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Felipe Nasr explores U.S. options in visit to IndyCar at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Ex-Sauber Formula 1 driver Felipe Nasr is making the rounds at this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, as the 25-year-old Brazilian sorts out his next career move.

Nasr and Sauber parted ways late into last year’s offseason, and it’s left him looking for alternative options – one of which could be the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018.

His Brazilian countryman, Helio Castroneves, has invited him to check out the scenery this weekend ahead of a potential arrival in 2018. Castroneves himself faces an uncertain future in IndyCar as he may not continue with Team Penske into 2018, and with the Team Penske and Acura Motorsports DPi program set to come online next season.

But beyond Castroneves, Nasr has also caught up with a few team members from Carlin, a team he drove for in Europe in the past.

“It was Helio that invited me! But I know the people from Carlin for many years though. Drive for British F3 and GP2 as well. So we have a good relationship and it’s good to see them doing well in Indy Lights,” Nasr told NBC Sports.

“This is my first weekend here. It’s good to have a look around. It’s a series that always caught my attention. I wanted to stay closely by. Helio will show me around. It’s interesting.”

Nasr identified IndyCar as one of a number of potential series options for next season.

“The thing is, everything was really late last year. The deal with Sauber wasn’t going to continue. That was December time,” Nasr explained.

“It was late to get in any other series. I’ve still driven other cars, other series this year. So I definitely will be racing next year, but not sure where yet. So why not have a look here? There might be something in the near future to do.

“I would say when I look at series out there, in IMSA, IndyCar, Formula E, the WEC, there’s all these series with great visibility and levels of competition.”

Although Nasr didn’t call Castroneves his mentor, per se, Castroneves has been an integral part of Nasr’s family life and upbringing.

He’s 42 while Nasr, who turned 25 last month, has only a little bit of U.S. experience – he starred with Michael Shank Racing as a Sunoco Challenge winner en route to third overall in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“Helio probably knows me since I’m young! He did South American F3 with my dad’s team. If not, he’s one of the most experienced guys in the field. It’s nice to be looking around and meet a few people,” he said.

“He was very involved in my dad’s team early on. When he moved to do IndyCar, he’s done some solid years here. He always kept a great relationship with my family. When he invited me to come along, I thought it’d be nice.

“He’s one of the guys I want to be around. Basically he knows how everything works here. It’s kind of different. It’s a very strong field with very strong teams.

“I’m just here as a nice spectator. So Helio will be showing me around, and hopefully I can get a few more details about this series.”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.