Getty Images

What to watch for: Italian Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am ET)

1 Comment

The Italian Grand Prix may be the home race for Formula 1’s most iconic brand, Ferrari, yet on Saturday at Monza, it was Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes who stole the show.

In a crazy, three-hour long qualifying featuring numerous rain delays and a surprising result for a mixed-up grid, Hamilton swept to the 69th pole position of his F1 career, becoming the outright record holder in the process.

Chief title rival Sebastian Vettel struggled on a rough day for Ferrari, qualifying eighth, although that becomes P6 thanks to penalties for both Red Bull drivers.

With just seven points separating Vettel and Hamilton at the top of the drivers’ championship, today could prove to be an important one in the title race.

You can watch the Italian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.

2017 Italian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton handed golden chance to take points lead

After a strong showing from Ferrari in Friday’s practice sessions at Monza, Lewis Hamilton was braced for a tight fight similar to the one at Spa one week ago, being hounded by Sebastian Vettel to the checkered flag.

Alas, a wet qualifying shook things up. Ferrari struggled to get to grips with its wet tires in Q3, while Hamilton was at his imperious best. He needn’t have been the fastest man given the penalties for Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, but inheriting the record-breaking pole isn’t his style: he gambled on one late lap, and finished almost a second clear.

With Vettel starting sixth, Hamilton has a huge opportunity to put the title race in his hands today. The Briton has not led the championship at any point this year, but a good start to forge a lead while Vettel tries to pick his way up the order may decide this race early.

How will Ferrari’s 70th anniversary celebrations end?

The Italian Grand Prix is the most important race on Ferrari’s calendar not matter what season we are in, but this year’s running at Monza has been particularly poignant as the manufacturer celebrates its 70th birthday.

Ferrari entered the weekend with its best chance of winning its home race for a number of years, the SF70H car having been the class of the field in the early part of the year and remaining very strong.

But with Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel starting P5 and P6, hopes of a famous home victory and ending a Monza drought dating back to 2010 look to have faded.

In reality, a podium looks to be the best Ferrari can hope for today. If Vettel can somehow leave Monza with his points lead intact, then that would surely be something worth celebrating.

Stroll, Ocon prepare for life at the front

Hamilton’s record-breaking pole may have stolen the headlines in qualifying, yet it was the displays from full-season rookies Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon that had the paddock talking on Saturday evening at Monza.

Stroll, 18, has faced a great deal of criticism through his brief F1 career so far, having arrived thanks to significant financial backing from his billionaire father, Lawrence (oh, and dominating Formula 3 last year, but why would that matter..?)

After a stunning wet lap in the dying moments of Q3, the Canadian made a point by becoming F1’s youngest podium finisher in Baku earlier this year, and will today be the youngest driver to start from the front row of the grid, beating Max Verstappen’s record by three weeks.

Just behind Stroll in P3, Force India’s Ocon is also raring to go and fight for his maiden F1 podium, having been one of the stand-out stars of the 2017 season so far.

Points in all but one race and a fierce rivarly with teammate Sergio Perez have made Ocon one to watch – keep an eye on how he fares from third on the grid today.

Grid penalties, grid penalties everywhere

The penalties applied for changing power units have been silly for well over two years now, but this weekend has seen things get really silly.

With McLaren taking new elements for Stoffel Vandoorne’s Honda power unit on Sunday morning, more than one-third of the grid has taken a penalty for today’s race.

The shake-up has allowed the likes of Stroll and Ocon to rise up the order, and has created a strange grid with a few big names sitting outside of the top 10.

The ones to watch on the charge will be Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who despite expecting to start at the very back given their penalties will in fact line up 14th and 16th respectively.

Only four drivers will start the race in the position they qualified: Hamilton (P1), Carlos Sainz Jr. (P15), Jolyon Palmer (P17) and Romain Grosjean (P20).

2017 Italian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Lance Stroll Williams
3. Esteban Ocon Force India
4. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
7. Felipe Massa Williams
8. Sergio Perez Force India
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Kevin Magnussen Haas
11. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
12. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
13. Max Verstappen Red Bull*
14. Nico Hulkenberg Renault*
15. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso*
16. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull*
17. Jolyon Palmer Renault*
18. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren*
19. Fernando Alonso McLaren*
20. Romain Grosjean Haas**

* After grid penalties applied
** Permitted to start by the stewards after failing to qualify

Zurich Formula E race confirmed, Switzerland’s first since 1955 motorsport ban

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Switzerland will host its first circuit race in over 60 years when Formula E hits the streets of Zurich next June.

Switzerland banned circuit racing and most motorsport activities in 1955 following the Le Mans disaster in the same year, only for a relaxation of the law two years ago to open the door for a Formula E race to be held.

Swiss racer Simona de Silvestro took part in a special showrun through the streets of Geneva in a Formula E in 2015, with the all-electric series pushing to get a race on the calendar.

Following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris, a race in Zurich was approved for June 10, 2018, acting as the fourth new city on the season four calendar.

“I am very pleased that circuit racing is returning to Switzerland next year with the FIA Formula E Championship event in Zurich,” FIA president Jean Todt said.

“To be able to reintroduce this discipline to a country where it has been absent since it was banned in 1955 is an exciting prospect and the achievement of an important goal for the FIA.

“I would like to congratulate everyone involved in making it a reality, as it is important for us to continue to bring motor sport to new audiences around the world.

“Together with the other new events on the calendar in Santiago, Sao Paulo and Rome, I believe we have a very strong season of Formula E ahead of us.”

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag added: “The calendar for next season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting yet with four new venues – including Zurich. I’m thrilled that Formula E is bringing racing back to Switzerland for the first time in over 60 years.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the core fundamentals of Formula E – driving the electric revolution and sustainable mobility. Following the recent law changes this race was also made possible with the instrumental support of our Swiss partner, Julius Baer.

“I would like to express our gratitude to their CEO, Boris Collardi, and his entire team for their continued belief in Formula E – we’ve again been able to break new grounds in the world of motorsport.”

The schedule also features inaugural events in Santiago, Sao Paulo and Rome, and will once again conclude in Montreal, Canada at the end of July.

The only other change to the calendar is the shift by one week of the New York City ePrix date, moving to the July 14-15 weekend.

2017/18 FIA Formula E Calendar

1. Hong Kong – December 2
2. Hong Kong – December 3
3. Marrakesh – January 13
4. Santiago – February 3
5. Mexico City – March 3
6. Sao Paulo – March 17
7. Rome – April 14
8. Paris – April 28
9. Berlin – May 19
10. Zurich – June 10
11. New York – July 14
12. New York – July 15
13. Montreal – July 28
14. Montreal – July 29

Mexican GP to go ahead as planned, facilities unharmed by earthquake

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Next month’s Mexican Grand Prix is set to go ahead as planned after facilities at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez were unharmed by the earthquake that struck Mexico City earlier this week.

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico on Tuesday, claiming the lives of over 200 people as well as toppling dozens of buildings in the capital.

The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is set to host the third-to-last round of the 2017 Formula 1 season on October 29, and will go ahead as planned after facilities were unharmed by the earthquake.

“It’s been inspected twice already from the track surface and also the buildings, and it’s OK,” marketing chief Rodrigo Sanchez told Reuters.

“We’ll continue doing the assessments as we go but so far there’s really no concern. We’ll have a race.

“We’re trying to put out there all the information relevant to how people can help. Right now the concern is really getting everything back to moving from the city perspective and supporting any way we can.

“If things stay the same, we’ll just keep working on what we’re doing.

“The track is fine so we just need to re-focus and get this show done.”

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has donated $170,000 to support those affected by the earthquake, while the Carlos Slim Foundation is set to match every donation made five-fold.

IndyCar delivers its second-best season on NBCSN in 2017

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the ninth year of its 10-year contract with the Verizon IndyCar Series (formerly as Versus and now as NBCSN), NBCSN produced its second-best season on record this year.

With a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 507,000 viewers per race, the 2017 season of races on NBCSN was just 1 percent off the best mark of 510,000 viewers per race in 2015.

This season’s viewership on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app exceeded the 2016 TAD of 492,000 viewers by 3 percent (excludes Texas and Pocono races in 2016, which were rescheduled due to weather), and was just 1 percent shy of NBCSN’s record TAD in 2015 (510,000).

TAD measures consumption across multiple platforms, combining the average minute audience (AMA) for television and digital. The 2016 release details are linked here.

Seven of the 12 races aired on NBCSN had a TAD of more than 500,000 with the most coming at Pocono with 624,000. In terms of household ratings, Indianapolis was the top local market with Richmond-Petersburg, Greenville, West Palm Beach and Greensboro coming in the top five.

The full 2017 release details are linked here.

Veach, Andretti, Group One Thousand One able to build for future

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

Rare are the words “American,” “young driver,” “multi-year” and “IndyCar” assembled within a sentence in modern day Verizon IndyCar Series racing.

But for young American driver Zach Veach, he’s got a multi-year IndyCar contract at his disposal thanks to Group One Thousand One at Andretti Autosport, and with it, an opportunity to build, grow and develop over that three-year time period through 2020.

It’s hard to believe Veach, the Stockdale, Ohio native, is only 22 considering his history in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires between 2010 and 2016, competing every year save for one (2015) due to injury and a lack of budget.

But throughout that period he gradually improved year-by-year, first in USF2000, then in Pro Mazda and finally in Indy Lights. Over his three years and with two different cars in Indy Lights, Veach grew into a race winner and bulked up from his already slender frame.

Veach is also the first driver in MRTI history to have been with the same team in all three levels, and graduate into IndyCar. He detoured to Belardi Auto Racing in 2016 but otherwise, was part of Andretti Autosport’s lineup from 2010 to 2014, and will now come back “home” for 2018 in IndyCar.

Veach and Michael Andretti before Star Mazda debut, Sonoma, 2011. Photo: IndyCar

“I think he was 14 or 15 when we met the first time… and he looked like he was 10. Now he’s 22, and looks like he’s 15!” Michael Andretti laughed.

“But he’s always impressed me. OK, he’d come out of the box not bad. But the next race, he got better, and you could see it. It wasn’t by mistake. You’d see how he’d work, take the information, study it for hours, and then come back so much more prepared the next day.

“I gotta say, I don’t think there’s as many drivers I’ve known outside the car who’ve worked that hard to make themselves better, and he did that all the way up the ladder system. There’s a lot of confidence in big cars, and now he’ll have more tools and will use them to his advantage. So he might start here, qualify top-18, then it’ll start to go up, up, then qualify top-10 by the end of the year and I believe the next year he’ll be more of a contender. That’s how I envision it.”

Setting reasonable and realistic expectations will be key for Veach, who should look at drivers like Josef Newgarden or Charlie Kimball for inspiration.

Newgarden’s first year with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing was littered with rookie errors, not a single top-10 finish, and ending 23rd in the championship. But knowing he had two more years to build off of, Newgarden was a podium finisher each of the next two years and had leapt 10 spots in the standings. By his fourth year and his second contract in 2015, he was a race winner.

Kimball was the same way with Chip Ganassi Racing. Barely in the top-20 in points his first year with only a couple top-10s, he ascended to podiums in year two as well, and scored his first race win in year three – when he also cracked the top-10 in points.

Given Veach’s years of preparing for this moment, he’s happy to have gotten to IndyCar now, rather than rushing it years earlier.

“I was one of those kids who thought he would be in IndyCar at 18. That’s so dumb! Looking back, I’m so glad that’s not how it happened,” Veach told NBC Sports.

“It’s hard to be patient when you’re young. I know I’m saying that at age 22, but at 15 or 16, all you care about is getting to IndyCar.

“Luckily, life forced me to be patient in some things. I would much rather have this deal at age 23 than at 18, because now I feel I can deliver what these people have put on my shoulders.”

Veach, Towriss and Andretti. Photo: IndyCar

The key person to have come through with the deal is Dan Towriss, CEO, Group One Thousand One. Veach, his pastor and Towriss all connected in the run-up to the Indianapolis 500, with Veach’s program for that race announced at Long Beach with A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Towriss explained first off that Group One Thousand One is a separate insurance company from Guggenheim Life, which was the presenting sponsor of Veach’s No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship Chevrolet in Indianapolis.

“Group One Thousand One is a group of insurance companies based in Indianapolis, and again, we’re growing our business, and we’re excited to be associated with Andretti and with Zach in this newest venture of ours,” Towriss explained.

“His story is one of perseverance and continuing to work hard. It resonates with us very well; helping people help themselves, and so we will help him continue on that journey. During May, we noted the way he was able to persevere, and work with his engineers when things weren’t able to work.”

Veach at Indy 500 this year. Photo: IndyCar

Veach is one of the smallest drivers in the series, at 5 and a half feet and hovering around 130 pounds. But outside the cockpit he’s developed a love of mountain climbing, and has been able to scale several cliffs over the last couple years.

His upper body strength is something he’s focused on building and he has come a long way from his early years in the MRTI. Manhandling an IndyCar is difficult, particularly as they don’t have power steering, but it’s something Veach has been working on.

“I think the first couple of tests will be hard, but they’ll be hard for everyone after the three-month offseason,” he said. “But we’re already 10 pounds heavier than we were at the Indy 500 and I’m proud to say there’s not a lot of fat!

“We’ve been busting our butts at St. Vincent’s to get stronger. Our numbers to now from where we started are night and day. We’ll keep working hard and as we get closer to the season, we’ll shift to more cardiovascular work. I’m at 128, 130 pounds now and I’d like to be at 135 when the season starts. I think it’s well within reach.”

Veach described the challenge of advancing up the ladder despite not winning a single Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for winning any of the three rungs on the ladder.

Veach (12) with longtime friend Gabby Chaves (7) in 2013 Freedom 100. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s not something I’m proud of. But one thing I am very proud of is that I’ve been very honest,” he said. “I had some success in USF2000, it was hit and miss in Pro Mazda, and in Indy Lights, I really came into my own. I proved to people that I could run up front and win races.

“What got me there was having that work ethic, trying to learn as much as I could from teammates who were quick and put that to use. Working with drivers like Felix Rosenqvist really helped. He showed me just how deep a car can go into the braking zone, with all that Formula 3 experience!

“He’s such a good driver and I hope to see him over here. He’s one of my closest friends and I don’t know anyone who deserves an IndyCar ride more than he does.

“It was a completely different set of skills and I think that’s why we didn’t hit our stride until the last part of the year. We won Road America, but winning at Watkins Glen and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca showed me where I wanted to be all year.

“It wasn’t until then that the team and I felt comfortable with what we were doing. There was added pressure when I became the team leader but that’s when things started turning around because the setups went in the exact direction I wanted them to go. That’s when things really started to click.”

Veach with USF2000 veteran Ayla Agren and Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman at Sonoma. Photo: IndyCar

The final element of Veach’s perseverance was his continued presence at the races. He found a home as a regular analyst and occasional pit road reporter for the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network in 2015, and made regular appearances there in 2016 and 2017 as well. He also drove a two-seater for the Indy Racing Experience in the same time frame.

“I think it was extremely important just from the standpoint of showing people I wasn’t going to go away,” Veach said.

“I think I got a little criticism from others involved sometimes just saying, ‘Well, why are you there if you’re not doing anything and not driving?’ You have to stay relevant, and that’s just what we were trying to do. Luckily enough, IndyCar Radio gave me a great opportunity. It’s the first kind of real job I ever had with them.

“I owe them many thanks, and of course the Indy Racing Experience with the two-seater. Even though it’s a two-seater I still got to run at places I’ve never raced at before. So I’m going to a few new tracks next year. It’s not the same thing but at least I know which way to go. I think that’s going to help us be a little quicker.

“It’s just never giving up on the dream. It’s learning every day. It’s never taking no for an answer.”