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Wickens surprised himself with pole in first IndyCar race

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To say that Robert Wickens is a surprise pole winner for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg might be an understatement. In fact, even he admitted that he didn’t expect qualifying to go as well as it did.

“I honestly, like full disclosure, I didn’t feel that good actually in practice today,” Wickens revealed in the post-qualifying press conference. “We kind of made some changes overnight that didn’t do what we hoped it would, so we kind of had to go back to our car from Friday.”

Still, Wickens had relatively high expectations for himself entering the weekend. While he admitted that aiming for the pole would have been too much of a reach, he was very confident that he could at least start inside the top 10.

“Did I expect to qualify pole in my first IndyCar race? No. But I would have been disappointed if I was outside of the top 10 just because that’s the kind of person I am. I’m a perfectionist, I am kind of OCD when it comes down to my career and everything on that front,” he explained.

Wickens added that the conditions in qualifying were definitely a help to him. A steady drizzle hit the St. Petersburg street circuit during qualifying, and although the track was not wet enough for rain tires, conditions still proved to be plenty slippery.

But, Wickens detailed that his time in Europe – he has been racing in Europe since 2008 – meant he was used to conditions like the ones the drivers faced on Saturday, in which the track was changing dramatically on every lap.

“Sure, my experience must have helped, but my entire career I’ve always seemed to perform well in these type of conditions, the mixed, wet, dry, when there’s only one minute left and you get one more lap and the track is two seconds faster than the lap before, typically those have kind of been where I’ve seemed to excel,” Wickens asserted.

The 28-year-old Canadian finished by also revealing that he didn’t know his final lap would be good enough to take the pole until the very end, and his reaction to it on the pitlane – highlighted by a series of fist pumps on his way into the pits – reflected as much.

“All I can say is luckily the lap was good enough for pole, but I was very happy with the lap that I did, but I didn’t know it was going to be good enough for pole,” he added. “I was just hoping to kind of be into the top five and not the last of the (Firestone Fast Six) people because I think I was there for a decent part of the session trying to find some clear track.”

The result also has some history attached to it. Wickens, despite being 28 years old with a lot of success in other series, including DTM, on his resume, is making his very first IndyCar start this weekend.

Only two other times in the sport’s history has a driver won the pole in his first IndyCar start: Sebastien Bourdais, at St. Petersburg in 2003, and Nigel Mansell, at Surfers Paradise, Australia in 1993 – both drivers did so with Newman Haas Racing, coincidentally.

Wickens will try to emulate Mansell’s 1993 weekend, which subsequently saw him claim victory that day at Surfers Paradise, and complete his debut IndyCar race with a trip to Victory Lane.

Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg rolls off at 12:30 p.m. ET


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.