Belgian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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After three weeks away, Formula 1 has certainly return with a bang in Belgium this weekend – and it’s only Friday. We’ve had drivers in, drivers out, new noses, Le Mans winners, PR statements… you name it, it’s been here.

However, one thing has remained constant: Mercedes’ domination of the 2014 season. Once again during practice at Spa today, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg completed a pair of one-twos with relative ease, sharing top spot in the sessions.

We do have an interesting battle forming behind, though. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished as the best of the rest in both sessions, but with the Mercedes-powered cars excelling through the Ardennes forest, the Spaniard has a tough challenge ahead of him.

Alexander Rossi enjoyed his second FP1 outing of the season, but his weekend will go no further after Marussia reneged on its plans to replace Max Chilton with the American. The Briton appears to have resolved his contractual issues just in the nick of time.

Here’s the full round-up from the Spa-Francorchamps paddock on Friday.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

SESSION REPORTS

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Today started in very disappointing fashion when news broke that Alexander Rossi would not be ending America’s seven-year wait for an F1 start when Marussia confirmed that Max Chilton would indeed be racing after all. It seems that his “contractual issues” had been resolved – or, perhaps more likely, a few legal threats were made.

As much of a shame as it is for Rossi, it did not see him lose anything heading into the weekend. The plan was for him to run in only FP1 anyway, and he did well, finishing clear of both Caterham drivers in his first time in the car.

According to Chilton, Rossi did not find out that he had been ‘dropped’ until he got out of the car at the end of FP1.

“I passed on my best wishes to Alex this morning when he got into the car and unfortunately he found out when he got out but he’s still our reserve driver and we’re still in a good friendship,” the Briton said.

All in all, it has been a bit of a disastrous exercise for Marussia and Chilton, but they will be hoping to put this behind them to focus on the rest of the race weekend.

On track, it was business as usual for Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated proceedings. The Silver Arrows may be wary, but the team once again appears to be out of reach for the chasing pack.

Fernando Alonso will be pleased with his efforts, although the challenge from Williams may prove to be too great for the Spaniard. Nevertheless, a top five finish here would be a very good result for both the driver and the team.

Also we must give a big pat on the back to Caterham’s Andre Lotterer. In his first time in the car, he outpaced full-time driver Marcus Ericsson, and will be hoping to secure a good qualifying result tomorrow.

Spa always produces a thrilling weekend, and this year is no different. Be sure to join us for qualifying tomorrow, live on CNBC from 8am ET.

MRTI: Barber Recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The weekend at Barber Motorsports Park for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires was a tale of two completely different days.

Saturday was a picturesque Spring day for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, with bright sunshine and temperatures above 70 degrees. Sunday, however, was much cooler and wetter, with rain hitting both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races.

Still, the packed weekend for both series produced plenty of drama, and each now sees its championship picture beginning to take shape.

Major stories to surface from the weekend at Barber for both series are below.

Indy Lights

  • Pato O’Ward has been, by a considerable margin, the fastest driver after four races in 2018. A winner of three races – which easily could be four if not for a mistake while leading Race 2 in St. Petersburg – and a polesitter for two, O’Ward has asserted himself as the early-season man to beat in the title chase, leading Santi Urrutia with 110 points to 94. O’Ward already has big-league championship to his name – he was a co-champion of the Prototype Challenge class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship last year, and he is poised to add to that in 2018.
  • Victor Franzoni is starting to get his arms around the IL-15. Last year’s Pro Mazda champion gets better with every race, and he earned his first Indy Lights podium in Race 2 at Barber, finishing second. It would hardly be a surprise if Franzoni breaks into the win column soon.
  • Aaron Telitz’s run of hard luck continued in Race 1 on Saturday, as he was collected by a spinning Dalton Kellett and retired from the race with a damaged right-front. That meant through three races, Telitz had completed a combined four corners. Race 2 finally produced a clean day for the 2016 Pro Mazda champion, as he ran all the laps on his way to finishing fourth.
  • Colton Herta scored a double-podium at Barber, with finishes of second and third. Sitting on 83 points, he is 19 back of leader O’Ward. He’ll need to break into the win column to make up ground, but consistently finishing on the podium will also help his efforts, and prevent O’Ward from making big leaps away from him.

Pro Mazda

  • Although he might be disappointed to miss out on sweeping the weekend, Parker Thompson has lots of reasons to smile leaving Barber, as he overtook Rinus VeeKay for the championship lead by four points, 102 to 98. Thompson has had two strong weekends to open the Pro Mazda season, with finishes of second, fifth, first, and second after four races. He and VeeKay have emerged as possible title combatants after the opening two weekends.
  • Speaking of VeeKay, the 17-year-old Dutchman had a quiet weekend at Barber, with finishes of fourth and fifth after lacking pace in qualifying – he qualified seventh and ninth for Race 1 and Race 2. After dominating at St. Pete, VeeKay’s lack of pace was somewhat puzzling, though it could be indicative of a Pro Mazda field that is deep with talent. Expect him to rebound at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May.
  • Oliver Askew’s troublesome start to the 2018 season only got worse at Barber, with finishes of seventh and 12th on a weekend in which he never factored into the outcome. The struggles of him and Cape Motorsports is mystifying given their prowess in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on their way to winning the championship last year. Getting into championship contention at this point is a tall task – he is 46 points behind Thompson – but righting the ship will be priority No. 1 for him and Cape heading to Indianapolis.
  • Harrison Scott enjoyed a great rebound after struggling in St. Pete, where he finished ninth and 12th. He took his first Pro Mazda podium in Race 1, finishing second, and then survived a chaotic and rainy Race 2 to take his first victory. The successful weekend also vaulted him into fourth in the championship.
  • David Malukas has also put together a solid season through four races, with finishes of seventh, second, third, and fifth. The BN Racing driver sits third in the championship, and may well end up challenging for race wins soon.

All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy will be in action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course during the weekend of the INDYCAR Grand Prix (May 11-12), with USF2000 returning after a two-month break following the season opener in St. Petersburg.

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