F1 Grand Prix of China - Practice

Q&A with Force India’s Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez’s Formula 1 career appeared to be down in the doldrums last November. Having signed him just one year earlier, McLaren confirmed that the Mexican would be dropped at the end of the season in favor of rookie Kevin Magnussen. After such a rapid rise in his first three years in the sport, his career had come to a crossroads.

Force India came to the rescue, handing him a lifeline and a seat for 2014, and he has since proven his worth. In Bahrain, Checo scored the team’s first podium finish in five years, and he has produced a number of impressive displays in his first eight races for the team.

Ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix, MotorSportsTalk sat down with Perez to talk about his season so far, life at Force India, his thoughts on McLaren and how he would change the sport if he could.

You had a really good race in Austria, do you feel it made up for what happened in Canada? 

SP: Yeah, in a way, of course, but a bit unfortunate though that we had the penalty. I felt like we could have fought for more positions in the race. A bit unfortunate of course but we look forward for more. I think in the last two races we had the pace to fight for the podium, and now Silverstone I expect to be a bit different. It will be interesting to see what we can do around this place.

Different in what way? Harder?

SP: Harder because of the track layout. It has a lot of high speed corners, and that makes this place difficult for us because high speed hasn’t been our best strength in the last couple of races, here in a high speed circuit, I don’t expect great things.

Your drive through the field in Austria must give you confidence for future races if you have a difficult situation in qualifying or another grid penalty that you can fight back through. 

SP: Yeah of course, this gives you a good boost, so we need to keep pushing, keep delivering and we need points. The tight battle between us, McLaren, Williams… it’s going to be very intense and long, so we need to deliver weekend after weekend a lot of points.

And do you feel that you’re really on top of the tires at the moment?

SP: Yeah I know what to do, we know as a team what we have to do, so that gives me good confidence.

And compared to last year, obviously you were struggling with the McLaren car, and this year you’ve come to Force India and the results have improved. It must be quite a strange thing given that McLaren is such a big team, but it must also be pretty pleasing for you. 

SP: Of course. I think I came at the worst time to a team like McLaren where they were going downhill instead of uphill, so that made my adaptation to the team very difficult because we had an extremely difficult car. For the first half of the season we spent every Friday to Saturday with completely new car, so it was very difficult to adapt to that car. Pretty unfortunate, but I’m very happy here at Force India.

So would you say it’s a blessing in disguise that you got this move to Force India?

SP: Yeah definitely, yeah of course. I’m thankful that this happened.

Do you think that you’re proving a few people at McLaren wrong?

SP: I don’t feel that, I feel I’m making my team happy. It’s all that I care about, I want to make this team happy, I want to give my best possible job to the team.

And looking at what is going on at McLaren at the moment, again they’re not having a great season, there’s talk of Jenson Button retiring at the end of the year, a new driver going there… Do you have any thoughts on what is going on there? Are there still problems lingering from last season do you think?

SP: The recovery is not easy. We had a bad season last year. The rules changed a lot so everyone expected McLaren to be up there and that they should be doing a lot better than they are. Right now, I don’t know what’s going on inside the team so I don’t want to comment anything. All I know is from last year, so I don’t know really. All you know is all you read in the media, although I have good friends at McLaren. We don’t speak much about racing. Some people inside McLaren tell me sometimes what is going on, but if I’m honest I’m not very interested. I want to focus on my team.

Talking about recovery, Sauber, your old team is really having a tough season. It must be a bit difficult to see given the time you spent there?

SP: Yeah of course that’s very sad for a team like Sauber who is financially struggling so much and facing such tough times right now. They really need a good boost. Last year was already very difficult for them, but I think Nico [Hulkenberg] had an extremely good second half of the season, so that helped them so maybe this year something like that can happen for them.

You mentioned Nico then, you’re eight races into your career at Force India, how is the relationship with him?

SP: Yeah we have a good relationship. We work well together. We are doing a great job for the team and the team is happy, so I think the best is going to come. From now, we have to deliver every single weekend. I had many issues at the beginning of the season, and now it’s the time that we need to deliver every single point that we possibly can.

And do you feel that you’re learning anything from him and vice versa? 

SP: Nico is definitely the strongest teammate I ever had in Formula 1, a very complete driver. He has taken the best out of me. I’m very happy that I had a teammate like him who is pushing me and I believe I am also pushing him, so happy to work with him.

Is this the happiest you’ve been in F1 do you think? Are you now in your best place?

SP: The best place you can be is where you’re winning, but certainly I feel comfortable here. The team believes in me and that’s a big boost. We have great spirit as a team, a very hungry team for winning and for success. That makes me very happy. They let me do my job, they support me and as a driver that’s the best thing you can have.

In terms of the rest of the season for you, have you got any main targets? More podiums? 

SP: Yeah I’d like to score some more podiums, and I believe we can do it as a team, so hopefully in the next races we can score a podium.

And what step would need to be made for you to win a race with Force India? 

SP: Mercedes is quite far [ahead]. We need something like happened in Canada, where we were so close to the win. Nico was having some problems, so I was just running second, but then we had the brake by wire failure. That made my race very difficult. Then I had the clash with Felipe [Massa]. So yeah I think we need to close the gap a bit more to Mercedes, and be in that position, get a bit lucky, and then we can dream of a victory.

Have you and Felipe spoken about that incident yet? We obviously saw in Austria they re-opened the inquiry, and there was a lot of tension between you guys. 

SP: We spoke with the stewards, but we haven’t spoken afterwards.

But to you it’s in the past, done with?

SP: Yes to me it’s done.

Does it bother you when fellow drivers criticize you or do you just move on? 

SP: I moved on. Of course, you don’t expect that kind of things to go around, making a big deal. It is what it is, we have to move on.

There’s talk of Monza being cut from F1. As a driver, that mustn’t be good?

SP: Yeah that would be a big loss for Formula 1. Monza is one of the best grands prix, more historic, and that will be very bad for the fans as well.

And with standing starts, I don’t know your position on that but I think a lot of the drivers have expressed their dismay over this.

SP: It’s a bit unfortunate that we’re having this, but as well at the same place we have to look forward for Formula 1. We need to create more interest in the races and I think Formula 1 is looking for a way to make it more entertaining, and I think the best way to make it entertaining is to give opportunities to more teams to fight for victories. We all know who’s going to win on Sunday, 99%, unless something happens, so this makes F1 very boring. We need more teams in front. Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, teams that are capable of doing that, but you need to give the resources, ask them to come down a bit.

The rules don’t need to change so much, that stabilizes everything, so everyone can do a good job. Of course you will always have teams coming on top like Mercedes, big teams, but you need to close the gap. For example, 2012 with seven different winners happen in the first seven races – it was amazing for F1. So hopefully something like that can happen for the future.

Do you think the rule makers can discuss these ideas more with the drivers and the fans before they jump in and say “this is what is going to happen”?

SP: I think we all have to put our bit into the sport. We all live on this, and we all want to be one of the best sports in the world, which it is, but we need to keep pushing and keep putting in good ideas to make the race on Sunday very competitive, very tight, and spectacular for the fans.

We’ve also got skid blocks coming back to make some sparks, what’s your view on that is that too artificial, do we need it?

SP: Yeah, I think that’s too artificial for Formula 1. We don’t need those things. This sport is good enough itself to sell itself to the world. This is something extra. It doesn’t hurt Formula 1, it doesn’t hurt anyone, so why not? I’m not against it, but what I’m against is the fact that there is too big a difference between the teams, and I don’t think that’s good enough for Formula 1.

So maybe the budget cap that was discussed?

SP: Yes maybe that will help, and also the rules to establish more the rules and don’t change them too much so that teams can close the gap between each other and also help the smaller-medium teams like Force India, Sauber, Williams to raise their games and be in the same level.

Is this something you and the other drivers talk about and is it worth the GPDA maybe going to the FIA and putting your thoughts forwards?

SP: No, we don’t. Every driver has different interests. The ones that are running in the big teams, they want obviously a big margin to the medium teams, and that’s very normal. Because I love Formula 1, I want this sport to keep succeeding for the next generations and stuff. I think we need more teams able to win, and more teams able to fight for podiums. It was great to see Williams on the podium after so long, it was great to see Force India on the podium after so long – we need more of that.

You talk about loving the sport so much, so if there was one thing you could change about the sport, what would that be?

SP: In my opinion, we need this [cost cut]. I really hate that one team is winning every race as a fan, I’m talking as a fan right now. I don’t like that as a fan. I mean, of course every single driver would love to be in the position of Lewis and Nico, having a team that is dominating. But as a fan I don’t like that because it just gets boring. I like to see a couple of teams fighting for the victory, and I think you can do that with reducing the budget gap and also establishing a bit more the rules, and a bit more what you can do on the cars.

In the future it will be great to have Force India, Williams, Sauber fighting against a team like Mercedes. I’m not saying that Force India has to be a champion, but it would be great if they had the opportunity to at least fight for a big result, like one victory, something like that. It’s a big boost for Formula 1, not only for the team but it’s also a boost for Formula 1 to have these kind of results.

Ferrari flop: F1’s famous red cars expected better in 2016

during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Ferrari expected much better than this in 2016.

After ending last season with three wins and promises of pulling closer to Mercedes, Ferrari instead slid backward.

There have been no victories, just one podium finish in the last nine races and Ferrari is once again fending off questions about discord within Formula One’s most popular team.

Just look at last weekend’s race at the U.S. Grand Prix: After a disappointing qualifying in which both drivers started on the third row, Sebastian Vettel finished fourth and Kimi Raikkonen didn’t finish at all when he was forced to return to the garage after leaving a pit stop with an improperly attached wheel.

Judged by race officials as an unsafe release, Ferrari was hit with a fine. Seeing sparks fly as he pulled away, Raikkonen put the car in reverse for a humiliating return drive back downhill as Ferrari slipped further behind Red Bull for second place in the team championship, which it hasn’t won since 2008.

“Far from ideal” is how the deadpan Raikkonen summed it up.

The same could be said about Ferrari’s entire season as Formula One heads to the Mexican Grand Prix this weekend.

Ferrari landed in Mexico last season full of optimism. Vettel’s had scored the non-Mercedes wins all year. He was a regular on the podium and Ferrari was cruising toward a second-place finish in the constructor’s championship.

There’s been none of the same confidence this year. The Ferrari drivers – both former world champions – have made more noise with their mouths than their cars, with Vettel complaining about slow drivers and he and Raikkonen both criticizing the defensive tactics of Red Bull’s brash Dutch teenager Max Verstappen as dangerous.

Luca Baldisseri, Ferrari’s former chief engineer who left the team after last season, caused a stir around Formula One before the U.S. Grand Prix when he told Italian media that Ferrari leadership had created a “climate of fear.”

“They are no longer a team, but a group of frightened people,” Baldiserri said.

Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene dismisses external criticism.

“It’s an old story. Ferrari in Italy is like the Italian football national team. I think pressure is normal, having tension is normal, having criticism is normal, so you have to live with that. Then, sometimes it’s going too far,” Arrivabene said.

“This is part of the job … if you work for a brand like Ferrari, you have to accept all of this, like it or not. The atmosphere inside the house is completely different to what people thought about, or what you are reading sometimes in the newspaper.”

To be fair, Ferrari is far from the panic that had set in in 2014 when Mercedes blew everyone away with their new V6 turbo hybrid engines. Ferrari had scrapped its way back to best-of-the-rest in 2015, making this season’s results so frustrating.

And Red Bull’s resurgence has some thinking that’s the team to knock off Mercedes in 2017. Red Bull teammates Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo have the only non-Mercedes win this year and those two are considered likely contenders for future world titles.

Ferrari hasn’t won a driver’s championship since Raikkonen in 2007 and the last time it was seriously in the hunt was 2012 with Fernando Alonso. The pairing of Raikkonen with Vettel, who won four titles with Red Bull, gives Ferrari a powerful 1-2 punch behind the wheel if they can get competitive cars.

Vettel is under contract with Ferrari through next season and said he won’t think about starting negotiations until after this season is finished.

“I don’t think it’s important to look into details as such,” Vettel said. “My contract is all fine for next year.”

The Mexican Grand Prix at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was not a good experience for Ferrari in 2015.

Brimming with confidence from a good drive in Texas his team’s season-long surge, Vettel qualified third but was knocked back by a tire puncture on the first lap, then knocked out when aggressive driving led to a late crash. Raikkonen also didn’t finish after breaking a real axle in a bump with Williams driver Valterri Bottas.

It was the first time since 2006 that both Ferrari cars failed to finish a race.

Column: Should NHRA get with the times to grow sport? (Also, vote in poll)

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Drag racing has been one of the biggest motorsport passions of my life.

Ever since the first time I went to the now-defunct U.S. 30 Dragstrip in northwest Indiana – with the famous loud and echoing radio liner, “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, at beautiful U.S. 30 Dragstrip, where the GREAT ONES Runnnnnnn!” – in the early 1970s, I’ve been a big fan of the quarter-mile.

(By the way, for those in the Midwest who remember U.S. 30, which closed nearly 30 years ago, efforts are under way to bring it back. But I digress.)

As a reporter, I’ve covered drag racing since the early 1980s. I still get as excited today following the sport as I did back then.

But … and you probably figured a but was coming.

While the changes Peter Clifford has brought about since becoming NHRA president nearly a year and a half ago have been very positive, I’m troubled by something – and some of those in the sport as well as a number of fans feel the same way.

For background, the NHRA was founded in 1951 in Southern California by the late Wally Parks. When NHRA began holding large national events in the 1960s, it became almost a standard element that race weekends lasted three or four days. And five or six days when it came to the biggest race of the year, the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day Weekend near Indianapolis.

I’ve long heard – and continue to hear today – from numerous past and present NHRA officials that they will never NOT race on Sundays. That was non-negotiable, by Parks’ edict.

But as the 2016 season has gone by, and with just two races remaining (this weekend in Las Vegas and Nov. 10-13 in Pomona, California), I’ve noticed things that are making me wonder whether additional change to the structure and even tradition of the sport is necessary to make it grow even more.

And that means potentially changing long-held practices like mandatory racing on Sundays.

Please indulge me explanation:

This season started out stronger than most other seasons since perhaps the mid-to-late 1990s. A new TV deal with Fox Sports 1 offered promise of greater visibility and reach. And more fans were coming out to race tracks from Pomona to Gainesville, and from Indianapolis to Sonoma.

But over the last few months, things have begun to regress, including TV ratings. Also since August, NHRA has laid off several employees. Other sanctioning body employees have left on their own.

One thing I take pride in is talking regularly with not only officials of the sanctioning body but also drivers, team owners and team officials to see what’s happening in the sport.

NHRA teams are not like their NASCAR counterparts. They don’t have $20 to $30 million budgets. They don’t have as many well-heeled sponsors. Money is seemingly always tight.

Thus far this season, there have been four sellouts (and two other near-sellouts) on Saturdays at various NHRA national events. That’s quite admirable and commendable. To see the stands packed on Saturday at the U.S. Nationals outside Indianapolis for the first time in years this past September brought a huge smile to my face.

But of all the 24 races on the schedule, there has been just one full sellout of final eliminations on Sundays (at Sonoma).

While it’s great to have sellouts for qualifying on Saturday, a lot of those same fans don’t come back to watch the best part of the show on the following day – who winds up winning the event in their respective classes. Part of the reason is fans can’t pay the additional cost to return Sunday, they have to travel back home, etc.

One other thing that continues to be a big fan lure is when NHRA pro qualifying is held at night. It’s one of the best fireworks shows you’ll ever see, with flames spewing from engine headers and sparks shooting out when the cars bottom out on the track and more.

In light of the significant recent TV ratings drops, and at-track attendance taking a hit on recent Sundays when NHRA goes up against the NFL or MLB, I think it might be astute for NHRA to do some significant schedule adjustments going forward.

NHRA says it would prefer to keep weekends at the same length, says Terry Blount, NHRA Vice President of Public Relations:

Every event is subject to review at the end of the season, which we do every year. However, we believe our events work well as three-days shows. It allows our fans the option of buying full-event tickets or choosing a day that works best for them and their family.”

This is the first season in a decade where NHRA has seen sellout crowds and near sellouts at many of our events, including fall races during football season. And our attendance is up overall from a year ago, along with the incredible increase in our TV ratings for our first season on FOX Sports. It’s an indication to all of us that NHRA is trending upward and truly is the fastest growing motorsport in America.

With that, I’ll pose three questions to you, the fans, and I’d love to get your feedback in comments below this story:

1) Is it really necessary to have four qualifying rounds split over two days, and then a third day for final eliminations?

2) Might it be more affordable for fans and teams to have NHRA cut several – if not the majority – three-day race weekends to two, with one day dedicated to, say, three qualifying runs and the second day would be four final elimination rounds?

3) Do you agree that night qualifying – and potentially a few final elimination rounds run at night – would present a show that would enhance the NHRA’s popularity – not to mention become a great lure to bring more fans to the track or in front of their TVs?

Let’s hear your thoughts and we’ll potentially have a follow-up column soon.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Here are your Mexican Grand Prix times on NBC, NBCSN

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The Mexican Grand Prix runs this weekend from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

As with most races, FP1 and FP3 will be run on NBCSports.com via live stream, with FP2, qualifying and the race televised live in their entireties.

Mexico shifts its clocks back one hour at 2 a.m. local time on Sunday for Daylight Savings Time, so although the time in Mexico City is still the same time zone as U.S. Central Time, it is not actually the same time.

The race rolls off at 1 p.m. local time in Mexico City, which is 2 p.m. CT and 3 p.m. ET in the U.S.

A full breakdown of times and details are below:


Hamilton continued his dominance at Circuit of the Americas in the United States Grand Prix this past Sunday, taking the checkered flag for the fourth time in five races at the venue since 2012. Hamilton gained seven points on Rosberg, who finished in second place and now holds a 26-point lead with three races remaining. This Sunday’s race will have significant implications on the outcome of the 2016 championship, and Rosberg has an outside chance to clinch the title if he wins the race and Hamilton finishes worse than 10th. Rosberg won last year’s Mexican Grand Prix, while Hamilton finished in second place.

Live coverage begins exclusively on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app on Friday at Noon ET with Practice 1, followed by NBCSN’s live coverage of Practice 2 at 3 p.m. ET. Streaming coverage on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app continues with Practice 3 on Saturday at Noon ET, followed by qualifying on NBCSN at 2 p.m. ET.

Live Mexican Grand Prix race coverage begins Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC with F1 Countdown, and F1 Extra will recap the Mexican Grand Prix on NBC at 5 p.m. ET. NBCSN will air an encore presentation of the race on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Lead play-by-play announcer Leigh Diffey will call this weekend’s action, and will be joined by veteran analyst and former racecar driver David Hobbs, and analyst and former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team Steve Matchett. Townsend Bell will sub for F1 insider Will Buxton on-site from Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City.

In addition to this week’s live motorsports coverage, NBCSN continues its weekly Thursday Night Motorsports Block tomorrow, with a two-hour block of Grudge Race beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Tomorrow’s motorsports coverage also features a Mecum Top 10 marathon which begins at Noon ET.

Following is this week’s NBC Sports Group motorsports coverage schedule:

Fri., October 28 F1 Mexican Grand Prix – Practice 1 Streaming Noon
Off The Grid NBCSN 2:30 p.m.
F1 Mexican Grand Prix – Practice 2 NBCSN 3 p.m.
Sat., October 29 F1 Mexican Grand Prix – Practice 3 Streaming 6:30 p.m.
F1 Mexican Grand Prix – Qualifying NBCSN 2 p.m.
Sun., October 30 F1 Countdown NBC 2:30 p.m.
F1 Mexican Grand Prix NBC 3 p.m.
F1 Extra NBC 5 p.m.
F1 Mexican Grand Prix (Encore) NBCSN 7:30 p.m.

Astronaut has different kind of out of this world experience in an Indy car

HOUSTON, TX  - MARCH 4: NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly speaks to the media after returning from a one year mission in space aboard the International Space Station, at the Johnson Space Center March 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas. Kelly's his record-breaking yearlong mission was intended to provide critical data to understand how to keep astronauts healthy during long space voyages.  (Photo by Eric Kayne/Getty Images)
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Retired astronaut Cmdr. Scott Kelly has had a number of out of this world experiences, particularly serving three stints on the International Space Station.

There’s not much that can top that.

But to hear Kelly tell it, his recent visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and taking a ride around the legendary 2.5-mile oval in a two-seat Indy car – may have come pretty close.

Kelly and NASA PR rep Amiko Kauderer both took to Twitter to tout their respective rides that day, along with another tweet from IMS president Doug Boles.

Check them out:

Follow @JerryBonkowski