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Perez slams ‘useless’ penalty to Hulkenberg in Abu Dhabi

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Sergio Perez ended his 2017 Formula 1 season with another seventh place to bring his final season total up to 100 points, good for seventh place in the championship for Sahara Force India.

But ending seventh Sunday in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and behind Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg – who was penalized for passing Perez early in the race by going off track and gaining an advantage – left Perez bemused post-race.

Hulkenberg moved to the outside of Perez on the run off the second long straight going for seventh place, but was unable to complete the maneuver on the racing surface. The German promptly ran off course through the chicane, coming back on track ahead of Perez.

This netted Hulkenberg a five-second time penalty which he’d serve at his first pit stop, but even so Perez felt the penalty wasn’t severe enough for the infraction given Hulkenberg’s long-run pace in his Renault.

“It wasn’t the most exciting race for me, but I had a very busy first lap battling with Nico,” Perez told NBCSN post-race. “I think his penalty was very strange because I was ahead of him and he just cut the corner, gaining a big advantage and a position.

“He had more pace and in clean air he could just go and make up enough time to make the penalty useless.

“He should have just given up the position, as is required and as he did later in the race with Grosjean, and he would have had to overtake me on track.”

Hulkenberg, for his part, knew he had to push once past to ensure he’d built enough of a gap to overcome the ensuing penalty at the stop. The drama for him was extended when they had issues securing two tires on his car – but unlike teammate Carlos Sainz Jr., at least all four stayed on.

“Well I knew I had to have the five-second gap over Checo. When I started to realize the pit stop went long and trouble on rear left, then rear right, I started to sweat!” Hulkenberg told NBCSN.

“You push but there’s so little grip leaving pits. That was a little thriller! It was a very couple interesting laps to get past the Haas (Romain Grosjean), and I had Checo (Perez) waiting to take advantage. So it’s decent to end the season this way. It’s not amazing, but it’s good to have this in our pocket.”

Hulkenberg’s sixth place finish netted Renault sixth in the constructor’s championship while Perez and Esteban Ocon put Force India a clear best of the rest in fourth, for a second consecutive season.

Although Perez didn’t score a podium for the first time in four seasons with Force India (previously achieved them in 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix, 2015 Russian Grand Prix and 2016 Monaco and European Grands Prix), this marked his equal best championship finish of seventh and with only one point fewer scored this year than last, and Perez made an important point that that was with one fewer race.

“I am happy with the result today and it was important to finish this year strongly. It’s my first year at Force India without a podium, but I think we made a big step forward,” he said.

“I scored one point less than last year with just 20 races on the calendar instead of 21. The overall result is great: seventh in the drivers’ championship and fourth in the teams’ standings. I don’t think we could do anything better than that this year and I hope we can continue this way into 2018.”

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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