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Webber: Vettel has ‘found himself again,’ Red Bull needs to do same

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Mark Webber says his old teammate at Red Bull Racing, Sebastian Vettel, is back on the proper form that won him four consecutive World Championships from 2010 to 2013.

With Ferrari having put together one of its best cars in years, it’s allowed Vettel to reassert himself at the front of the field.

At the same point, Webber hopes Red Bull can make the necessary upgrades it needs to make it a three-team fight at the front of the Formula 1 grid. Red Bull is pinning some hopes on upgrades this weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix, but concerns exist that the Renault-powered, TAG Heuer-badged power unit simply isn’t up to the level of the Ferrari and Mercedes power units at the moment.

The Porsche ambassador and 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion who’s now retired from driving, and has no plans to revert course on that front, addressed both topics during a meeting with reporters in Spa this weekend for the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

“They’ve done a great job. They’re very strong, reliability looks strong,” Webber said of Ferrari.

“Sebastian has found himself again. He smells the victories so now he comes alive. Between him and Lewis, Melbourne and some of the first few races, in Bahrain Lewis had to come back from a bad start. It’s very nicely poised. And fair play to Ferrari, they’ve done a good job, they’ve done their homework. They dropped on to the regulations very nicely.”

As for Red Bull?

“Red Bull need (to)… and they know that… they’re as hard on themselves as anyone. They’re a very realistic team,” Webber explained. “They never dream about results, they work hard, they get the job done. At the moment they’re on the back foot, they know that.

“Whether Max and Daniel can get the product… the thing is, there are individual races that might come into the window, but for the whole campaign now, it’s looking extremely challenging of course. Even a swing a little bit between Mercedes and Ferrari track to track, and Red Bull are still watching this from a distance.

“They don’t have the base. Reliability-wise, there are a few flaky moments, so this also brings some frustrations. Never, ever count them out, but they’ve got a big challenge ahead.”

Webber also downplayed talks that Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will reach a boiling point in their relationship as teammates, same as Vettel and Webber occasionally did – most notably in the “Multi 21” team orders disobeying Vettel did at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Australian said that is not likely to happen until Red Bull’s car is back on form, winning races at the front as they did with regularity from 2009 through 2013.

“It’s not an issue until they start winning consistently,” he said. “When you’re fighting for third, fourth, fifth, sixth, doesn’t matter, because you’re both trying to get the team up there.

“But when you’ve got one more branch on the tree and you’re both trying to land on that branch, that’s an issue. They haven’t been really tested yet. So non-topic at the moment.”

The Spanish Grand Prix runs from 8 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, on NBCSN, with pre-race coverage beginning an hour earlier at 7 a.m. ET.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.