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Faster cars set for track in Barcelona ahead of new season

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MADRID (AP) Formula One returns to action next week with a test session ahead of a highly anticipated season featuring wider and faster cars to make the series more exciting.

The revamped cars will be on the track in Barcelona on Monday when teams and drivers will get their first real look at what 2017 is going to be like.

“Next week is when we really get to unleash it,” Lewis Hamilton said after Mercedes unveiled its car on Friday.

A second four-day test session will take place in Barcelona from March 7-10.

The first race is the Australian GP on March 26.

The season arrives with regulation changes that significantly altered car design and performance in an attempt to attract more fans and increase track attendance and television audiences.

New aerodynamic and tire rules have given the 2017 cars a meaner look, making them wider and boosting downforce and grip. That translates into faster speeds and, hopefully, more overtaking maneuvers on the track. The rear wings are lower and many of the cars will use a “shark fin” wing on top of the engine.

“The car is wider, tires are bigger, we have a lot more downforce,” Hamilton said. “It’s like taking a small propeller plane and comparing it to a Boeing 737. It’s got so much more performance on it.”

The bigger and quicker cars are also likely to be harder to drive, putting more emphasis on the drivers’ skills and physical conditioning.

Teams are expecting lap times to be three to five seconds faster compared to last year.

“Let’s wait and see,” McLaren veteran Fernando Alonso said. “I think there is some hope that with these regulations we will improve the show. Next week we will have some answers in Barcelona. But definitely it’s a good change for Formula One, something that we probably needed, to have fast and good looking cars.”

The new season will begin without defending champion Nico Rosberg , who retired after winning his first title. Former champion Jenson Button also left, and the Manor team ended, leaving the grid with 20 cars.

Bernie Ecclestone is gone after nearly four decades as F1’s boss. In charge now is U.S. sports and entertainment firm Liberty Media, which took over to try to win back dissatisfied fans and make the series thrilling again.

Here are other things to watch for this season:

MERCEDES’ DOMINANCE

The changes in regulation could help teams cut the gap on Mercedes, which won both the driver and team championships the last three seasons.

The first test session could give an indication of whether teams such as Ferrari and Red Bull will be able to pose a bigger challenge than in 2016. Williams, McLaren and Force India will be hoping to take advantage of the new rules to challenge at the front. Toro Rosso, Renault, Hass and Sauber will try to be near the front more often.

“Maybe we are not going to win 50 races in three years. Maybe we are going to win a couple of races, hopefully a championship. Maybe not, maybe somebody else has done a better job,” Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff said. “It’s all back to square one.”

DRIVER CHANGES

Red Bull, Ferrari and Toro Rosso are keeping the same driver lineup from last season. They’re very much the exception.

Valtteri Bottas got the grid’s most-desired seat at Mercedes, replacing the retiring Rosberg. Bottas’ departure from Williams prompted 35-year-old Felipe Massa to end his own retirement and return to the team.

Former Manor driver Pascal Wehrlein takes Felipe Nasr’s job at Sauber, while Kevin Magnussen left Renault to join American team Haas. Nico Hulkenberg replaced Magnussen at Renault after leaving Force India.

YOUNG TALENT

A few new drivers will be trying to emulate the success of Max Verstappen, who stunned F1 last season by becoming the youngest driver to win a race at age 18.

Lance Stroll, 18, will be replacing Bottas at Williams, while 24-year-old Stoffel Vandoorne comes in for Button at McLaren.

Esteban Ocon, 20, made nine starts with Manor last season and secured a ride with Force India for 2017.

The 22-year-old Wehrlein will not be able to test his new Sauber next week because he injured his back at a racing event last month.

MCLAREN DOUBTS

Going back to the orange livery from the 1960s, McLaren will be hoping to win its first race since 2012.

But there are doubts about whether the renewed partnership with Honda will finally start paying off after two disappointing seasons in which the team struggled to contend for victories or even podium finishes.

There was improvement a year ago, but the pressure for better results this season will increase.

Vettel in no rush to sign new Ferrari F1 contract

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Sebastian Vettel is in no rush to sign a new Formula 1 contract with Ferrari despite his current deal expiring at the end of the season.

Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015 on a three-year deal, and currently leads the F1 drivers’ championship for the Italian marque ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel’s future has been subject to much speculation as part of the annual ‘silly season’ driver rumor mill, but the four-time world champion has shown few signs of wanting to leave Ferrari.

In order to focus on his bid for a fifth title, Vettel is not looking to sign a new contract with Ferrari any time soon, believing there to be no need for an immediate decision.

“We have other things to do. In the summer there’s a bit more time, there’s a couple of weeks rest where there’s no race,” Vettel said in Thursday’s FIA press conference ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

“But for now, focus is extremely high on working on the car. A piece of paper can be signed fairly quickly, so that’s not a problem.

“I’m not in a rush, I don’t think the team is in a rush as far as I understand. I think they would tell me otherwise.

“There’s no problem. Nothing’s wrong.”

Vettel is currently paired at Ferrari with Kimi Raikkonen, whose contract is also up at the end of the year.

‘Dinner with Racers’ rides again for third season

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Spencer Pumpelly killing a guy… allegedly. Johnny O’Connell attempting to run over Dario Franchitti… again, allegedly. Copious mentions of Bill Riley. Chicken sandwiches.

All these inside jokes, along with awesome stories and food selections, are staples of the “Dinner with Racers” podcast series, which is presented by Continental Tire, and will roll on once again this fall for a third season.

The key addition to this year from co-creators Sean Heckman, PR veteran and partner in TMB Creative, Inc. (The Media Barons) and Ryan Eversley, Acura factory driver for RealTime Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge, is the launch of an official guest submission contest (fans can submit their guest recommendations here), as well as other fan contests to be revealed as they get closer to hitting the road.

Quotes from both Eversley and Heckman in the official release go true to form if you know both individuals, their styles and sense of humor, and if you’ve listened to any of the podcasts from seasons one and two.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this again,” stated co-host Eversley. “It’s honestly a lot of fun to do this, and in many ways very refreshing. The enthusiasm we find in every guest we meet, no matter how accomplished, is incredible, and something that reminds us both how great it is to work in this sport. The only thing more satisfying is the tremendous fan response we’ve had over the years. We honestly had no clue how many people would not only listen, but respond so positively, and for that we couldn’t be more grateful. This year we’re trying to do a little more to include our fan-base, we hope they enjoy it.”

“I agree, it’s a lot of fun,” continued Heckman. “For the first week.”

The cross-country trip will occur this fall and episodes are generally released around the holidays, either on the front side or back side of Thanksgiving but before Christmas.

Ferrucci steps up to Formula 2 with Trident for rest of season

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American racer Santino Ferrucci will make the step up to FIA Formula 2 for the remainder of the 2017 season, linking up with Trident.

Ferrucci, 19, made his GP3 debut in 2016 and has raced in the series ever since, balancing development duties with the Haas Formula 1 team.

The native of Woodbury, Connecticut will make his F2 debut this weekend in Hungary, securing a seat with Trident for the rest of the season.

“We are really proud to announce the agreement reached between Team Trident and the American racer Santino Ferrucci for the final five rounds of the FIA Formula 2 season,” Trident team manager Giacomo Ricci.

“The 19-year-old already had the chance to test one of our GP3 Series cars in last November’s collective postseason test at Abu Dhabi.

“Back then, he impressed the team’s staff, bringing home great results and keeping his name among the top-5 at all times.

“He is now set to make his Formula 2 debut at Budapest, on the same track where he led the way in GP3 Series testing.

“I am sure that Santino has all the skills needed to adapt to a Formula 2 car very quickly. Also, thanks to his Formula 1 experience, he will not have problems in managing more power and carbon fiber brakes.”

Pirelli confirms Brazil, Abu Dhabi tire selections to finish 2017

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Pirelli has confirmed the Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix tire selections for the final two races of the season, which brings to a conclusion all the selected sets for the rest of the way.

Pirelli will have the supersoft, soft and medium compounds on offer at Sao Paulo in Brazil with the ultrasoft back for Abu Dhabi with the supersoft and soft compounds.

The Abu Dhabi selections will match those at Austin and Mexico City for that back-to-back in October.

Here are the remaining tire selections for after the summer break. At Hungary this weekend, teams can run the supersoft, soft and medium.

  • August 27: Belgium, Ultrasoft, Supersoft, Soft
  • Sept. 3: Italy, Supersoft, Soft, Medium
  • Sept. 17: Singapore, Ultrasoft, Supersoft, Soft 
  • Oct. 1: Malaysia, Supersoft, Soft, Medium
  • Oct. 8: Japan, Supersoft, Soft, Medium
  • Oct. 22: USA, Ultrasoft, Supersoft, Soft 
  • Oct. 29: Mexico, Ultrasoft, Supersoft, Soft
  • Nov. 12: Brazil, Supersoft, Soft, Medium
  • Nov. 26: Abu Dhabi, Ultrasoft, Supersoft, Soft