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IndyCar shaping up as more competitive in 2014 than 2013, through 10 races

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Sinking my teeth into the statistics is always one of my favorite parts of a post-weekend debrief in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and the analysis after this weekend’s Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader is no different.

Here’s some of the cool nuggets and/or trends that have emerged following the weekend’s action around the M.D Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park.

The stats reveal one thing: After a ridiculously competitive 2013, 2014 has only carried that over.

  • 16 podium finishers: The three rookies that bagged their first podiums in Houston, Carlos Huertas, Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth, upped the number of podium finishers to 16 this year. Through 10 races in 2013, there were 14 podium finishers; that number grew to 20 by the end of the year. The seven full-timers who haven’t yet: Ryan Briscoe, James Hinchcliffe, Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Saavedra, Takuma Sato and Josef Newgarden. The potential exists at least five of those seven could get one in the final eight races, and beat the 20 mark to hit 21 or more.
  • Number of different winners tracking on par: Through 10 races last year, we had seven different winners. Through 10 this year… we have seven different winners once more. Those who have won in both years: Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway, Simon Pagenaud, and Helio Castroneves. New additions for 2014 are Ed Carpenter and Carlos Huertas, replacing Hinchcliffe and Sato. Last year there were 10 different winners in total; the record in a single season is 11.
  • Top-10 finishing droughts: Eight drivers: Scott Dixon, Power, Saavedra, Sato, Conway, Newgarden, Graham Rahal and Luca Filippi didn’t finish in the top 10 in either Houston race. Saavedra hasn’t bagged a top-10 since Round 2 at Long Beach; it’s been since Round 3 for Newgarden at Barber, and Round 4 for Sato at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
  • RHR, Andretti and Power’s qualifying outage: Both Power and Hunter-Reay need to recapture their qualifying magic. In the first five races, both drivers had four top-five starts apiece. Since, Power’s Texas pole is the only combined top-five start between them. The grid spots the last 5 races: Power: 16, 8, 1, 18, 18; RHR’s: 21, 21, 12, 8, 21. Continuing the theme of “bad five-race qualifying stretch,” take a look at Marco Andretti’s last five grid spots: 18, 18, 17, 16, 16.
  • Hinch’s odd stat continues: Hat tip to The Set-Up Sheet’s Steve Wittich who discovered this first, but Hinchcliffe has yet to finish better than he’s started this year, and that dubious stat continued through Houston despite finishes of fifth and 14th. The driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda has eight top-10 starts in 10 races this year, including five P2 grid spots. Helio Castroneves leads the field with nine top-10 starts in 10 races.
  • Huertas/Kimball no top-10 starts: Huertas and Charlie Kimball are the only two full-time drivers without a top-10 start thus far in 10 races. Huertas has started 12th on two occasions; Kimball’s best is 13th, set in Houston race one.
  • Pagenaud mirrors one streak as two more continue: Pagenaud joins Dixon as the only two drivers to set fastest race lap in back-to-back races. Meanwhile, through 10 races, no polesitter has won a race this year, and no driver has won back-to-back races.
  • First big margin of victory: Pagenaud’s 7.2622-second margin of victory over teammate Aleshin is the first this season in IndyCar north of 1.9 seconds.
  • Two wins, two liveries: Pagenaud’s also won driving two different liveries in the same year, with blue, white and orange on his No. 77 Oculus Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda at the GP of Indy, while now he’s won in orange Oculus colors this weekend. The last driver to do that was Helio Castroneves in 2012 (Shell No. 3 red/yellow St. Petersburg, Penske Truck Rental yellow Edmonton).
  • More cautions: Houston’s two races produced six (race one) and five (race 2) cautions. The six in race one is a season-high thus far; 24 laps for race one is also the most. Unsurprisingly, as a result, these two races produced the lowest winner average speeds this year (70.389 mph race one, 78.981 race 2).
  • Barber, Houston 1 end in common: Barber and Houston share the unfortunate commonality of being two rain/time shortened races, and also the only two races that have ended under yellow.

Pirelli nominates soft, medium, hard tires for British GP

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2015 in Northampton, England.
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July’s British Grand Prix will feature Pirelli’s three hardest compounds – like Spain next weekend – with the tire manufacturer confirming the soft, medium and hard compounds for Silverstone.

The British GP nominations come on the heels of the Austrian GP nominations, where Pirelli will run its ultrasoft, supersoft and soft compounds.

That will tie for the biggest race-to-race tire compound change this season. From Spain to Monaco later this month, there will be the step from the same soft/medium/hard combination to the ultrasoft/supersoft/soft run. The ultrasofts – Pirelli’s new ultra sticky, short-life compound – make their race weekend debut in Monaco.

Arrivabene: Ferrari not giving up on F1 titles in 2016

during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 16, 2016 in Shanghai, China.
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Ferrari Formula 1 chief Maurizio Arrivabene is refusing to give up on either the drivers’ or constructors’ championships in 2016 despite the Italian marque’s poor start to the season.

Ferrari entered 2016 hoping to challenge Mercedes for both titles and end its recent run of dominance, only to score just 76 points in the first four races – less than half the total of its rival – and suffer a number of issues on its car.

Nico Rosberg has won all four of the opening races and enjoys a 43-point advantage over the field, with leading Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen sitting a further 14 points behind.

However, Arrivabene is refusing to give up on the titles, believing that anything is possible with 17 races still to run.

“If I have to define the championship, we love the fight,” Arrivabene told the official F1 website. “We are looking for big challenges! What has happened is part of the DNA of racing.

“I don’t think things can be explained as bad luck. There are mostly human mistakes behind the story. I prefer to have these kind of problems now instead later in the season.

“But of course we need to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Concerning the championship: we are not giving up! The team won’t give up and we will put all our energy from now on into the next 17 races!

“There are still 425 points to be taken. So by only winning the next five races everything is wide open again.

“Nothing is lost and we’re not giving up!”

Arrivabene is confident that the recent updates made to the Ferrari power unit will give the team a boost heading into the European leg of the season, starting next weekend in Spain.

“I trust that our performance is much better than what we’ve shown until now,” Arrivabene said.

“The characteristics of the tracks that are coming now, and because of the tokens that we’ve spent, will help us.

“Of course the others are not sleeping or waiting for us, so we have to fight.”

Verstappen: Surprise Red Bull promotion ‘an amazing opportunity’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29:  Max Verstappen of Scuderia Toro Rosso and The Netherlands during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen called his surprise promotion to a race seat at Red Bull Racing for the Spanish Grand Prix “an amazing opportunity” following the team’s announcement on Thursday.

Verstappen, 18, has made a significant impact on Formula 1 since becoming the youngest driver in the history of the series last year when he made his debut with Toro Rosso.

Following Daniil Kvyat’s calamitous start to last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, Red Bull took the decision to demote him back to Toro Rosso as of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Verstappen moves up to Red Bull in place of the Russian, marking his first opportunity to race with a top line team in F1.

“The next step in my relatively short career so far is an amazing opportunity,” Verstappen wrote on his official website.

“I really want to thank Red Bull Racing and Dr. Helmut Marko for the confidence they have in me. I’ll have the chance to learn a lot from the top team that is Red Bull Racing.

“I’m also looking forward to work with an experienced and proven team mate like Daniel Ricciardo.

“I can’t thank all the people at Scuderia Toro Rosso enough for all their hard work. Everyone back at the factory in Faenza, and Franz Tost in particular, have made an amazing contribution to get me this far in my career. We’ve had an amazing time together.

“Together with Red Bull Racing we’ll do everything to prepare me as best as possible for my first laps in the RB12 Tag Heuer, next week in Barcelona. I cannot wait for that special moment to happen.”

Verstappen will fly to Red Bull’s factory in Milton Keynes, England later this week for a seat fitting before completing some simulator work and getting to know the team ahead of his debut in Spain on May 15.

Vote in our poll below whether you love or hate the move.

Verstappen promoted to Red Bull, Kvyat back at Toro Rosso from Spanish GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Scuderia Toro Rosso talks with Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko in the Paddock ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Red Bull has announced that Max Verstappen will take the place of Daniil Kvyat at its senior Formula 1 team for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Verstappen, 18, swaps seats with Kvyat, who returns to Toro Rosso – Red Bull’s junior team – having made his debut with the Italian outfit back in 2014.

Kvyat came under fire following the Russian Grand Prix after hitting Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel twice on the first lap and ruining teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s race.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and team advisor Helmut Marko had face-to-face talks with Kvyat this week, before taking the decision to demote him to Toro Rosso.

“Red Bull Racing will have a new driver line-up from the Spanish Grand Prix,” a statement from Red Bull read.

“Max Verstappen will be joining the team to drive alongside Daniel Ricciardo. Daniil Kvyat will continue to drive for Red Bull and will re-join sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso.”

Horner was pleased to give Verstappen the opportunity to race for the senior Red Bull team after an impressive rookie season in 2015.

“Max has proven to be an outstanding young talent,” Horner said.

“His performance at Toro Rosso has been impressive so far and we are pleased to give him the opportunity to drive for Red Bull Racing.

“We are in the unique position to have all four drivers across Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso under long term contracts with Red Bull, so we have the flexibility to move them between the two teams.

“Dany will be able to continue his development at Toro Rosso, in a team that he is familiar with, giving him the chance to regain his form and show his potential.”

The immediate response to the news was that of shock, given that barring his errors in Russia, Kvyat has enjoyed a strong stint with Red Bull.

The Russian beat the highly-rated Ricciardo across their first year together as teammates in 2015, and charged to third place in China just three weeks ago for his second podium finish in F1.

Red Bull has been known to make cut-throat decisions in the past though, with the likes of Jean-Eric Vergne, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Sebastien Bourdais all being dropped from the energy drinks giant’s F1 programme in the past.

Bourdais was the last driver to be replaced mid-season in the RBR/STR setup, dropping the Champ Car legend after the 2009 German Grand Prix.

Verstappen now has the chance to prove his mettle and make the best of a top-line seat, but at just 18 years old, he still has plenty to learn.

As for Kvyat? It is difficult to see where his F1 career goes from here, at least with Red Bull. The sport is enjoying a boom in Russia and he is the face of it, yet being sent back to the ‘training ground’ of Red Bull is nothing short of humiliating.

Time will tell whether this was a canny move by Red Bull or a snap decision all parties will come to regret.

Vote in our poll below whether you love or hate the move.