IndyCar: Munoz’s third 2014 podium extends rookie points lead

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While the rest of his Andretti Autosport teammates hit issues in Sunday’s Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco, Carlos Munoz bagged his third podium finish of his first full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The Colombian ended third after a solid all-around weekend in Pocono.

Additionally, the driver of the No. 34 Cinsay/ Honda kept up with Team Penske teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves as the only two driver to score top-five finishes in both 500-mile races this season (Munoz was fourth at the Indianapolis 500).

This Sunday was actually a fairly straightforward drive for Munoz, who started and finished third on a day when he didn’t need to perform any of his usual heroics and crazy corner lines to keep in podium contention. Case in point, Munoz never led, but he never ran worse than sixth at any point in the 200-lap race.

“This track, it’s really hard to pass, to be behind the cars,” said Munoz. “I think third place is a great result for the championship, especially with the double points. I’m really happy with a podium. It was a long race, and I think that this time, I raced like a veteran. My Cinsay crew guys did such a great job, great pit stops, and I’m happy with another podium.”

Teammates Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe both were tagged with speeding penalties and rebounded to unrepresentative ninth and 12th, while Ryan Hunter-Reay’s post-Indianapolis 500 run of poor luck continued with a broken suspension that took him out of play. The No. 28 DHL Honda returned to the track to finish 18th.

Hunter-Reay is still top of the Andretti quartet in points, now fifth on 388 points. Munoz and Andretti are sixth and seventh with Hinchcliffe 12th.

Munoz’s rookie points lead is now 77 over Mikhail Aleshin, who sits 13th in the standings. Jack Hawksworth still got eight points despite failing to start the race following his practice accident, while Carlos Huertas sits 17th and just three behind Hawksworth in 16th.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.