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.

Hamilton: Reliability issues pattern a concerning element

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in the post qualifying press conference during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton believes that the reliability problems he has encountered on his Mercedes car so far this season are developing into a pattern, rather than simple mistakes, after encountering yet another setback in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton arrived in Monaco trailing Mercedes teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg by 43 points, and is without a win since last October’s United States Grand Prix.

After suffering failures on his engine during qualifying in both China and Russia, Hamilton looked set to be sidelined once again when he stopped in the pit lane at the start of Q3 in Monaco.

Mercedes confirmed that Hamilton’s car had a fuel pressure problem, but fixed it in time for him to complete one flying lap run towards the end of the session, qualifying third.

Hamilton was downbeat after qualifying when speaking to NBCSN, hinting that if he continually made errors as Mercedes was doing, it would not be accepted.

“Acceptable? I don’t know whether that’s for me to say,” Hamilton said.

“Of course, if I was messing up my laps every time, perhaps they’d say that’s not acceptable.

“But I really don’t know what to say at the moment. Honestly, it’s not a great feeling right now. I’m just trying to keep myself together.

“We’re getting further and further into the championship with more and more problems.

“This is becoming a norm for me.”

Hamilton was then asked by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton: “At what point does this stop being about mistakes and start being something that’s deeper that you need to as a team get on top of?”

“I think it’s already at that point personally,” Hamilton replied.

“For me, personally, it’s not a good feeling right now.

“The other car just keeps going, and going, and going. And for whatever reasons…

“I was quickest today. The weekend’s gone great. Just when it counts, something seems to happen quite often.

“But I’m sure we will regroup and shoot the s**t and try and figure it out.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Castroneves still chasing fourth Indianapolis 500 victory

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Helio Castroneves #3 of Brazil watches alongside owner Roger Penske during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Trying to persuade Helio Castroneves to rank his three Indianapolis 500 victories is tantamount to asking an adoring mother or father to rank their children in order of affection.

Ask him what it would be like to win a record-tying fourth – at the 100th running of the iconic race Sunday and on the 50th anniversary of Penske Racing – it is impossible for Castroneves to deny: It would mean more than any other victory in an open-wheel career spanning nearly two decades.

“It’s a special number,” he said. “It’s something bigger.”

The road to immortality began in 2001, when as a rookie he weathered a lengthy rain delay and a battle with Gil de Ferran to first get his face engraved on the Borg-Warner Trophy. He took a victory lap and then parked on the yard of bricks, climbing up the catch-fence with several crew members in a wild celebration.

He made the same climb the following year, when a crash just before Paul Tracy passed Castroneves on the 199th lap gave him the victory. There were protests and appeals hearings, and many still believe Tracy deserved to win the race, even though Castroneves had the victory officially upheld that July.

There was no such controversy seven years later.

Two months after he was acquitted of federal charges of tax evasion and conspiracy, he won the race from the pole position in dominant fashion, never allowing Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick to make a run.

Three victories in less than a decade.

It’s almost hard to fathom he’s been chasing No. 4 for so long.

“The good news is we’re here. We’re pushing,” said Castroneves, who will start outside on the third row Sunday. “We’re finding every inch in the track to make sure that we can make it happen.”

For all his wins, there have been just as many near-misses.

Castroneves was leading the 2003 race with about 30 laps to go when de Ferran passed him, the two of them eventually giving Team Penske another 1-2 finish. He finished third behind Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon four years later, and was fourth in 2008, when Dixon drove to victory after a late restart.

None of those was as painful as two years ago.

After a late wreck had brought out a red flag, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti joined Castroneves in a high-speed game of musical chairs. Castroneves took the lead with two laps to go as Andretti began to fade, only for Hunter-Reay to overcome him on the final lap. Castroneves made one more move, coming out of the last corner, but wound up second by 0.0600 seconds – the second-closest finish in race history.

“Listen, every time we don’t win, that’s part of the sport, but you remember it for a long time,” Castroneves said with a brave smile. “The team does not have a short memory. They always remember the success. But I remember the ones that I didn’t get. They hurt more.”

The fact that he could smile about a defeat, even if it was merely a facade, is one of the reasons he’s been so successful. The Brazilian’s effervescent personality permeates Gasoline Alley, and the perpetual optimism that he carries onto the speedway has allowed him to overcome plenty of misfortune.

“He’s got this spark when he drives. You see it sometimes,” said Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud. “He has that something special, for sure. His spirit makes him so he doesn’t give up. He believes he can.”

That personality may rub some the wrong way, but it’s also made Castroneves plenty of fans.

“He behaves like a 22-year-old. He’s such a good spirit,” Pagenaud said. “It’s inspiring.”

Castroneves is back this weekend in Roger Penske’s renowned “Yellow Submarine” car that he nearly won in two years ago, and that Rick Mears made famous in the 1980s. And if he can guide it to victory lane Sunday, he will join Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser in the exclusive club of four-time winners.

That mere thought made Castroneves reminisce about his first trip to Indianapolis.

“I came here to do something, an appearance, and I came to the track but I went to the museum – that’s as far as I went,” he said. “I remember touching the trophy and said, `One day, my face will be on here.”‘

Three times and counting.

Horner lauds Ricciardo for ‘dynamite’ Monaco pole lap

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates his pole position in parc ferme during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner heaped praise upon Daniel Ricciardo following his charge to pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday.

Ricciardo claimed Red Bull’s first pole position since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix with a stunning final lap in Q3, beating the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

“Amazing. That first lap? Mighty!” Horner is quoted as saying by the official F1 website.

“The first two laps in Q3 were just dynamite. He has been driving sensationally all weekend – just so clean, and the lap times just rolled together for him.

“It’s a great moment for him with his first pole – and for us, with our first pole since 2013. A great way to start the weekend.”

The result also marked Ricciardo’s first pole position in F1, although he has claimed three grand prix victories across the course of his career.

However, it was far from being a perfect qualifying for Red Bull as Spanish Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen crashed out in Q1, leaving him 21st on the grid for tomorrow’s race.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

CK crew, trio of Brabham cars highlight PIRTEK Team Murray’s week

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Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray
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Following extensive training and preparation, the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation CK Crew made their debut in Friday’s TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge. The result wasn’t the end goal on the day, and having been stuck in the troublesome right lane of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway pit lane that almost no one won from didn’t make it any easier.

Still though, rookie Matthew Brabham and the No. 61 PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet team led by Brett “Crusher” Murray fully enjoyed the experience.

The pit stop competition was not the first cool thing the team did this week.

Brabham with all 3 cars. Photo: IndyCar
Brabham with all 3 cars. Photo: IndyCar

Earlier, three cars from three generations of Brabhams – the Brabhams are the third third generation family to compete at Indianapolis along with Andrettis and Vukoviches – were assembled on the yard of bricks. A video about that is below:

Meanwhile, the team release and an assortment of photos from Friday are below:

Matt Brabham has completed final preparations for the 100th Indianapolis 500 Friday afternoon, whilst PIRTEK Team Murray’s rookie pit crew of military and first responders brought the crowd to its feet when it entered pitlane flying the American flag.

Brabham got through the one hour practice without drama despite the only major incident in the session – a spin from Pippa Mann – happening directly in front of him.

He was able to work through race simulations and build upon his racecraft among traffic ahead of Sunday’s race, whilst also working on heavy fuel loads.

The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation CK Crew were crowd favorites as they walked to the #61 PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet. The team – who have trained for the last week in Indianapolis at Pitfit Training with Jim Leo – came together from military and first responder backgrounds around America.

They drew the American flag from their fire suits and proudly waved it in front of the huge Miller Lite Carb Day crowd. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment in association with the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation drew the CK Crew together to highlight the work of the Foundation and promote the American Sniper – Chris Kyle Commemorative Edition Blu-Ray that went on sale this May.

Up against Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport, they put in one of their best stops of the practice week, however Hunter-Reay got away slightly better than Brabham and crossed the line first.

The team were valiant in their efforts and walked away proud of what they had achieved during the week and created lifelong friendships – while also bringing awareness to the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and the work it is doing to enhance military and first responder marriages.

Saturday, Brabham continues the round of rookie media presentations, a special photograph of the 33 drivers with Indianapolis 500 veterans. He will then transfer downtown for the annual parade.

Then on Sunday, he will take the start in the 100th Indianapolis 500.

“Carb Day final practice was great, I was just getting comfortable in the car and trying a few things and avoiding crashes basically! It was a tight one out there with Pippa she was right in front of me when she went off, so that was a bit interesting,” Brabham said.

“I was comfortable out there and getting used to everything. Everyone was checking up, I was getting used to how it was – speeding up and working on racecraft ahead of Sunday. It was enjoyable.

The weather should be similar. We got a really good good read on everything. So I will go back with the PIRTEK Team Murray crew, work through the data and everything else and have it sorted out for the race.”


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Preparation process. All photos; PIRTEK Team Murray

“I’m so proud of the efforts of all the CK Crew team that came together for the Pit Stop Challenge,” said Taya Kyle, executive director, Chris Kyle Frog Foundation.

“To bring all of them together from such different backgrounds, but all having done so much for our country and develop them into the teamthey became was amazing.

“The Challenge didn’t go our way, but they’ve all had an awesome time, worked their butts off, learnt some new skills and along the way created some new friendships.

“The thing that stood out for Chris above all else when attending the races was the pit crew – their strength, precision and teamwork. He likened it to his SEAL training, which is how the idea for the pit crew came together.

“I can’t thank all of them enough, along with PIRTEK Team Murray, Warner Bros Home Entertainment, Bell Helmets, Kryptek Outdoor Group, Jim Leo at PitFit, their pit stop trainer – Chris McFadden – himself a hero that has served for our country – and everyone else that contributed to this terrific program.”

Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray
Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray