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Helio Castroneves honored by Team Penske as IndyCar season begins

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Helio Castroneves will not be in the IndyCar field when the season opens for the first time he joined the series. His Team Penske teammates have not forgotten the popular driver.

Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power all wore special “Helio” stickers across the top of their visors in Friday’s practice sessions for the season-opening race through the streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday. Castroneves was moved out of Penske’s IndyCar organization at the end of last season and now leads its new sports car program.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner who started in the series in 1998 will be back in an Indy car in May when he goes for a record-tying fourth victory at the showcase race. On Friday, he was still trying to adjust to not being on the track and not seeing his familiar No. 3 making laps.

“I’m not going to deny it is difficult,” Castroneves said. “Leading up to the moments for the first practice and seeing the cars, I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it hasn’t yet sank in that I’m not there. Slowly it’s going to be normal. We adapt. We move on with life. We get over it. We `man up.”‘

Castroneves, a three-time winner at St. Pete, is the grand marshal for Sunday’s race. He joked his command might be directed only at the Penske drivers to start their engines.

Although he’s a spectator this weekend, Power said it felt like Castroneves was still part of the team. To learn the new car that IndyCar rolled out for this season, Castroneves will participate in team meetings. He’ll get his first seat time in the new Dallarra later this month in a test at Barber Motorsports in Alabama.

As for the dynamic within the organization, which went from four cars to three without Castroneves, Power said reigning champion Newgarden fills the void.

“I think Josef kind of takes his spot as far as energy and loudness in the engineering office,” said Power.

Mercedes: F1 teams need to work together to avoid split

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Friday that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.

Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.”

Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously. He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team.

“Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.”

Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.

“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said. “It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.

“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said. “It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”

Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams – Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.

Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.

“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said. “It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.”

Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.

“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.