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Formula 1 2017 team preview: Scuderia Ferrari

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Formula 1’s oldest and most successful team, Scuderia Ferrari, enters 2017 after a rare, barren season that yielded not a single victory.

The new regime at Maranello enjoyed a strong start in 2015 with three race wins, only for the honeymoon to end last season as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen struggled to handle the pace of the rival Mercedes and Red Bull drivers.

Despite 2016’s struggles, Ferrari had one of the most impressive pre-seasons in recent memory, lighting up the timesheets in Barcelona – but will it be enough for a title challenge?

DRIVERS

5. Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
7. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)

CAR

Ferrari SF70H

ENGINE

Ferrari 062

TEAM CHIEFS

Maurizio Arrivabene (team principal)
Mattia Binotto (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Not a huge amount. Ferrari’s early-season pace was impressive and it was able to challenge Mercedes on occasion – notably in Australia and Canada – but this faded away. Sebastian Vettel produced some impressive late-season displays in Mexico and Abu Dhabi. Otherwise, positives were pretty hard to find for the Italian marque.

What went wrong in 2016: Ferrari’s best chances for victory came early in the year, only for strategic blunders to cost Vettel a shot at winning in both Australia and Canada. As the season wore on, frustration bubbled away and the cracks began to show in the famed partnership with Sebastian Vettel. Every time Mercedes crumbled, it was Red Bull who took advantage, not Ferrari. The loss of James Allison midway through the year also didn’t help matters.

What’s changed for 2017: Instead of recruiting externally to replace Allison, engineer Mattia Binotto was promoted into Ferrari’s top technical role. Otherwise, things have been fairly stable at Maranello. Ferrari’s pre-season pace caught attention, and it appears the SF70H is a good car – that in itself is a huge, huge change for 2017. The SF16-H was noticeably tricky to drive. Already progress is clear.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: While a championship challenge will be the expectation from the Tifosi, the first target for Ferrari this year should be getting back in winner’s circle. Both Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen have what it takes to win races – we’ve seen time and time again – and if they can carry the winter pace through to the season, and if the operational issues from 2016 are resolved, then we could see Ferrari back in the mix for another F1 crown.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 09: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day three of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 9, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: A strong Ferrari is good for F1, such is its global presence and reputation. So if pre-season is anything to go by, 2017 could be a very good year for F1 indeed. James Allison may have left the team, but the SF70H is very much a beast of his creation. Both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were rapid and reliable through pre-season, suffering just a handful of on-track issues. While I think Ferrari could have the march on the field early on, I don’t think it will last the season. Vettel will win a few races, and I think even Kimi could score his first Ferrari victory since 2009, but the race will be against Red Bull to finish second in the constructors’.

Tony DiZinno: The need for success is desperate here, after a lackluster and underwhelming 2016 season. If you put a lot of stock in testing times, it’s great to be seeing Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at the top of the charts. But they have been in testing before, and it hasn’t translated. A return to winning must be the first goal, along with getting a car that is sorted enough to contend for podiums regularly. Far too often podiums were a surprise, not expected, last season.

Kyle Lavigne: Scuderia Ferrari represents possibly the biggest unknown ahead of the 2017 campaign. To put it simply, the SF70H is fast. Actually, correction: the SF70H is very fast. Between Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari topped four of the eight testing days in Barcelona. The fastest time across the test came from Raikkonen, who turned a 1:18.634. Who was the driver he beat for the fastest overall time? Teammate Sebastian Vettel.

However, Ferrari were also quick in last year’s pre-season testing, but their season quickly unraveled and they finished a distant third in the constructor’s championship. If their “real world” pace matches their testing pace, then Ferrari has all the potential to supplant Mercedes at the top of the grid.

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

INDYCAR
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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.”