Austrian GP Paddock Notebook – Thursday

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Formula 1 returns to Austria this weekend after eleven years away. The old A1-Ring last hosted a race in 2003 before the money dried up and it eventually shut, but the circuit has since been revamped by Red Bull and renamed the ‘Red Bull Ring’.

Shameless plugging aside, it’s a fabulous facility that has immediately been a hit with everyone in the paddock. However, the shiny newness does not overawe the old-style circuit, which is unquestionably one of the most picturesque on the calendar.

Here’s the first paddock notebook from Austria on media day.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

  • First up, we have our complete preview of the Austrian Grand Prix, which is the first since 2003. In with the old is fine in our book, that’s for sure.
  • Felipe Massa did not mince his words when talking about the Sergio Perez incident. He even suggested that Checo should receive a one race ban to teach him a lesson.
  • Plans to condense the race weekend from four days into three have been rejected, but testing will be revamped to keep it Euro-centric.
  • Lewis Hamilton was in high spirits, saying that he “couldn’t be better” for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.
  • The MotorSportsTalk team has made its predictions for the race; four writers picking three winners – could be an open thing.
  • Just four of the current racers in F1 have done so before at the Austrian Grand Prix, but could the advantage actually lie with the youngsters who raced here a little more recently?

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Of course, Thursday gives us very little to go on besides what we hear from the drivers in the media sessions. It is interesting to not only listen to what they say, but also note how they say it. Felipe Massa is clearly still very upset about the incident with Sergio Perez in Canada, whilst the Mexican driver remains adamant that he did little wrong.

Heading to a new circuit for the first time is always exciting for the paddock, and Red Bull has rolled out the red carpet. The old, run down A1-Ring is nothing but a distant memory, and has since been replaced by a shiny new facility. The media centre itself is a work of art, giving a stunning view of the circuit. Few other tracks can boast such a beautiful setting.

Lewis Hamilton was in a good mood during his media session, taking the opportunity to snaffle a sweet before proceedings began. The Briton is hoping to bounce back from his Canada DNF to score his fifth win of the season this weekend, and cut the gap to teammate Nico Rosberg at the top of the drivers’ championship.

For Red Bull, this marks its first ever home race since debuting back in 2005. Morale is high following Daniel Ricciardo’s shock win in Montreal, but the team will be under no illusions that Mercedes is still the team to beat at the moment.

As for the picture? That’s the actual ‘Red Bull Ring’ at the Red Bull Ring. Get it? A Red Bull in a ring? They’re very clever, those energy drink makers.

All in all, it promises to be another fascinating grand prix weekend, so be sure to keep up to date with the latest breaking news and views from the paddock on MotorSportsTalk.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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