Lack of options to save Massa’s Ferrari career?

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It’s that time of year again, folks. ‘Silly season’ got off to a rather explosive start on the Thursday of the British Grand Prix when Mark Webber confirmed his retirement from the sport at the end of the season, beginning the domino effect on the 2014 driver market. Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are the three drivers in the running for this seat, but this in turn opens up a seat at either Lotus or Toro Rosso. The latter would most probably be filled by rising star Antonio Felix da Costa, and with Nico Hulkenberg in talks with Lotus, he may be off to Enstone should Raikkonen leave. Keeping up?

After another disappointing performance at the Nurburgring, the sharks are now beginning to sniff around Felipe Massa at Ferrari – just as they have for the last three or four years. The Brazilian, who came second in the 2008 drivers’ championship, has been outclassed by teammate Fernando Alonso during their four years together at the team, leaving many to question Massa’s position in Maranello. Furthermore, Ferrari’s reluctance to give him anything longer than a one year contract extension may suggest the same, with a fine run at the end of 2012 securing his place with the team for this season. Could his number finally be up, though?

It comes down to the available drivers. Ironically, Mark Webber’s availability would have suited Ferrari twelve months ago, but the Australian snubbed the move in favor of playing second-fiddle to Vettel once again this year.

Despite there being a plethora of young drivers champing at the bit for a place in Formula One, there appears to be a lack of ‘Ferrari quality’ in the mix-up. The one-time natural replacement for Massa – Nico Hulkenberg – has endured a poor start to the season due to the Sauber C32’s lack of pace, yet his performances have been good to drag it into the points. He may be in talks with Lotus, but would Ferrari be willing to hijack a deal to bring him to Maranello?

A second mooted option is Paul di Resta, although he is lacking a ‘stand out’ result during his two-and-a-half year F1 career so far. Without a podium, it is very hard to Ferrari to take on a driver, and many would also question quite whether he fits in with the team’s ‘image’. A driver who may tick this final box is Ferrari Driver Academy member Jules Bianchi, yet he too lacks any real record having competed in just nine races for Marussia so far.

Without wishing to write off the rest of Massa’s season, the popular Brazilian may be aided by a lack of options for Ferrari. Silly season still has a long summer to play out though, potentially changing the face of next year’s grid once again.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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