Could the tire changes give Mercedes their opportunity?

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The waters appeared to have settled in the Pirelli saga that reared its ugly head at the British Grand Prix, following five tire failures that sparked the Italian supplier to make adaptations to its compounds for this weekend’s race at the Nurburgring. Further to that, the 2012 tire construction will be re-introduced at the Hungaroring later this month, meaning that many of the teams will be starting from square one once again.

The media has been pestering the drivers all weekend about the changes that will ensue, and Nico Rosberg has been particularly optimistic, using the word “opportunity” on more than one occasion:

“For sure, it’s very likely that it’s [the changes] going to have an impact, on performances, differences, qualifying, race, so it will be interesting,” Rosberg said in Thursday’s press conference.

“It’s possible that it’s going to mix things up a little bit but it’s also an opportunity, yeah, for us as a team to try and understand it better and earlier than other people and try and make the most of it.”

Had Mercedes nailed their tire management at the beginning of the season, it is likely that another German would sit atop of the standings as the Silver Arrows have been in a different league so far this year in qualifying. In Bahrain and Spain, Rosberg was hurt by the extreme tire wear on the W04, seeing him pick up just 10 points from the two pole positions. Monaco was a different story thanks to the nature of the circuit, meaning that Silverstone was the first sign that Mercedes may have remedied their tire woes, even if Rosberg did see Sebastian Vettel retire from the lead. On the face of things, Red Bull still have the upper hand in the races. This is a fact that Rosberg recognized, openly accepting after the race that he would have caught Vettel.

It is therefore easy to see why Mercedes are not too concerned by the changes. In the drivers’ championship, Hamilton trails Vettel by 43 points with Rosberg a further seven points back, meaning that neither driver cannot realistically be considered as being ‘in the hunt’ for title on math alone. Instead, the correlations can be drawn with last season. Vettel trailed Alonso by 40 points last season and he was able to claw it back rather comfortably as he had the quickest car on the grid, which is a greater advantage than most championship leads.

Rosberg is right to see this as an opportunity to close the gap, banking on Red Bull losing their pace advantage due to the new compounds. Looking into the times from practice, it is hard to see just who is out in front on the long-runs. Rosberg did a long stint of 16 laps in FP2, averaging a time of around 1:37.5 on the medium compound and posting a best time of 1:36.400. Vettel’s average was quicker (1:36.4), but his stint was shorter (12 laps). One may imagine that the four laps of life won’t make up a 1.1 second gap, but the battle is finely poised.

As for Vettel’s thoughts on the changes?

“I think Pirelli has absolutely no interest in trying to shuffle things around.”

All of a sudden, the scene may be set for a dogfight between Red Bull and Mercedes in both championships.

Bourdais hopes last year’s crash turns into Indy 500 Cinderella story on Sunday

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Sebastien Bourdais has relived his May 20, 2017 crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying over and over in his mind, day after day, week after week and month after month.

He would think of the worst crash of his open-wheel racing career at least once — if not several times — a day, particularly when he’d experience a slight twinge of pain.

“I think about it every day,” Bourdais told MotorSportsTalk. “Even though I’m functionally 100 percent now, it’s still very rare that during the day that there’s not a little pinch or something that reminds me of what happened.”

But this past weekend while qualifying for this year’s 500, one year later, the French driver said he was finally able to work past the mental roadblock that just would not leave his mind.

The solution was simple: complete the task he wasn’t able to do so last year, namely, qualifying for the race – and qualifying well.

Bourdais will start fifth in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, in the middle of Row 2.

“(Last year’s crash is) still in my mind,” Bourdais said. “But I think the biggest hurdle, at least mentally, was qualifying last weekend, putting yourself back in the same set of circumstances, going back on the line there.

“It felt a little bit the same, chances of rain, some rain, delays, you get back in line, conditions change, everything gets harder because it gets hotter, but that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome. After that, it’s back to business.”

Bourdais has already won once in 2018 – the season-opening race in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.

It helped jump start him to a strong overall run in the first five races of the season, including a fourth-place showing two weeks ago at the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis, coupled with entering the 500 third in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

Now, he wants to win the biggest race of his career. If he does so, he’ll feel as if he finally and completely has come full circle from last year’s devastating wreck that shattered his pelvis, going head-on into the Turn 2 wall at a reported 228 mph.

“Well, it’s the Holy Grail of IndyCar, it doesn’t really get any bigger than that,” Bourdais said of the 500. “It’s the biggest achievement that you can accomplish in IndyCar.

“I don’t think I’m any different than anybody else: we all want to win it pretty bad, but I’m sure after what happened after last year, it’d be a Cinderella story.”

But there’s a caveat to Bourdais writing that story: “There’s 32 other drivers that want to accomplish the same thing, and it’s a one day event. We’ll give it our best shot … you can only give your very best and see what happens on that given day.”

Bourdais has a lot going for him heading into Sunday. First off, he’ll start from the highest qualifying position he’s ever had in what will be the seventh Indy 500 of the 39-year-old’s racing career.

Second, his confidence and comfort level are higher than they’ve ever been coming into the annual classic at the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval.

Third, he’s forgiven himself – not IMS – for what happened last year. He has no ill feeling towards the racetrack, nor does he seek revenge. If he were to start thinking that way, it would serve no positive purpose.

“No. I’m not really that way,” he said when asked if he wants revenge over the racetrack. “The track didn’t beat me up, I beat myself.

“The bottom line is there were a couple of reasons why it happened, but I got more comfortable and more confident and confidence and comfort at some point just bite you at Indy.

“You just do your laps, you get into such a rhythm and the week had gone perfectly with an awesome car and there was not a doubt in my mind it was going to stick (going into Turn 2), and that’s when it happened – and I paid the price.”

So, Bourdais is simply going to go out and race, again, hoping to complete what he started last year before being so painfully derailed.

His best finish to date in the 500 has been seventh (2014). He just needs for his Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser – Sullivan Honda to finish six places higher on Sunday.

And if he does, his move to Dale Coyne Racing last year – he’s competed in 13 of 23 races with two wins, 3 podiums and one pole – would only serve to make what already has proven to be a great move into a potentially brilliant move.

Because, yes, Bourdais isn’t just thinking Indy 500 win, he’s also thinking of a potential championship this season.

“I sure hope so,” Bourdais said when asked if his team’s success will continue. “I like to say it’s (the success that the Coyne camp has had since he came there) a little bit of my baby, bringing in Craig (engineer Craig Hampson) and Olivier (race engineer Olivier Boisson) and reinforcing the existing crew.”

Bourdais is no stranger to winning championships. He won four straight combined titles in CART and the Champ Car World Series from 2004 through 2007 (he also won 28 races in that four-year span).

“Obviously, it’s one thing to get into a winning team and basically meet expectations,” Bourdais said. “It’s another thing to try and build something and change the status of the underdog and turn him into a contender week in and week out.

“We got a glimpse of that last year, and this year, we’ve been competitive every weekend so far, and that’s a great feeling. Once you’re able to be competitive on street course, road courses, short ovals and superspeedways, then you can start saying and thinking championship.”

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