Hungarian GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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Is there such a thing as luck? “No,” grumble the cynics. “You make your own luck.” If that is the case, then I dread to think just what Lewis Hamilton has done in a past life, because at the moment, he is probably the unluckiest man in Formula 1.

Just one week on from his terrifying brake failure and crash during the first part of qualifying for the German Grand Prix, lightning struck the #44 car once again as his engine caught fire following a fuel leak. He will start tomorrow’s race from the pit lane.

On the other side of that coin, you have Nico Rosberg, who clinched his fifth pole position in six races today at the Hungaroring. However, it was by no means an easy feat even without his teammate playing a part. Sebastian Vetttel and Valtteri Bottas both put up a fight again the championship leader, but neither could stop him from capitalizing on Hamilton’s demise.

It was a thrilling qualifying session in Hungary today, with a sprinkling of rain and a red flag really spicing things up. Now we’ve cooled down, here’s the complete paddock round-up from Saturday at the Hungaroring.

SESSION REPORTS

  • Lewis Hamilton ominously topped FP3, picking up where he left off on Friday, and didn’t appear to give the rest of the field much chance heading into qualifying.
  • But then the racing gods intervened. An engine fire robbed him of a shot at pole, with Rosberg picking up the pieces to claim his sixth pole position of the season.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

After Christian Horner’s outburst during the team principals’ press conference yesterday, we turned our focus back to the on-track action today – and boy were we served up a treat. Fire, rain, red flags, shock knockouts – you name it, this qualifying session had it.

However, the end result was not so much of a surprise. Once again, it is a Mercedes on pole, with Nico Rosberg the man on top. Although he faced less of a challenge following Lewis Hamilton’s firey exit, he did still need to see off Vettel and Bottas at the end of qualifying. His final lap was perfect: three purple (quickest) sectors for pole position.

For Lewis, it is just more rotten luck that is part of being a racing driver. Nobody wants to DNF ever, but it does happen. The cries of conspiracy from the fans is completely bonkers, yet you can understand their reasoning: this was the sixth time Lewis has hit trouble in 2014 (Australia practice, Australia race, Canada race, Britain practice, Germany race, and here); Rosberg has only come unstuck once (Britain race).

So could Lewis do what he did in Germany and rally to finish on the podium? Well, it might be a bit harder given that overtaking around the Hungaroring comes at a premium. Nevertheless, a bit of rain could spice things up; Lewis will be gunning to keep the gap to Rosberg at the top of the championship as small as possible.

The battle behind should be pretty interesting between Red Bull, Williams and Fernando Alonso for the final podium position. However, you can count Kimi Raikkonen up. He did not mince his words when talking about Ferrari’s mistake that caused him to drop out in Q1. The fact that he brushed it off because it’s been that kind of season sums up where his head is at right now.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for the Hungarian Grand Prix live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7:30am ET. Once again, MotorSportsTalk will be bringing you all of the latest news, reports and analysis from the paddock in Hungary.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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