Cold temps didn’t keep F1 drivers from scorching in Spain

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Seeing three-time and reigning Formula One World Champion Sebastien Vettel flash past us as soon as we entered the Circuit de Catalunya paddock was a sign it was going to be a great week.

The fact that he was sprinting from the Red Bull hospitality suite to the garage to avoid requests from media & fans alike was also the first evidence that these pre-season tests are motor racing’s mirages. It’s not what you see but more what you don’t see.

(The cold temperatures also could have explained the running.)

Experiencing F1 2013 in the pitlane of the Barcelona track was an exhilarating way to start the season and begin NBC Sports’ relationship with the world’s premier form of motorsport. But you had to be fast to see what you wanted to see.

Every team, from Infiniti Red Bull Racing to Marussia F1, went to great measures to ensure their 2013 pride and joy was only uncovered when it was time to hit the track.

Seven-foot blinds on rollers covered the entrances to the garages and they were removed with swift precision when the car exited and re-installed when the car returned. Team members did their best to stand shoulder to shoulder and obstruct determined camera crews (both TV and still photographers) at any time the cars may have been exposed to the outside world. Perspex shields with paint in specific areas to cover diffusers were inserted on the rear of the Ferrari 138, silver blankets smothered the rear of Red Bull’s RB9 and similar cover-ups were evident all the way down the lane.

While Will Buxton was busy conducting interviews for our season preview show (airing March 7 on NBC Sports Network), David Hobbs and myself were lucky enough to occasionally penetrate Formula One’s force field.

Enjoyable time was spent with F1’s hard man Mark Webber one evening in an informal chat in the hospitality area. I’ve known Mark since he was young and he gave Hobbo and I some wonderful insight into his world circa 2013.

I’d never met Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo until this test. That came about courtesy of his trainer and right-hand-man Stuart Smith (who I last saw 17 years ago in Australia when he was a student of mine at Ipswich Grammar School!).

Williams F1 Team Manager Dickie Stanford kindly took us into garage for a chat about his men Pastor Maldonado and rookie Valterri Bottas. He relived the Maldonado victory at Barcelona last year and what it was like standing on the podium again (he said it had been so long since they’d won he’d forgotten what it was like).

Most of these experiences were spent holding a hot cup of tea or coffee, as it was about as warm as Alaska in January! Perhaps one of the most peculiar sights was that of David Hobbs fingers. The tops of them looked like he’d dipped them in yoghurt. Poor circulation comes from being spoiled by spending the winter months in Florida. Through pity alone, I lent him my gloves.

We were afforded free reign and able to see every team put the new cars through tire evaluations, single laps runs, race simulations and pit-stop practice up close and personal. Standing just feet away from the likes of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton perform practice starts was mind-blowing. Here now, gone in a second. These guys are fighter pilots on the ground!

Oh, did I mention it was cold in Barcelona?

The relatively new pit stop procedure of no refueling is a popular one in pit lane. Safety is paramount and this has been one rule change applauded by everyone.

Speaking of pit stops, one of the lasting memories of the Barcelona test was watching the Red Bull team’s lap-after-lap ritual of nailing them. Our vantage point was from the Media Center and where we stood was directly above Red Bull. We could see inside the cockpit of the RB9 and had a bird’s eye view of it all. Of the 10 stops we saw, three of them were an astonishing 2.1 seconds. How much faster can they go? It’s incredible!

So, after a week of sampling Formula One, Paella, Rioja and Spanish Ham, oh as well as seeing how long we could stand in the cold and who gave in first to seek shelter, we are ready for F1 2013 on NBC Sports.

It’s a new season on a new network with new drivers, in new cars and different teams and a 25-year old German attempting to win his fourth consecutive title (if Seb drives as fast as he runs – it’s a done deal). It couldn’t be better if you ask me!

Leigh Diffey is the F1 and IndyCar play-by-play announcer for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter @leighdiffey

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.