Austrian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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The sound of Formula 1 returned to the Styrian mountains for the first time in over ten years today as practice for the Austrian Grand Prix took place at the Red Bull Ring. Predictably, Mercedes ruled the roost once again, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton sharing the spoils on Friday.

However, much of the talk in the paddock had little to do with the on track action. In a rather tenuous team principals’ press conference, some tough topics were tackled including cost cutting and the need for fan engagement. Predictably, little appears to have moved on; action is needed, not more meetings that go nowhere.

Here is the full Austrian GP paddock notebook from Friday in Spielberg.

SESSION REPORTS

  • First blood went to Nico Rosberg at the Red Bull Ring, as he edged out Lewis Hamilton by 0.140 seconds in the opening practice session.
  • However, Hamilton redressed the balance in FP2 to finish over three-tenths of a second clear of his German teammate. Mercedes finished over half a tenth clear of the rest of the field.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

A busy day in Austria today, both on and off the track. Let’s start with the drivers themselves and how they fared out there on the circuit.

First up, Mercedes. I’m desperately trying not to re-use old headlines when surmising the Silver Arrows’ dominance, but after a while it can prove to be difficult. It was honors even between Lewis and Nico on Friday in Austria, taking one session each, and both drivers will be in the hunt for the race win on Sunday. Hamilton appears to be a little more at ease with the W05 car, but as we saw in Canada, Nico has the ability to spring a surprise and edge out his teammate when it matters.

Trailing in the German marque’s wake were Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams. After a poor first session, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo hit back in FP2 to finish inside the top ten. Although their one lap pace may not be too promising, Ricciardo’s long runs were impressive. He could be in the running to reach the podium on Sunday. Fernando Alonso finished third in both sessions for Ferrari, and he too will be in the hunt for his second podium finish of the year, while the Williams duo of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa should vie for the British team’s first of 2014.

Now to the off track stories…

The word “crisis” is being thrown about quite a lot in Formula 1 recently. A crisis in terms of costs, a crisis in terms of fan engagement, a crisis of viewing figures… the list goes on. However, whenever efforts are made to resolve these crises, there always appears to be something in the way.

In the team principal’s press conference, the topic of cost cutting came up again. Five of the teams present – Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Toro Rosso, Ferrari – have financial security and can willingly spend as much as they need to fight for championships (within reason, of course). The sixth, Sauber, was the only outfit that needs a cost cap or something of a similar ilk. The S.O.S signals have been sent out time and time again.

When a question about cost cutting was put to Toto Wolff of Mercedes, he reacted by asking why it had been asked at all. He preferred to focus on the fact that F1 had returned to Austria after so long away, and was shaping up to be a great event. Of course, from the top of the pile, the problems for those lower down are irrelevant. It is nice to be back in Austria, though.

Reports in the paddock today suggested that as of next season, restarts following a safety car period will come from a standing start. Once the issue has been resolved, the drivers will line up on the grid and start from there. Immediately, it received snorts of derision and exclamations of “seriously?” from members of the paddock. Why not just red flag the race every time that there is an incident warranting a safety car? It would have the same effect.

For all of the talk about fan engagement, the steps that are being taken appear to be doing quite the opposite. The political landscape in Formula 1 is a muddy one at the moment, especially with the abyss between the F1 Strategy Group members – Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, McLaren, Lotus – and the rest of the teams seeming to grow by the minute.

Tomorrow should see focus switch back to what is happening on the track. That’s definitely for the best.

You can watch qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET tomorrow. We will also be live streaming FP3, which will be online at 5am.

IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.