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Formula 1: Recapping the past week’s news

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The season-opening Australian Grand Prix for the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship produced somewhat of a surprise in race winner Sebastian Vettel, with he and Scuderia Ferrari taking advantage of a Virtual Safety Car to leapfrog Mercedes AMG Petronas’ Lewis Hamilton and hold the lead until the race’s finish.

News since then has revolved around the aftermath of the event, and a couple teams in particular found themselves under the microscope somewhat.

Below is a look at news from this past week following the Australian Grand Prix.

Haas Asserts that 2018 Car Is Not a Ferrari Clone

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team VF-18 Ferrari on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Haas F1 Team has had an association with Ferrari, in that they use Ferrari power units, since it’s debut season in 2016. And a few circles, particularly McLaren F1’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner, believe that relationship has become a little close, with claims that Haas’ VF-18  is a little too similar to last year’s Ferrari SF70H.

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner hit out at those critics this week, dismissing such claims in no uncertain terms.

“They see ghosts,” he told BBC Sport. “(They say): ‘The car looks very similar to a Ferrari from last year.’ So should we have copied their car, which is behind us, or should we go with a car that goes pretty quick? Give me an answer to that.”

Steiner added that teams are only being critical of them because of how fast Haas has looked early on, especially in comparison to teams with bigger budgets.

“If you have to justify your incompetence, attack is the best defense,” he asserted. “If somebody has double the amount of money and is behind us, whoever owns the team should be asking, ‘what are we doing here?'”

Haas showed impressive speed in Australia, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean running inside the Top 5 five before the team cross-threaded wheels on their pit stops, leaving wheels loose on both cars when they re-entered the track and forcing them to retire.

Sergio Perez Confident That Force India Can Rebound from Tough Opener

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 23: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM11 Mercedes on track during practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 23, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Sahara Force India, which has been the “best of the rest” and finished fourth in the constructor’s championship in each of the last two seasons, stumbled out of the gates in Australia.

Neither Sergio Perez nor Esteban Ocon qualified inside the Top 10 – they were 13th and 15th respectively – and neither finished inside the points, finishing 11th and 12th after failing to show the speed that has been on display since 2016.

Perez, however, thinks Australia was more of a blip than a forerunner of things to come.

“It was quite an unlucky weekend for us, but there are still positives to take from this race,” Perez said in a piece posted on Crash.com. “We came close to bringing home a point although it was just out of reach.”

Perez added that he had the pace to challenge for a points finish in the closing laps, but with overtaking proving difficult, he couldn’t find a way around Renault Sport F1 Team’s Carlos Sainz Jr. as they battled for tenth, the final points paying position.

“I was pushing throughout the whole race and especially chasing Sainz in the final laps. I got really close to him, but it wasn’t enough. Overtaking in Melbourne is very difficult – you could see the same with Bottas who couldn’t pass me during the first stint,” he explained.

Perez also noted the Virtual Safety Car as a factor in their struggles, highlighting that it worked against their strategy.

“The Virtual Safety Car also didn’t help us at all, but that’s just how things go sometimes,” he revealed. “I am still happy with my performance and the job we did as a team. We will need to move on and keep improving, but I believe we will soon be in a position to battle for points.”

Santino Ferrucci to Continue as Haas Development Driver

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 12: Santino Ferrucci of the USA prepares to drive the Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during during F1 testing at Silverstone Circuit on July 12, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

On the American front, Santino Ferrucci, set for a full season in the FIA Formula 2 Championship this year after joining the series midway through the 2017 season, will continue as a development driver with the Haas F1 Team.

“My goal since I began racing is to become a Formula 1 driver, and to be an American who is part of an American team is something I take a tremendous amount of pride in,” Ferrucci said in a piece posted on Crash.com.

The 19-year-old is a former winner in the British Formula 3 Championship and has completed two in-season test sessions for Haas – at Silverstone Circuit in 2016 and at the Hungaroring in 2017.

Ferrucci added, “My time with Haas F1 Team has really prepared me for my first full F2 season with Trident, and between the two teams I feel like I’m in the best position to succeed and, ultimately, get to Formula 1.”

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IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

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