F1 Young Driver Tests - Silverstone: Day Three

Alonso backs Sainz to reach F1 despite Toro Rosso snub

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Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso has backed fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr. to reach Formula 1 despite being rejected by Toro Rosso for a race seat in 2015.

The Spanish youngster currently leads the Formula Renault 3.5 championship – one of F1’s feeder series – and looks set to win the title, following in the footsteps of Kevin Magnussen.

He was expected to replace Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso in 2015, being the most senior and established Red Bull junior driver, but was snubbed in favor of 16-year-old Max Verstappen. The Dutchman will become the youngest ever F1 driver when he makes his debut next March.

Speaking in Belgium ahead of this weekend’s race, Alonso admitted that he was surprised not to see Sainz get the nod, but is confident that his compatriot will reach F1.

“Obviously I was thinking and many people thought that he would be with Toro Rosso next year,” Alonso explained. “He will arrive in Formula 1 sooner or later. He has the talent, he has the mentality, he has the right approach.

“He is 19 – now that seems old. 19 years old, leading the World Series, winning in all the championships that he’s raced before. He will arrive.”

Verstappen’s rapid promotion has certainly ruffled some feathers in Formula 1, sparking a debate over whether or not he is too young to race. For Alonso, putting in a driver at such a young age has both its pros and cons.

“There is a lot of experience that you get with the years, the championships on your shoulders,” Alonso said. “Sometimes arriving in too early is a good thing, sometimes arriving too early is a bad thing, because you don’t have the experience sometimes to cope with some of the demands that Formula 1 has.

“Red Bull has what it wants because everybody today asks about Verstappen, which is good coverage in the media.”

Would Alonso have been ready at 17? “Probably I was not ready,” he admitted.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.