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F1 Preview: 2017 British Grand Prix

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Formula 1 reaches the halfway point of the 2017 season at Silverstone this weekend with the British Grand Prix, and the race for the championship is becoming more open than ever.

Valtteri Bottas’ controlled victory for Mercedes in Austria last weekend drew him to within 35 points of points leader Sebastian Vettel, appearing to disrupt the belief that just two drivers were capable of winning the drivers’ title this year.

Bottas has proven to be a strong teammate to partner three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, whose recent lull – two podiums in the last seven races – has caused him to fall 20 points shy of Ferrari’s Vettel at the head of the standings.

Hamilton arrives at his home grand prix chasing a fourth straight success at Silverstone – but with the competition tougher than ever, he will require every extra boost from the home faithful to make it happen.

2017 British Grand Prix – Talking Points

Bottas bids to continue march, gatecrash title race

Maybe it was premature to assume Bottas was out of contention for the F1 title. Maybe it was even a little disrespectful. The truth of the matter is that F1’s newest flying Finn is definitely in contention – and had it not been for a 15-point loss with his DNF in Spain, he’d even be level with Hamilton for points.

Bottas has gone well at Silverstone in the past, charging from 17th to second in 2014 for Williams, and on his current run of form, a third grand prix victory is certainly within his reach this weekend.

For Sebastian Vettel, the focus will be on steadying the loss of points since his last win in Monaco six weeks ago. It’s been a rocky patch that included the controversy in Baku, so to bounce back with a win at Silverstone would be important for his title bid heading towards the summer break.

For Hamilton? The stakes are even higher…

Hamilton looks for more home folklore

Lewis Hamilton’s record at Silverstone is the envy of the field. Four wins in total and three in the last three years make him one of the most successful home drivers in British motorsport history, trailing only Jim Clark on five victories.

Hamilton will seek the match Clark this weekend and give his title bid the shot in the arm it needs. Just two podiums in the last six races have caused him to drop back from Vettel, and with Bottas now coming into the picture, Hamilton is in need of points – and fast.

But a win this weekend would mean even more than that for Hamilton. After controversially being the only driver to miss the F1 Live London event in his home capital on Wednesday, it hasn’t been the best of PR weeks for the three-time champion.

Sure, the crowds will still be cheering loudest for Hamilton at the weekend, but he will want to delight those decked in Union Jack colors as a way to make up for his absence earlier in the week.

Red Bull eager to continue progress

The Ferrari-Mercedes title fight has been the biggest talking point so far this season, yet in recent weeks, Red Bull has been making some rapid progress as it tries to come into contention at the front of the pack.

From finishing 45 seconds off the race winner in Australia to just six seconds in Austria last weekend, Red Bull’s RB13 car has come on leaps and bounds, with Daniel Ricciardo leading its charge.

Ricciardo’s victory in Baku was opportunist, but his charge to the podium in Austria and late defence of a charging Hamilton was arguably even more impressive, truly proving just how competitive Red Bull has become.

Things haven’t been so smooth for Max Verstappen, though, with five DNFs in the last seven races leaving the Dutchman in a real rut that he needs to get out of as soon as possible. F1’s teen sensation has set the sport on fire since debuting in 2015, but now he has his first mighty challenge to try and overcome.

2017 cars set to light up Silverstone

The hubbub and excitement around the new-style 2017 cars has dimmed somewhat as the season has worn on, with new track records and thrilling displays becoming something of the norm.

But Silverstone should remind us all just how exciting the high-downforce cars are as the field tames some of the most iconic corners in the sport.

Most are expecting the entire Turn 1 and 2 sequence at Abbey and Farm to be flat, while seeing the 2017 cars dance through Maggots, Becketts and through to Chapel will be incredible, particularly on the first lap when they run nose-to-tail.

Silverstone has always been one of the fastest tracks on the calendar, making it the perfect playground for F1’s newest toys to get a real test.

F1’s future in Great Britain

It’s been a weird week for F1 in Great Britain. While most of the sport’s stars (most – looking at you, Lewis) were in London on Wednesday for an incredible live demo around Trafalgar Square, just 24 hours earlier, Silverstone had announced that it would be ending its F1 contract after 2019 unless a new agreement could be struck.

Silverstone’s move is completely understandable. Its current deal is only set to get more and more expensive, deepening the financial hole that is already growing for the track. It may be the historic home of the British Grand Prix, but history doesn’t make good business sense.

A new deal for Silverstone is not out of the question. The issue is that if Liberty makes concessions to the track on historic grounds, other circuits may look to follow suit. It would set a difficult precedent for the sport’s bosses.

The London demonstration gave F1 a taste of what could be imaginable if a race were to grace the streets of the capital. It has been a long-term pipe dream for the sport, but with Liberty now behind the wheel, could it make it reality?

2017 British Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Silverstone
Corners: 18
Lap Record: Mark Webber 1:33.401 (2013)
Tire Compounds: Super-Soft/Soft/Medium
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:29.287
2016 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:35.548
DRS Zone: T5 to T6, T14 to T15

2017 British Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

Bruni, Snow win GT poles for IMSA at Lime Rock

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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A pair of first-time polesitters have the top spot for this weekend’s GT-only IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Northeast Grand Prix from Lime Rock Park. Gianmaria Bruni has his first pole for Porsche while Madison Snow has his first pole of the season.

GT LE MANS

Just 0.535 of a second covered the four manufacturers and eight cars in GT Le Mans in qualifying, but up front, Gianmaria Bruni has his first pole as a Porsche factory driver.

The Italian, in only his third weekend as a factory GT driver and second ever at Lime Rock and sharing the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR with Laurens Vanthoor, posted the ultimate pole time of 50.404 seconds around the 1.53-mile circuit.

“I’m very happy to do my first pole with Porsche, first qualifying. This team has taught me good things and gets the most out of it,” Bruni told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam after the checkered flag. He’s the 23rd different GTLM polesitter in IMSA since the 2014 merger, this surprisingly his first pole in the series.

Richard Westbrook took the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT into second at 50.540 in the car he shares with Ryan Briscoe.

The No. 911 Porsche and No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM are third and fourth, with the pair of Corvettes next.

The No. 4 Corvette C7.R is back in action this week following its accident at the end of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Per Corvette Racing, repairs to the car included: the entire front-right corner (components, bodywork), steering rack, diffuser, wing and changed a chassis tube due to a crease. There were no other cracks or damage to the frame. That car qualified fifth in the hands of Tommy Milner, who shares the car with Oliver Gavin. The pair won Corvette Racing’s 100th race as a team this race last year.

GT DAYTONA

After a run of seven manufacturers scoring pole positions in the first seven races in GTD, the streak was broken Friday at Lime Rock Park.

Not too far from its New Jersey base, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 was the first car to score a second pole this year, this time in the hands of Madison Snow. Snow joins Bryan Sellers (Long Beach) as polesitters for this car this season, and this at least keeps the streak of different drivers alive.

The Nos. 54 CORE autosport and No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in the hands of Colin Braun and Patrick Long were next. Snow’s 52.508 best lap edged Braun’s 52.699 and Long’s 52.836, with Jack Hawksworth best of the 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 brigade in fourth and Jens Klingmann taking the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 into fifth.

The top 15 of the 17 cars in GTD were separated by only 0.992 of a second around the 1.53-mile bullring.

The two-hour, 40-minute race runs late Saturday afternoon, from 3:05 to 5:45 p.m. ET.

Mid-Ohio, Honda Racing go galactic for 2017 at-track camping theme

Photo: IndyCar
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Honda Racing will channel a galactic theme for this year’s camping festivities at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a popular camping venue on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.

This marks the third year of a contest for best campground site, with various Honda Indy 200 gifts on offer. The theme name this year is “May the G-Forces Be With You,” and the hashtag is #CampingWithHonda.  Last year’s was a “Christmas in July” theme, complete with Santa Claus. The full release from the track is linked here.

As this year’s event alludes to a very popular galactic film series in all but name, it will see a number of participants in the weekend festivities by to judge the campsites at the track – potentially in character!

Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in IndyCar, will visit the sites Saturday after qualifying to choose the winners. He did so last year as well.

Photo: PWC

Others, such as last year’s Mid-Ohio race winner Simon Pagenaud and RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 factory driver in Pirelli World Challenge, Ryan Eversley (right), are expected to attend as well – though whether as themselves or potentially in a special character remains to be seen.

“It’s always a thrill and a special part of the Mid-Ohio weekend to take part in Honda Racing fun festivities like ‘May the G-Forces Be With You,'” Eversley told NBC Sports; the Atlanta native finished second in the second PWC GT race here last year in the previous generation TLX-GT, in one of his best drives of the season. “These guys always know how to cook up some fun activities and so if there’s an opportunity to dress up, have fun and play along with it, I’m down!”

Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud, who was a longtime member of the Honda and Acura family before his move to Team Penske’s Chevrolet-powered, IndyCar program (right), added, “For me, as a fan, this film series is just the best. I love the battle between the light and dark side of the force, because I feel like we can all identify with that. I try to channel the force when I’m in my race car, so this will be a really fun weekend in Mid-Ohio.

“I plan to bring something to show my pride at the track, but I won’t ruin the surprise for you guys in advance!”

Expect similar characters to be present on site on Saturday evening. There’s also going to be a bonfire, live band (Columbus group MidLife Crisis) and s’mores, plus branded lighted batons which should display well at the bonfire on Saturday.

And for James Hinchcliffe, another Honda driver who is no stranger to having fun, he’s also part of the buildup to this event, as evidenced by the event teaser below.

Wehrlein nonplussed by Sauber-Honda speculation

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Pascal Wehrlein is not paying any attention to speculation that Sauber’s planned Formula 1 engine deal with Honda for 2018 could be on the rocks, saying his future remains open as he focuses on his current duties with the team.

Mercedes junior Wehrlein was placed at Sauber for 2017, and led the team to its first points finish of the year at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Sauber had been given a boost two weeks earlier when it announced a deal to become Honda’s second customer team for 2018, including technical and financial support.

However, the deal was put in doubt following Sauber CEO and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure, leading to speculation that it had not been finalized.

Kaltenborn’s replacement Frederic Vasseur has made it a priority to resolve the matter, but it has made for a bleak outlook at Hinwil for the future.

With the 2018 driver market beginning to stir, Wehrlein has stressed he is not yet thinking about next season, nor is he paying any attention to the speculation about Sauber’s deal with Honda.

“I have no idea what is happening next year. Of course, I have heard all these rumors as well,” Wehrlein told the official F1 website.

“I cannot influence any of these things, so why worry about them? Whatever rumors there are in the air, it is no distraction for me – that is the bottom line.

“I have a contract for this season so I am only focusing on this year. Decisions are made by others and I am only here to drive, to perform as well as I can.

“Of course I want to see Sauber do well. They have the potential and have already been in good positions in the past and I want them to get back there. How and when? That is on another page.”

Wehrlein expressed his confidence in Vasseur’s leadership, although he expects the team to shift focus to its 2018 plans.

“I do have expectations of Fred and the team. I don’t know how fast Fred can change things or how he can change them, but we now have one race left before the summer shut down,” Wehrlein said.

“In the second half of the season the team will focus on next year, so I don’t think you will see his touch too much this year. So let’s see what we can still do with the tools that we have right now.

“I really respect Fred. I used to work with him in DTM. He had a team when I drove there in 2015. He has so much experience in motorsport and in many other ventures outside racing.

“He is a very successful man. He could help Sauber. He could be very good for the team.”

Keeping Grosjean, Magnussen for 2018 ‘a given’ in Gene Haas’ eyes

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Gene Haas is planning to field an unchanged line-up for his Formula 1 team in 2018, believing it to be “a given” that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will continue beyond the end of the season.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid in 2016, pairing Grosjean with Esteban Gutierrez.

While Grosjean scored a fifth-place finish in Haas F1 Team’s second race and picked up 29 points across the course of the season, Gutierrez failed to record a single top-10 result.

The Mexican was replaced by Magnussen for 2017, with the Dane taking 11 points through the first 10 races of the season.

Despite the fluidity of the driver market for 2018, Haas revealed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is planning to race with Grosjean and Magnussen together once again next year.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year. That is a given,” Haas said.

“And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

Haas had been tipped to take on a Ferrari junior such as Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc for 2018 given its technical ties to the Italian marque.

Grosjean is understood to be a target for Renault should it miss out on re-signing Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen penned a multi-year deal upon arrival at Haas at the start of the season.

Reflecting on Magnussen’s contribution, Haas believes the team has benefitted from his greater race performance that has allowed it to match its debut season points total in just 10 races in 2017.

“Esteban was a good driver. He was as fast as Romain in practice, but I think that Kevin has an edge in terms of race experience,” Haas said.

“He can score points and that was the key for bringing him on board. Kevin can grab points and Romain can too.

“We now have 29 points. Last year around this time we also had 29 points, but did not score for the rest of the season.

“So now if we can score another 29 points by Abu Dhabi, that would be a great position.”