Hungarian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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Practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix took place today at the Hungaroring on the outskirts of Budapest, and unsurprisingly, we once again saw Mercedes dominate proceedings.

Lewis Hamilton made a perfect start to his bid for an unprecedented fifth victory in Hungary by doubling up in practice and finishing both sessions as the fastest driver. Mercedes teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg trailed him in both sessions by about two-tenths of a second, but the Briton was not 100% happy with his car, bemoaning a lack of grip on Friday.

Further back, we have quite an interesting battle for the final podium position developing between Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. All four teams look capable of being best of the rest in Budapest, and it will be a close battle in qualifying tomorrow.

Off track, talk turned to the upcoming Russian Grand Prix and some of the problems in Formula 1 at the moment, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner lashing out at journalists for focusing on the negative points in the sport. More on that in my Thoughts from the Track.

Here’s the full round-up from the Hungarian GP paddock today.

SESSION REPORTS

  • FP1 saw Lewis Hamilton finish fastest ahead of Nico Rosberg, with Kimi Raikkonen finishing in third place for Ferrari.
  • FP2 was a near copy: Hamilton again fastest ahead of Rosberg, but it was Sebastian Vettel who put Red Bull up into the top three ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

If Lewis and Nico did really have struggles during practice today, they certainly didn’t show it. Both drivers looked at ease during practice when you go by the timesheets, yet their actual on-track form was a little more difficult. Hamilton complained of more brake problems during FP2, whilst Rosberg cried over the radio: “I need advice!” “For what, traffic?” “No, driving!” Isn’t that what you’re paid to do, Nico?

It’s pretty clear that the Silver Arrows will be juking it out at the front of the field once again, but the battle behind is a little bit more complex. Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams all appear to be in contention for a podium finish, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel finishing third in FP1 and FP2 respectively. Williams drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas confirmed that they expected to struggle more here, so to see them down towards the bottom of the top ten is hardly surprising. Spa and Monza should see the British team bounce back.

Instead, Red Bull and Ferrari will be making the most of this not being an engine-reliant circuit. The RB10 is well suited to this track, and if we can see another great fight between Fernando, Seb and Dan this weekend, that would be just swell.

Regarding silly season: it’s all smoke in mirrors. Marko says one thing, Vettel says another, Christian Horner and Niki Lauda give their pennyworth – and we still don’t know what’s going on. In truth, Seb doesn’t appear to be on the move.

If anyone is, it’s Alonso. The stories linking him with McLaren refuse to die down, and as Jenson Button continues to postpone any decision or talks about his future, the speculation will only continue to circulate.

Now for the political side of things. The team principals’ press conference was icy to say the least. Before, it has been dominated by concerns over the F1 Strategy Group, its work and its membership. This time around, things were a little more relevant to the ‘real world’ as concerns over the Russian Grand Prix came to the fore.

It was very difficult for any of the representatives in the press conference to take a stand on the matter. However, Christian Horner went on quite a rant about the attitude of the journalists in the press conference, saying how it was wrong that the focus was not in the good in Formula 1: the great racing of late; the championship tussle afoot; the emergence of some young stars. Why are we not focusing on that?

Let’s turn that around. Why, if F1 is in such a good place, are we bothering with double points? Or standing restarts in 2015? Or bemoaning the fact that only 52,000 came through Hockenheim’s gates last weekend? It seems to be a trait of the team principals that a difficult question can be avoided by turning it around on the journalist. We’re not promoting the bad aspects of the sport with these questions; we’re looking for answers. It was a quite uncomfortable atmosphere in the room following Horner’s tirade.

Horner said that we should be putting these questions to the two big power players in the sport: Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone. Why don’t we ask them? Well, access is limited. These press conferences present a real chance to talk to the team bosses, who ultimately are in charge of the drivers, who in turn put on the show for us. These matters may be uncomfortable to talk about, but we mustn’t avoid them.

The on-track action returns tomorrow; perhaps we’ll get some more answers then in the fight to finish behind Mercedes. We can hope for another great race to put the attention on that instead of the off-track dilemmas and dramas, and with Lewis and Nico battling at the front, a superb Hungarian Grand Prix may be in store.

Saturday TV Times

FP3 – Live Extra from 5am ET
Qualifying – CNBC and Live Extra from 8am ET

Risi Competizione confirms multiple race absence from IMSA

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The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE will miss several upcoming IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races, starting at Watkins Glen International next weekend.

The team has plans to return to the GT Le Mans class later this year, but hasn’t said when.

Risi’s absence was first indicated when IMSA released the Watkins Glen entry list earlier this week. It takes the sole Ferrari in class out of it for a handful of races; the pair of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella had a best finish of third so far this season.

“Following an extremely challenging first half of 2017, most recently at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I have decided to withdraw the Risi Competizione race team from part of the 2017 IMSA season in order to consolidate resources and to reflect on future racing programs,” Team Principal Giuseppe Risi said in a release.

Risi’s crash at Le Mans was with a separate 488 GTE chassis, not its full-season one.

But the IMSA full-season one sustained back-to-back hits at Long Beach and Circuit of The Americas. Then, the brand new car took a beating after Matthieu Vaxiviere came over on top of Pierre Kaffer’s No. 82 car going into a chicane on the Mulsanne Straight.

Kaffer was sore but OK and is in Road America this weekend for Pirelli World Challenge GT action, where he competes in the No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Rossi tops opening practice at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Alexander Rossi led the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America, in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport.

The young American has always liked this track, as this was one of the tracks he had past experience on prior to his debut season in IndyCar.

At the 4.014-mile circuit, Rossi posted a best time of 1:43.3285, clear of three Team Penske Chevrolets of Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. Scott Dixon completed the top five.

“It’s early; it’s a good way to start,” Rossi told IndyCar Radio after the session. “We’ve known we had a fast car. We just haven’t executed. We want our first win under our belt.”

Only the top 10 drivers down to Helio Castroneves in 10th were within one second, at 0.9964 of a second.

Eighth-placed Ryan Hunter-Reay brought out an early end to the session with an off-course excursion, beached at Turn 14. He was OK but the session ended a minute or two early.

Robert Wickens, in his first official Verizon IndyCar Series session filling in for Mikhail Aleshin at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, was 20th at 1:45.6823. That was within a tenth of the returning Esteban Gutierrez at 1:45.6257, for Dale Coyne Racing.

Wickens’ teammate James Hinchcliffe was sixth in this session. Meanwhile Gutierrez’s teammate Ed Jones debuted a new Walter Payton tribute helmet; Payton was Dale Coyne’s former business partner and had his first IndyCar race as co-owner here. The late Chicago Bears running back was, of course, one of the best running backs in NFL history. Jones’ decision to wear a Bears helmet in Elkhart Lake, not far from Green Bay, is a brave one!

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Sam Schmidt updated Aleshin’s status when speaking to IndyCar Radio during the session.

“Supposedly, he’s on a flight. He got his visa from Paris. He’s supposed to land in Chicago tonight. We’ll see,” he said.

“Yeah up until yesterday morning we thought Mikhail would come in yesterday, and cruise normal fashion. Then his passport didn’t show up. We didn’t know if a day, two or three days. Called half a dozen guys. It was a bit of a scramble. We already had Robert’s seat, so that was convenient. Who could get here the quickest and get in the car. He hasn’t driven here in 10 years. But he’s getting up to speed quickly.”

Times are below.

Liberty planning evolution, not revolution, with future F1 calendars

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Formula 1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey says that the sport’s owner, Liberty Media, is focusing on evolution instead of revolution when it comes to forming race schedules in the coming years.

Liberty completed its takeover of F1 back in January, with Carey replacing Bernie Ecclestone at the helm of the sport.

Widespread changes have been expected as Liberty looks to increase F1’s footprint and reach in key markets such as the United States, with a number of new races expected as a result.

A first provisional calendar for the 2018 season was published on Monday, featuring the 21 races expected, up one from 2017 after the addition of France and Germany, and the loss of Malaysia.

When asked by NBC Sports if 2019 would be the first F1 calendar that Liberty could put its stamp on, Carey responded by saying he believed it was already clear on the 2018 schedule.

“I think that stamp exists today. I think we’re very proud of the calendar,” Carey said.

“We view this as our calendar. I might expect over time the calendar will evolve a little bit, but most of the races we have are multi-year.

“You’re not going have in any one year, you’re not going to have a dramatic change because most of the agreements are multi-year agreements.

“I think very much this is a calendar we feel good about, and I would say it’s our calendar. It’s not anybody else’s.”

Carey said that a total revamp of the calendar was not realistic given the contracts for races that are already in place, a well as important factors such as the August summer break that gives teams a chance to shut down for a couple of weeks during a busy season.

“There are realities to deals we have in place. Some races are in historical places that are important, and there’s a reason they’re historically there,” Carey said.

“They’re places and races we’re very proud of that want to be in a particular time of the year, and obviously that’s important for us if they’re there. So I think in saying we’re burdened with some construct we inherited, I don’t look at it that way.

“There’s a logic to this calendar. European races are largely clustered in this period from mid May to early September. You’ve got your traditional August break. I think for us, our focus, I said in Montreal, we feeling good about the calendar.

“I think we believe we can continue to improve it, but I think there will be an evolution, not a re-doing. I think our focus is really making the races everything they can be.

“I think this calendar issue probably gets more weight and focus and people try to make more out of it than it is. I think our biggest priority is making these events, we have 21 events we have this year, everything they can and should and we hope they be.”

Alonso, Vandoorne get grid drops in Baku after power unit changes

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McLaren Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne are set to start this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the last row of the grid after the FIA confirmed that both will receive a 15-place drop from their qualifying position.

Alonso and Vandoorne are yet to score a single point through the opening seven races of the season amid ongoing difficulties for engine partner Honda, whose power unit has lacked both performance and reliability so far this season.

Alonso’s struggles continued in practice in Baku on Friday as he was forced to park up at the side of the track during FP2 with an apparent engine issue, adding to McLaren’s ongoing plight.

The Spaniard said in McLaren’s race preview that he expected to take a grid penalty for changing a number of parts on his power unit, with the drop being officially confirmed by the FIA on Friday.

Both Alonso and Vandoorne will take a 15-place grid drop from their final qualifying position on Friday, meaning they are likely to start from the final row of the grid.

The only other driver with a grid penalty in Baku is Carlos Sainz Jr., who will drop three places as punishment for causing a collision at the start of the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago.