F1 Primer: The drivers

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The Formula One world championship is contested by 22 of the best drivers from around the world.

The champions

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel (Germany) is shooting for a four consecutive drivers’ championship title, which has only been done twice before in the sport’s 63-year history.

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Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (Spain) is among those trying to stop him. Since winning the 2005 and 2006 titles Alonso has come within a whisker of three more championships in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Lewis Hamilton has turned his back on the McLaren team which propelled him into F1 and to the 2008 title, and taken over from Schumacher at Mercedes. Fellow Briton Jenson Button, Hamilton’s successor as champion in 2009, remains at McLaren.

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And finally there’s Lotus’s enigmatic Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) who won last year on his return from a two-year lay-off which included rally and NASCAR appearances.

Race winners

Mark Webber (Australia) and Felipe Massa (Brazil) have the unenviable task of partnering two of F1’s top talents, Vettel and Alonso respectively.

Nico Rosberg (Germany) and Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) scored their breakthrough Grand Prix victories last year. Rosberg, son of 1982 world champion Keke, is yet to establish himself as a regular front-runner, and faces a stern challenge from Hamilton this year.

Maldonado’s win was one of few high points in a season which saw too many incidents. The same can be said of Romain Grosjean (France), who was quick but too incident-prone in 2012.

Up-and-comers

One of the most interesting storylines ahead of the 2013 season is how Sergio Perez (Mexico) will fare having been promoted to McLaren in Hamilton’s place.

Another one to watch is Nico Hulkenberg (Germany), who led 30 laps of last year’s season finale in an unfancied Force India. He’s moved to Sauber, and is tipped as a future Ferrari driver.

His fellow German Adrian Sutil returns to F1 following a one-year absence. He is reunited at Force India with 2011 team mate Paul di Resta (Britain), which promises to be an absorbing intra-team battle.

Red Bull junior drivers Jean-Eric Vergne (France) and Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) remain at their junior team Toro Rosso for a second year, bidding for a chance to join the senior team. Sophomore driver Charles Pic (France) moves from Marussia to tail-end rivals Caterham.

Rookies

Five new drivers arrive in the sport this year. You can read more about them in this earlier article:

F1 Primer

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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