Massa secures shock pole in Austria at Mercedes’ expense

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Felipe Massa and Williams have stunned Mercedes by securing pole position for tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

The Brazilian driver scored his first pole position in over five years at the Red Bull Ring, and will have teammate Valtteri Bottas starting alongside him on the front row after the British team took advantage of Mercedes’ failure to improve its times.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamiltonwere expected to fight for pole once again, but both made mistakes in the final part of qualifying, meaning that they had to settle for P3 and P9 respectively.

Qualifying in Austria began in sunny and dry conditions, and the drivers were quick to head out on track to put in an early banker lap. In the early runs, the Toro Rosso drivers showed good pace early on with Daniil Kvyat leading Jean-Eric Vergne at the top of the timesheets. Fernando Alonso managed to displace them with his first serious effort, but Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg soon took Mercedes back to the top in first and second place.

After suffering a brake issue in FP3, Jenson Button was keen to make up for lost time during the first part of qualifying. However, his efforts were not helped when he was blocked by Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson at the first corner. Following prior warning from the FIA, a number of drivers had their lap times deleted after not adhering to track limit rules at turn eight, meaning that they had to rally and post a clean lap for it to count.

In the race to avoid elimination, a number of the drivers had to switch to the super-soft tire for the final five minutes of the session. Daniil Kvyat put in a good time to jump up into second place, whilst Kevin Magnussen went P4 to avoid an early exit. Adrian Sutil saw his time deleted, having been good enough for P13, and could only go P17 with his clean lap, meaning that he was knocked out of qualifying alongside teammate Esteban Gutierrez. The Caterhams and Marussias once again dropped out in Q1, with Jules Bianchi finishing as the best of the backmarkers ahead of Kamui Kobayashi, Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson.

For Q2, all of the drivers opted to run on the option tire in order to give themselves the best possible chance of making it through to the top ten shoot-out. Nico Hulkenberg was the first to lay down a marker, and was soon joined by Sergio Perez, who fell just short of his teammate’s time. Kevin Magnussen managed to overhaul them, going three-tenths quicker, but he in turn was beaten by the Williams drivers.

Fernando Alonso was fortunate not to end his qualifying early after running wide at the final corner and narrowly missing the wall. Despite this scary moment, his lap time was still quicker than teammate Kimi Raikkonen’s.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton duly returned Mercedes to the top with their first lap times, but Red Bull appeared to be struggling. After his first run, Sebastian Vettel was languishing in the dropzone, and needed to find some time with his final lap of the session.

However, the defending world champion could not improve by enough with his final effort, and qualified in 12th place. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo managed to squeeze through in ninth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, whilst Sergio Perez and Jenson Button dropped out once again in Q2. Pastor Maldonado secured his best qualifying result of the season in 14th ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne and Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean.

Having run the Mercedes drivers close in Q2, Valtteri Bottas was looking to spring a surprise and try to hassle the Silver Arrows in the final session. The Finn was quick to get out on track, and even a slight lock-up on his first lap did not prevent him from going quickest of all at first. Hamilton looked set to beat his time, but ran wide at turn eight and had his time deleted for exceeding track limits. Rosberg could not come to the rescue either, going second and handing provisional pole to Bottas.

The Finn could not improve on his final run after running wide, but nor could Lewis Hamilton after a big spin. Nico Rosberg also failed to find any extra time, allowing Felipe Massa to secure his first pole position in over five years, securing an all Williams front row – the team’s first in over ten years.

Rosberg was forced to settle for third place, with Hamilton finishing down in ninth without posting a lap time. Fernando Alonso ran well for Ferrari to finish fourth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen. Daniil Kvyat performed admirably for Toro Rosso, qualifying seventh, whilst Kimi Raikkonen finished down in eighth ahead of Hamilton. Nico Hulkenberg also failed to post a time, and was classified tenth.

After a difficult few years in Formula 1, Massa’s return to the front of the field will certainly be a popular result in the paddock. The Brazilian driver managed to capitalize on Mercedes’ mistakes when it mattered, and will be hoping for a similar result in the race tomorrow.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.