2017 F1 championship set to showcase young talent

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Next year’s Formula One championship promises to showcase young driving talent keen to emulate 19-year-old rising star Max Verstappen.

Goodbye Felipe Massa, hello Lance Stroll.

So long Jenson Button, welcome Stoffel Vandoorne.

As 30-somethings Massa and Button leave F1 with more than 550 races between them, they will be replaced by the 18-year-old Stroll and the 24-year-old Vandoorne – two of the fresh faces on a new-look grid.

Stroll is taking Massa’s seat at Williams, while Vandoorne is replacing Button at McLaren.

Others, like Frenchman Esteban Ocon, will be keen to make an impression in the way Verstappen has done.

Verstappen, the youngest driver to win an F1 race when he won the Spanish GP in May when still 18, already has seven podium finishes.

But the others are largely untested.

SPA, BELGIUM – AUGUST 25: Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium and McLaren Honda walks in the Paddock during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 25, 2016 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Vandoorne has raced once this year, as a stand-in for Fernando Alonso at the Bahrain GP in April, while Ocon has nine races after making his F1 debut at the Belgian GP in August.

But it will be new territory for Stroll, the son of Canadian billionaire investor Lawrence Stroll.

Williams announced earlier this month that Stroll would be taking the seat vacated by Massa, who is retiring.

Stroll, who was part of the prestigious Ferrari driver academy, won this year’s European Formula 3 championship by a large margin.

“I want to be a quick driver – maybe the quickest one day,” he said. “If Williams didn’t think that I am ready, I wouldn’t be here.”

Williams’ deputy team principal Claire Williams certainly thinks he is.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 24: Lance Stroll of Canada and Williams talks in the Paddock during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 24, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

“He’s absolutely got the talent. We are going to have high expectations of him next year,” she said. “Anyone that has met Lance knows and understands that he deserves that promotion into Formula One. He’s extremely intelligent, a very quick learner.”

Stroll will be the youngest driver on the grid and F1’s youngest since Verstappen made his debut last year at 17.

Stroll, the first Canadian in F1 since 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve, has been financially backed by his father since he was eight.

“Without that (backing) I wouldn’t have been able to move from Canada to Europe and pursue my dream,” he said. “No matter how much money you have, if you are not able to be quicker than the rest you don’t get anywhere.”

His father’s influence helped his son get a taste for the sport.

“I watched F1 races with my dad early on Sunday mornings in Canada when I was very young. Then I got hooked,” Stroll said. “When I look back at those days, it was fantastic sharing this passion for motorsport with my dad. Michael Schumacher was also a huge inspiration for me.”

Vandoorne, meanwhile, won the GP2 series last year, and is so highly rated that Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said in August that McLaren would be “crazy” not to take him.

Filling in for Alonso in Bahrain, the Belgian driver made an immediate impression.

In qualifying, he was actually faster than Button – the 2009 F1 champion – and finished a creditable 10th in the race.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 24: Esteban Ocon of France and Manor Racing talks in the Paddock during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 24, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Ocon made his F1 debut a month before his 20th birthday. He began this year racing for Mercedes in Germany’s DTM touring car championship and was a reserve driver for Renault until the Manor F1 team snapped him up.

He will have a quicker car when he joins Force India next season on a multi-year contract, replacing German Nico Hulkenberg, who will drive for Renault.

Ocon has strong credentials, winning the European F3 series in 2014. That year, Verstappen finished third.

“As much as it’s sad to be losing a couple of the Formula One legend drivers, it’s going to be really exciting next year,” Williams said.

The first race of the season is the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 26, where German driver Nico Rosberg will defend his title after clinching it at Sunday’s Abu Dhabi GP.

Recap: Green Bay Packers QB Brett Hundley takes in Kohler Grand Prix

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When professional athletes decide to experience sports outside of the one where they make their living, it never ceases to entertain. Case and point: Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley.

The 24-year-old Hundley spent the weekend at Road America, taking in the Kohler Grand Prix. His time at the facility began on Thursday, where he first paid a visit to Team Penske driver Will Power, who gave him a quick tutorial.

Will Power shows Brett Hundley a steering for a Verizon IndyCar Series machine. Photo: IndyCar

The next part of Hundley’s day saw him take a two-seater ride with none other than Mario Andretti. And, unsurprisingly, it left a big impression.

Mari Andretti takes Brett Hundley around Road America in the Verizon IndyCar Series two-seater. Photo: IndyCar

“The first lap, I’m screaming, and it’s the warm-up lap! And then the second lap: I’m just bright-eyed, going through corners. I give so much respect, that’s an awesome sport, man!” Hundley said in a media debrief afterward.

However, the day was not finished. Later on, Hundley showed off his arm strength and throwing accuracy by attempting to throw a football through the passenger side window of a moving Chevrolet Corvette. And while it took a few attempts, he eventually hit his mark.

Hundley stayed through Sunday and dawned a photographer’s bib in order to take in more of the action.

In fact, he even inadvertently photobombed second-place finisher Josef Newgarden during his post-race interview.

A video chronicling Hundley’s visit can be viewed here and additional photos from his weekend can be found on his Instagram page.

 

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Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku F1 clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

“Following the recent incident at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in which Car 5 (Sebastian Vettel) was involved in a collision with Car 44 (Lewis Hamilton), on Monday 3rd July, the FIA will further examine the causes on the incident in order to evaluate whether further action is necessary,” a short statement from the FIA read.

“A statement regarding the outcome of this process will be made available before the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix (7-9 July).”

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”