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Horner impressed by Verstappen’s handling of luckless run

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Red Bull Formula 1 chief Christian Horner is impressed by how Max Verstappen has dealt with a luckless first half of the 2017 season, tipping the Dutchman to bounce back after the summer break.

Verstappen has picked up just one podium finish through the first 11 rounds of the year, enduring a run of five retirements in seven races from Bahrain to Austria that has left him 50 points behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the drivers’ championship.

Verstappen’s retirements have been down to a mix of on-track incidents and mechanical issues, but Horner is impressed by the youngster’s approach through the first real difficult point of his career.

“He’s been unbelievably lucky until this point, because he has been driving at such a high level,” Horner said.

“To be taken out in Barcelona, through no fault of his own, to have had successive engine failures in Montreal and Baku, where he was in a position to certainly finish on the podium if not win the grand prix was immensely frustrating.

“But he has dealt with it incredibly well and I’m certain that after the summer break he is going to have a strong second half of the year.”

Red Bull has worked hard to cut the gap to pace-setters Mercedes and Ferrari through the opening half of the season, and Horner says the team will not relent in its bid to get on level terms until the end of the season.

“I think the team is working very well collectively. We’re getting performance on the car, we’ve got some venues coming up that hopefully will suit us and we’ll keep pushing all the way to the final race in Abu Dhabi,” Horner said.

“There is a big gap between us and the cars ahead but there are opportunities in the remaining races and we’re going to be going all out to try and achieve what we can, and obviously the lessons you learn apply to next year anyway.”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.