Getty Images

Hamilton aims to seize momentum in Hungary before F1 break

Leave a comment

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) At the Hungaroring circuit where he secured the first of his many wins for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton will aim to seize the momentum this weekend heading into the Formula One championship’s midseason break.

After a reversal of fortunes, the British driver is only one point behind F1 leader Sebastian Vettel ahead of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix. It was at the tight-turning track outside of Budapest, one of the toughest for overtaking maneuvers, that Hamilton secured the first of his 36 race wins for Mercedes in 2013. That year, Vettel totally dominated as he sealed his fourth straight F1 title when driving for Red Bull.

Hamilton’s win here, though, was the precursor to a period of Mercedes dominance. The following two years, Hamilton won the title and his former Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg, won it last year before suddenly retiring.

Now Vettel is the one trying to deliver the title back to Ferrari for the first time since Kimi Raikkonen – his current teammate – won it in 2007.

Against expectations, Vettel took the early ascendancy in this year’s championship and, with Hamilton struggling with some technical issues on the car, moved 20 points clear after the Austrian GP.

But, two weeks ago, Vettel had problems at the British GP in Silverstone with his tire shredding late on. Hamilton won in style, Vettel squeezed home in seventh, and the 20-point buffer evaporated to just one.

It was Hamilton’s fourth and best win of the 2017 season, restoring his confidence after two difficult races – including a heated clash with Vettel in Azerbaijan.

Now Vettel, who has three wins, is the one needing a boost.

It would be a blow to the German driver’s morale, and to Ferrari, if he went into the month-long summer break trailing Hamilton.

Vettel’s motivation level is likely to be higher than usual, and that makes Mercedes wary of a Budapest backlash from Ferrari.

“Our rivals will be determined to fight back strongly and we have to anticipate that,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “There is no complacency at all at Mercedes, just a resolute determination to get the job done.”

While Hamilton is chasing a fourth F1 title to match Vettel’s career mark, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas is proving to be much more than a reliable backup – which is initially how he was perceived after leaving Williams to replace Rosberg.

Although Bottas remains an outsider for the title, he has trimmed Vettel’s lead to 23 points after four highly consistent races. He won in Austria and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and at Silverstone.

The Finnish driver seems to be driving with a point to prove to Mercedes, which has yet to say whether he will get a new contract next year. With the drivers’ market likely to be wide open next year, Mercedes is leaving it late.

Still, the odds are improving in Bottas’ favor.

“Valtteri has a fierce work ethic, steely approach and a great natural talent,” Wolff said. “He threw himself into the challenge of switching teams and we are now starting to see his full potential. I have the feeling he is getting better with each weekend and I’m excited to imagine how he will continue to develop for the rest of the season.”

The top four in the championship have all had their moments of excellence this season.

Daniel Ricciardo, who is fourth, secured five straight podium finishes heading into the British GP. Perhaps even more impressively, he steered his Red Bull from 19th place on the grid to fifth place there. It was a fine drive and showcased the Australian driver’s speed and flair.

His teammate, Max Verstappen, had a determined fourth-place finish at Silverstone.

The 19-year-old Dutchman, arguably the most impressive driver last year in an incredible breakthrough season, will hope that his car’s troublesome issues are finally over.

For having Verstappen in top form, and with a reliable car, will add even more spice to one of the most tantalizing seasons for many years.

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

Follow@KyleMLavigne