec engines. Having only listened to the sound of the power units on TV, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The uproar about the sound has been one of the big talking points so far this season, but I tried to avoid getting drawn into the debate without having listened to them first hand.

I must say, standing at turn one and at the end of the back straight, I was still very impressed by them. These engines are still loud and impressive, and the technology behind them is sensational. Sure, they don’t sound like V8 engines, but that’s because they are not V8 engines! When you go to Le Mans, the Audi sounds very different to the Porsche and the Toyota because it is different. I find it hard to see why this perceived lack of noise is a reason not to buy a ticket to see a grand prix. It’s a very subjective topic, though.

The news about the possible scrapping of one of the Friday practice sessions came as a bit of a surprise. F1 has been pushing to cut costs for so long, but the power of the big manufacturers and teams has ended all hopes of a cost cap for now. This is the alternative, but I’m not entirely sure that it will have the desired effect. Drivers want running, so to essentially cut it by a third may not go down too well. A possible remedy to this situation is extending the two practice sessions, but quite how this pans out remains to be seen. It does look very likely, though, even if it lacks formal approval for 2015 at this stage.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for final practice at 10am ET online, followed by qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix which is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1pm ET.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.