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Bird, Lopez, Buemi only drivers set to miss New York Formula E race

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Despite fears that the clash between Formula E’s New York City race and the FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring would cause a headache for a number of drivers, just three are left with a dilemma.

Formula E and WEC previously shared a gentleman’s agreement to avoid hosting races on the same weekend as a number of drivers have plied their trade in both series.

The clash between New York and the Nürburgring came to light last summer, and looked set to impact a number of drivers who could be forced to miss one of their commitments.

DS Virgin Racing and AF Corse driver Sam Bird vented his frustration to NBC Sports earlier this week, saying that the clash put many at risk of jeopardizing their contracts.

Bird will miss the New York races on July 15 and 16 if no solution is found given his factory AF Corse commitments, as will DS Virgin Racing teammate Jose Maria Lopez, who will drive for Toyota’s LMP1 team at the Nürburgring.

The most notable absentee from New York will be defending Formula E champion and current series leader Sebastien Buemi, who also has to prioritize his duties with Toyota, potentially putting his title bid at risk.

However, it now appears that Bird, Lopez and Buemi will be the only three drivers to miss New York after many of Formula E’s other recent WEC racers confirmed they will put the all-electric series first.

Nicolas Prost and Nelson Piquet Jr. are part of Rebellion Racing’s LMP2 team in the WEC, but both confirmed to NBC Sports in Buenos Aires that they will race in New York, missing the Nürburgring race.

Another man who could have been affected was Adam Carroll, who raced with Gulf Racing in the WEC’s GTE Am class through 2016. However, the Briton also confirmed that he too will put Formula E first, racing with Jaguar in New York.

While a number of other Formula E drivers including Lucas di Grassi and Antonio Felix da Costa are exploring options to race in the WEC this year, the Nürburgring is not a round on their radar due to their commitments in New York.

DS Virgin Racing is likely to field reserve driver Alex Lynn in New York, with the 2014 GP3 Series champion telling NBC Sports that he expects to make his debut there. But the team will have one extra seat to fill for the round.

Renault e.dams has no reserve driver in place to deputize for Buemi, but many look to a Renault-affiliated racer to step into the seat.

Another option for both teams could be recent Formula 1 driver Esteban Gutierrez, who will make his Formula E debut in Mexico and is also slated to race in New York.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.