Pirelli

F1 Preview: 2017 Spanish Grand Prix

Leave a comment

With the four early-season flyaways now out of the way, Formula 1 returns to mainland Europe for one of the most important races of the season: the Spanish Grand Prix.

We may only be four rounds in to the year, and the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari may be as tight as ever at the front of the pack, but the upcoming weekend in Barcelona could be a decisive one.

The start of the European season ordinarily brings with it the introduction of significant update packages for cars, which will sport plenty of revised bodywork parts and new elements over the weekend that weren’t present last time out in Russia.

With 2017 marking the start of a new technical cycle for F1, the gains – and, therefore, the losses also – to be made are huge in the development race. Should Mercedes or Ferrari have found a magic bullet, it could lay the foundations for a purple patch of form that will prove crucial come the end of the season in Abu Dhabi.

Here are the key talking points for the Spanish Grand Prix weekend.

2017 Spanish Grand Prix – Talking Points

Bottas settles in to life as a GP winner

Valtteri Bottas’ maiden grand prix victory last time out in Russia may have not been one of the most spectacular successes in recent memory, yet it was an important one for both the Finn and the wider title battle playing out.

For Bottas, on a weekend where he was bombarded with questions about status as a number two driver at Mercedes behind Lewis Hamilton, to have outperformed his illustrious teammate so convincingly was a big statement of intent.

He may only have been given a one-year deal, but to already be in the winner’s column after just four races in a Mercedes is likely to have done Bottas’ chances of a renewal for 2018 a world of good.

It not only proved that Bottas has what it takes to win grands prix and control races, but it also showed how crucial he will be in denying the rival Ferrari team – and, perhaps more importantly, Sebastian Vettel – points in the title battle.

Kimi Raikkonen has looked off the boil for a while now, even if he did reach the podium in Russia. With Hamilton and Vettel so evenly-matched, it has seems more and more likely that it will be their Finnish teammates who decide the title race. Going on his performance in Russia, you’d want Bottas in your corner, hands down.

For Bottas though, there will be loftier ambitions on the table. He proved in Russia he has what it takes to beat Hamilton and Vettel. If he can keep doing that, then a title bid of his own wouldn’t be so unthinkable.

This ain’t a scene, it’s an arms race

It has been difficult to judge who out of Ferrari and Mercedes has been quicker through the opening four rounds of 2017. Much of their raceday performance has come down to tire management, with the closest sniff of a wheel-to-wheel battle on-track coming in Russia when Bottas soaked up pressure from Vettel late on.

This title race was never going to be decided by tire management, though. It was going to be decided by who could outdevelop their rival across the course of the season. A good ol’ fashioned arms race.

Mercedes’ big problem through the opening four races was that its car, the W08, was running at a heavier weight than that of the rival Ferrari SF70H. With this apparently resolved, the team should be in a more feisty mood this weekend, particularly with a raft of other updates also set to arrive for the W08 car.

For Ferrari, its big challenge will be keeping hold of Mercedes’ coattails. It has already surprised the paddock by producing a base car that is good enough to take the fight to the Silver Arrows at the front of the field. The question now is can it keep up in the development race.

Acronym questions aside, Red Bull looks to make a step

Red Bull’s 2017 campaign has been a mighty disappointment thus far. Considering the team pushed for the current regulations to place a heavy emphasis on aerodynamics, an area it has traditionally been strong in, to be almost two seconds off the pace at points isn’t great going.

But the team has always said it would be bringing a major, major update to the Spanish Grand Prix. Chatter in the past few days has suggested that the overhaul of the car is so big that there were even considerations to rename it the RB13B, or even skip a step and make it the RB14.

While such rumours have been unfounded, be sure to keep an eye on the new bits that crop up on the Red Bull car this weekend. There is an enormous gulf at the front of the pack to make up in relation to Mercedes and Ferrari, who themselves will have been making progress. As such, a repeat of Max Verstappen’s surprise maiden win from 2016 seems unlikely – but then again, didn’t it seem so 12 months ago..?

Will Pirelli’s tire picks cause trouble?

Pirelli’s tires have met mixed responses so far this season. After revising the compounds as part of its push to increase the tire sizes by 25 per cent, the more conservative nature of the rubber appeared to be offset by softer choices. Case in point: Australia and Bahrain, where managing the tires was a challenge.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, there was Russia, where even the softest possible selection resulted in a one-stop race that lacked any real strategic creativity, because it simply was not possible.

For Spain, Pirelli has moved in the opposite direction with its tire picks, electing to take its soft, medium and hard compounds to Barcelona. While this would be standard in previous years given the abrasive nature of the track and its hard-on-tire, the more conservative nature of the 2017 compounds and the difficulty to bring them alive means that drivers could struggle to work with them.

“We’re going for the harder tires for the first time this year in Barcelona. I’m not sure if it’ll help us or not but I just don’t think it’s going to be good for anyone,” Ricciardo said.

“The tires are already hard enough so the harder compounds are just way too hard. Hopefully for Barcelona’s sake it’s hot and therefore these harder tires work, but if it’s cold then it’s going to be a struggle for everyone.”

A true test for F1 in 2017

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya may not be the most inspiring circuit in F1, yet it does offer the most well-rounded test for all teams due to its mix of high- and low-speed corners, plus some decent-sized straights.

As a result, outside of the battle at the top between Mercedes and Ferrari, we should get some firm answers regarding how the midfield is really shaping up. There has been little to separate Force India, Williams, Toro Rosso, Haas and Renault so far this season, with each of the five appearing to stake a claim for being the top midfielder at one point or another.

So we may finally get some answers this weekend. Williams has appeared to have the best-rounded car, and was quick through testing in Barcelona. Force India looks more consistent and has promised a significant update package for the race, so may be able to leapfrog ahead in terms of true pace as well.

The race for fourth in worth millions of pounds in F1, not just pride. This race could set the tone for the fight to come through the remainder of the year.

2017 Spanish Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Corners: 16
Lap Record: Kimi Raikkonen 1:21.670 (2008)
Tire Compounds: Soft/Medium/Hard
2016 Winner: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:22.000
2016 Fastest Lap: Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) 1:26.948
DRS Zones: T16 to T1; T9 to T10

2017 Spanish Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

MRTI Preview: Mid-Ohio

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires faces possibly its busiest weekend of the year this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Yet another double header awaits the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires tackles it’s lone triple header of the year.

What’s more, the season is rapidly winding down for all three series. Indy Lights and Pro Mazda only have three race weekends remaining (Mid-Ohio, Gateway Motorsports Park, and Watkins Glen International), while USF2000 has only two (Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen), meaning time is running out for anyone who wants to challenge the championship leaders.

In Indy Lights, the title picture centers around one driver, while Pro Mazda and USF2000 are up for grabs between two pairs of young hard chargers. All told, the final weekends of the year have the makings for intense battles to claim not only the championships in each respective series, but also the Mazda scholarships that enable the drivers to move up.

Below are quick previews for all three series.

INDY LIGHTS

  • Top 5 in points: 1. Kyle Kaiser, 279, 2. Matheus Leist, 228, 3. Colton Herta, 214, 4. Zachary Claman De Melo, 207, 5. Aaron Telitz, 203

    Kyle Kaiser dominated the most recent Indy Lights outing in Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Kyle Kaiser swept the weekend at Toronto, dominating Race 1 on Saturday and surviving a crash-filled Race 2 on Sunday. His weekend sweep gives him three victories for the year, and combined with struggles from the likes of Matheus Leist and Colton Herta to give him a sizeable championship lead of 51 points.
  • Zachary Claman de Melo and Aaron Telitz are quietly riding waves of momentum. Claman de Melo’s last four finishes are 1-6-2-3, while Telitz has gone 5-9-5-2 in the same stretch.
  • Though Kaiser has a sizeable championship lead, 39 points separate second from seventh (Leist, Herta, Claman de Melo, Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Nico Jamin).
  • Santi Urrutia swept both Indy Lights races at Mid-Ohio last year.
  • Ryan Norman’s No. 48 entry for Andretti Autosport gets a different look this weekend, with rock band Journey featured on the car.

 

PRO MAZDA

The Pro Mazda championship has been a see-saw battle between Franzoni and Martin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Top 5 in points: 1. Victor Franzoni, 174, 2. Anthony Martin, 167, 3. TJ Fischer, 115, 4. Nikita Lastochkin, 110, 5. Carlos Cunha, 103
  • Through six races, only Franzoni and Martin have won races (three apiece); with Fischer 59 points out of the lead in third, it appears Franzoni and Martin will decide the 2017 Pro Mazda championship.
  • Mid-Ohio represents the lone triple-header of the year for Pro Mazda, with races on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  • Last year, in a triple-header for USF2000, Anthony Martin swept the weekend, winning all three races.
  • Nico Jamin swept the Pro Mazda weekend at Mid-Ohio last year, winning both races in what was then a double-header.

USF2000

  • Top 5 in points: 1. Oliver Askew, 283, 2. Rinus Veekay, 265, 3. Parker Thompson, 206, 4. Kaylen Frederick, 185, 5. Calvin Ming, 151

    Oliver Askew has struggled lately, allowing Rinus Veekay to close the championship gap. Parker Thompson now sits third. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Askew’s points lead has been trimmed to 18, with finishes of 17th (Road America Race 1, due to suspension problems) and 12th (Toronto Race 2, due to a crash) blighting an otherwise impressive season.
  • To contrast some of Askew’s recent struggles, Veekay has finishes of 1-1-2-3-2 in his last five races, allowing him to dramatically close the gap to Askew.
  • Parker Thompson’s weekend sweep at Toronto vaulted him to third in the championship. At 77 points back of the lead, it will be difficult to mount a title push, but his presence can be a spoiler for Askew and Veekay.
  • Of note: each of USF2000’s Mid-Ohio visits the last two years have seen weekend sweeps. As previously mentioned, Anthony Martin accomplished the feat in 2016, with Nico Jamin doing so in 2015. Conversely, the 2014 outing saw different winners in each race. RC Enerson, Jake Eidson, and Florian Latorre all won in a triple-header weekend that year.

Racing begins on Friday with USF2000 and Pro Mazda running their first races of the weekend. Indy Lights holds its first race of the weekend on Saturday.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

 

Foyt, Coyne optimistic about Mid-Ohio after testing

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

Along with Felix Rosenqvist and Chip Ganassi Racing, two other teams visited the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for testing ahead of this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Sunday July 30, 3:00 p.m., CNBC). A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Dale Coyne Racing sent their drivers and teams to Mid-Ohio in hopes of getting a leg up on things and building optimism ahead of this weekend.

For Foyt’s team in particular, the optimism is needed. Combined, drivers Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly have only three top tens (two for Munoz, one for Daly) across a total of 24 starts, making them desperate for strong results to come their way.

Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz are hopeful that they can turn their seasons around at Mid-Ohio. Photo: IndyCar

Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity for Foyt’s duo to right the ship. Munoz has finishes of fourth, ninth, and third in three starts at the Lexington, Ohio road course, while Daly led late in last year’s race and finished an impressive sixth.

And a productive test last week has both feeling hopeful. “We needed this test to try big steps and different options and I think we gained a lot from where we started to where we finished,” said Munoz, whose best 2017 finish of seventh came at Barber Motorsports Park in April.

Munoz added that, while they are still playing catch up a little, the team gained valuable information that should help them this weekend. “The car was much more competitive from where we started so we closed the gap but we need a little bit more to compete with the top guys. But the information that we gathered will help us to show up stronger than we did at the test so I’m looking forward to going back,” he asserted.

Daly echoed Munoz’s sentiments and added that his near-win last year makes him upbeat ahead of the weekend. “It was a really productive (test) for us. Every day with this car and aero package we are learning more. I feel like I came quite close to winning the race last year so I’m hoping to have another strong result this year,” Daly expressed.

Technical Director Will Phillips added that the knowledge they gained should help them at Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway at the end of the season, particularly in terms of maximizing the grip from the tires.

“We certainly believe that the area we made an improvement in will help us at all the road courses to come – we have been slow to extract performance from the tires at times and it was in this area that some changes we made had a very positive response,” Phillips described. “We will keep our feet on the ground but are optimistic that we can carry the gains through for the remainder of the year, not just for Mid-Ohio.”

On the other side, Dale Coyne Racing has been a giant-killer in 2017, winning at St. Petersburg with Sebastien Bourdais and finishing third at the Indianapolis 500 with Ed Jones. James Davison, Tristan Vautier, and Esteban Gutierrez have also impressed in fill-in roles for the injured Bourdais.

Dale Coyne Racing has shown a lot of speed in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

And while the team has also incurred more than it’s fair share of crash damage, they have consistently showcased speed at nearly every event, and the team’s drivers are confident Mid-Ohio will yield more of the same.

“We had a really good test last week at Mid-Ohio. It was very positive and we worked on a lot of things,” said Ed Jones, who has four starts at Mid-Ohio from his days in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, with a best finish of sixth. “The car seemed pretty fast compared to others that were there. As we saw at Road America, it’s beneficial to be able to test somewhere before we race there. It can give you an advantage early on and hopefully we can produce another good result because of it.”

Teammate Esteban Gutierrez, making his sixth start for the team this weekend, is more modest of his expectations, but did reveal that a top ten finish could be realistic.

“In terms of objectives for the weekend, I want to keep on learning and it would be nice to reach the top ten. We know that it’s been a pretty steep learning curve for me in IndyCar but we’ve made some progress and hopefully we can make our way into the top ten pretty soon,” Gutierrez detailed.

Of the drivers mentioned here, Jones ranks the highest in the championship standings, currently sitting 12th. Munoz sits 15th, Daly 19th, and Gutierrez 25th in his fill-in role.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Lando Norris also gets confirmed for Hungary test with McLaren

Photo: Lando Norris PR
Leave a comment

McLaren Honda young driver Lando Norris has joined the list of those confirmed for the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test as well.

He’ll run on the second day, Wednesday, of the two-day test with Stoffel Vandoorne running on day one, Tuesday.

The teenaged Brit races for Carlin in the FIA F3 European Championship this season and is one of the most talented prospects in the pipeline, following his karting career and early years in formula cars. This will mark his test debut in an F1 car.

He was announced as part of McLaren’s development program in February.

Norris was confirmed a little more than a week ago for next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in a United Autosports Ligier JS P217 LMP2 car but this gives him his first go in a proper F1 rocketship.

 

Pirelli review says Raikkonen tire not faulty at Silverstone

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Formula One tiremaker Pirelli has concluded that Kimi Raikkonen’s tire damage late in the British Grand Prix was likely caused by external contact.

Raikkonen was set for second place in the July 16 race but his tire problem allowed Valtteri Bottas to complete a Mercedes one-two with Lewis Hamilton. The Finnish driver even looked set to lose his podium spot to his own teammate Sebastian Vettel, but in a bizarre twist he ended up third after Vettel’s own tire shredded.

The sight of two Ferraris capitulating within moments of each other led Pirelli to conduct extensive post-race tests on both cars. Raikkonen’s problem, Pirelli said in a statement Wednesday, did not come from the tire itself.

“The possible initial cause of this damage is consistent with contact against an external body, leading to a partial separation of the belt from the carcass in the two affected areas,” Pirelli said. “On no occasion was there any sign of fatigue, detachment or laceration -or even the beginning of such problems – that affected the structure of the tire. In conclusion, Pirelli can confirm that no issues have emerged connected with the tire itself.”

Last week, Pirelli said that Vettel’s shredded tire at Silverstone was caused by a slow puncture.

Vettel appeared to be heading for third place at Silverstone until his front left tire suddenly blew apart two laps from the finish. The four-time F1 champion managed to steer his Ferrari back to the pits for a tire change, and secured seventh place to cling onto his championship lead. Raikkonen’s pit stop to change his tire came just before Vettel’s.

Hamilton won to cut Vettel’s championship lead to one point. Raikkonen, who has three podium finishes this season, is fifth overall.

The championship continues at the Hungarian GP this weekend before a month-long summer break.