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Formula 1 2017 team preview: Red Bull Racing

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After a tumultuous 2015 campaign that nearly saw its marriage with engine supplier Renault break down, Red Bull hit back last year by claiming two race wins and second place in the constructors’ championship.

With one of the most dynamic driver pairings on the grid in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, the four-time world champion team is ready for another title tilt in 2017.

The new focus on aerodynamics – an area the team is traditionally strong in – should play into Red Bull’s hands, but can it overhaul Mercedes and fend off Ferrari?

DRIVERS

3. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia)
33. Max Verstappen (Netherlands)

CAR

Red Bull RB13

ENGINE

Renault R.E.17 (rebadged as TAG Heuer)

TEAM CHIEFS

Christian Horner (team principal)
Adrian Newey (chief technical officer)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 07: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 7, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: After the slanging match with Renault through 2015, big, big gains were made on the power unit side, prompting Red Bull to sign an early contract extension with the French manufacturer. The decision to (harshly) ditch Daniil Kvyat for young upstart Max Verstappen paid off as he won on debut for Red Bull, while Daniel Ricciardo was one of the most consistent drivers through the year. Red Bull did basically everything it could right.

What went wrong in 2016: Red Bull maximized its potential last year. It was never going to challenge Mercedes, but did well to pick up the pieces where possible. When Mercedes dropped the ball, it was Red Bull – not Ferrari – that took advantage. Perhaps the only off-note was its performance on ‘power tracks’ like Montreal and Monza, where Ferrari moved ahead, but that was more a Renault thing.

What’s changed for 2017: The biggest off-season change for Red Bull is the switch in fuel and lubricant supplier, dropping Total in favor of long-standing McLaren partner ExxonMobil. Curiously, the factory Renault team has linked up with BP/Castrol, potentially creating a mismatch for the power units. Keep an eye on whether it impacts Red Bull this year.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: A title challenge is the target for Red Bull. The shift back to more aero-based regulations helps, particularly with technical guru Adrian Newey on-board, yet most expect the power units to still be the defining factor. Renault had a few issues through pre-season, while Red Bull hid its pace and will turn in Melbourne next Sunday with a vastly different-looking RB13 car. Only then will we know what Red Bull can really achieve in 2017…

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 07: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing talks to the media during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 7, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: Red Bull has one of the most-balanced driver line-ups in F1, and I’m expecting both Ricciardo and Verstappen to win this year. Ricciardo’s strength in qualifying will be particularly key, given the difficulty of following cars and overtaking under the new regs. But in all honesty, I don’t think Red Bull can quite make the jump to catch Mercedes at the front. Ferrari looks in the best shape from pre-season, although I’d expect Red Bull to make more progress over the season. The two will scrap for second in the constructors’ championship.

Tony DiZinno: This could be the year Red Bull’s talented, fast and fun, dynamic young duo enters the dramatic stage of their relationship as teammates. Even as Daniel Ricciardo keeps his smile out front, first and foremost, Max Verstappen is poised to become a more complete driver this season if his race craft is better. He knows the team now from the start of the year and will be keen to edge ahead. If there aren’t fireworks, I’d be surprised. But multiple wins should still be possible here and a potential championship threat if the car’s up for it.

Kyle Lavigne: Red Bull Racing perplexed many during pre-season testing. Given that they were the only team outside of Mercedes to win a race in 2016, many hoped they would improve their form and regularly challenge the silver cars. However, they rarely made appearances near the top of time sheets during testing.

Still, individual lap times can be misleading and there is a belief that Red Bull has not shown its hand yet. However, their TAG Heuer-badged Renault power unit could be the most important factor in whether or not they challenge Mercedes. On the driver front, standouts Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have shown the speed needed to challenge for wins (each won a race last year) and return to the team. If the car and power unit are up to it, either of them could be a title contender.

VIDEO: A unique look at Mexico’s famous Carrera Panamericana

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Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has already established itself as one of the sport’s most exciting and vibrant races, with hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In order to get a flavor of Mexico’s rich racing heritage, NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton took time out of his summer break to explore Mexico City and also take part in the famous Carrera Panamericana road race.

The Carrea Panamericana is Mexico’s equivalent of the Mille Miglia, initially acting as a border-to-border sportscar event before being cancelled in 1955.

The race was revived in the 1980s, and continues to this day, offering drivers a gruelling, week-long challenge against the clock at high speed on public highways through the mountains of central Mexico.

2017’s Formula 1 race is set to be a poignant one for Mexico following the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck earlier this week, claiming the lives of over 200 people.

With the race set to go ahead as planned, it will be an important statement of unity from Mexico when it welcomes F1 at the end of October, the grand prix taking place on October 29 and acting as another chapter in the nation’s steeped motorsport history.

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has set up a fund through which donations can be made to help those affected by the earthquake with full details below.

Donations can also be made via PayPal by clicking here.

F1/IndyCar clashes frequent for 2018 as schedules shape up

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The latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council may not have yielded much in the way of groundbreaking news, but the confirmation of Formula E and the World Endurance Championship’s 2018 schedules did help us get a grip on next year’s racing calendar.

Perhaps the most notable thing with next year’s schedules is the heavy reduction in clashes between the FIA’s three premier track championships – F1, Formula E and WEC – next year, making good on its plans for calendar harmonization moving forward.

WEC confirmed its ‘super season’ schedule earlier this month, stretching 13 months from May 2018 to June 2019, and added Silverstone last week, with the calendar gaining FIA approval in Paris.

Of the 2018 WEC rounds, there is just one clash with another FIA track championship: between the 6 Hours of Fuji and the F1 United States Grand Prix on the October 21 weekend.

While the more pressing worry for drivers is between WEC and Formula E after the July 16 debacle this year, no WEC and F1 clashes is good news for Fernando Alonso, who could well appear at Le Mans next year as part of his Triple Crown bid.

Formula E does have a number of F1 clashes, albeit not until the sixth event of its season, with the Rome race being held on the April 15 weekend where the Bahrain Grand Prix also sits (for now – China is due to swap dates).

Other Formula E and F1 clashes come on April 29 (Paris/Azerbaijan), June 10 (Zurich/Canada) and July 29 (Montreal/Hungary), although by shifting the New York City ePrix back one week to July 14-15, a gap has been found in the schedule.

For those operating across all three series (including yours truly), there is now a busy run between the start of the F1 season in Australia and the start of the summer break in Hungary with just three empty weekends.

As for IndyCar clashes? The condensed nature of the series’ schedule and the expansion of F1’s calendar to 21 races means they are inevitable. That said, as IndyCar is outside of the FIA’s realm of control, it was never really in the mix for its harmonization plans.

Yet again there is a clash between the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, sadly something we have become accustomed to in recent years, but over half the IndyCar calendar faces an F1 clash next year. There may be further ones to come when a couple other race dates get announced.

Here’s a full run-down of the F1/IndyCar double dip weekends thus far:

April 7-8: Chinese GP, Phoenix Grand Prix
April 14-15: Bahrain GP, Grand Prix of Long Beach
May 12-13: Spanish GP, Indianapolis GP
May 26-27: Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500
June 9-10: Canadian GP, Texas 600
June 23-24: French GP, Road America GP
July 7-8: British GP, Iowa Corn 300
August 25-26: Belgian GP, Gateway 500
September 15-16: Singapore GP, Sonoma GP

Bahrain, China ‘on-track’ to swap F1 race dates for 2018

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Next year’s Formula 1 races in China and Bahrain are “on-track” to swap dates in order to maximize their local exposure, according to the sport’s commercial chief, Sean Bratches.

The provisional F1 schedule for 2018 lists the Chinese Grand Prix as the second round of the season, taking place on April 8, with the Bahrain Grand Prix taking place one week later on April 15.

However, plans are afoot to swap the races around due to the Qingming national holiday that is set to take place in China on the April 8 weekend, potentially having a negative impact on crowd numbers at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“We’re trying to take into account global events, local events, religious holidays and things to ensure we’re maximizing the opportunity for fans to attend the grands prix,” Bratches told Reuters.

“We’re talking to both of them to that end and if we can reach a mutually agreed upon solution, which appears to be on-track to happen, you’ll probably see that,” he said.

No updates were made to the F1 schedule for 2018 at the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris this week, meaning no switch between Bahrain and China will be ratified until the start of December at the earliest.

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”