Top 10 drivers in Formula One history: Positions 6-4

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The run up to the United States release of “Rush” is on, and to mark the occasion, the NBC Sports team has assembled a countdown of the Top 10 drivers in the history of Formula One.

We’ll be revealing our picks for this very special list over the next couple of weeks here on MotorSportsTalk. We focused on positions 10 through 7 in the first post, and here’s the next batch of three, numbers 6 to 4…

No. 6 – Fernando Alonso

source: Getty Images
Fernando Alonso – Getty Images

The first active driver on our countdown, Alonso emerged at the head of F1’s new breed of young talent in the early-to-mid-2000s. He debuted as a teenager with Minardi in 2001, and his first of 32 career victories, the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix, earned him the distinction of youngest Grand Prix winner. He achieved a similar accolade – youngest World Champion – at age 24 in 2005, his first of two consecutive titles. But that mark has been eclipsed twice since as Alonso’s bounced around from Renault, where he won both his titles, to a tumultuous single season at McLaren, back to Renault, and then to his current seat at Ferrari. In the last five or six years, Alonso frequently has had to outperform his machinery to remain in title contention, and is still widely regarded as the most complete driver on the grid today.

No. 5 – Jim Clark

source: Getty Images
Jim Clark – Getty Images

The Scot won the 1963 and 1965 World Championships and in the latter year, he also won the Indianapolis 500. Clark’s versatility, poise, confidence, pace and ability behind the wheel were his trademarks, and during the 1960s he and Colin Chapman’s Team Lotus set the benchmark for success in F1. His Grand Prix career included what were records at the time of 25 victories and 33 pole positions, although those have since been eclipsed.  Tragically, the talented driver was killed in a Formula Two race at the Hockenheimring in 1968. Clark’s legacy lives on for those who were fortunate enough to see him race. Clark’s impact was profound on Dario Franchitti, three-time Indianapolis 500 and four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion, as he considers Clark his racing hero.

No. 4 – Sebastian Vettel

source: Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel – Getty Images

Vettel was destined for stardom from the moment he entered F1, and over the last five years, he’s performed a nearly unrivaled assault on the record books. Like Alonso he debuted as a teenager, and scored a point on his debut for BMW Sauber in the 2007 U.S. Grand Prix. He became the youngest race winner a year later with Scuderia Toro Rosso, formerly Minardi, at Monza in 2008. He won Red Bull’s first race in 2009 and in 2010, made it to the top of the mountain where he has established residency as F1’s youngest World Champion at age 23. Three consecutive titles, 32 victories, 40 pole positions later and with a current lead of more than 50 points in the 2013 campaign, there’s no telling when Vettel and Red Bull-Renault’s run of success will stop.

We will reveal the remaining drivers in our Top 10 after the Singapore Grand Prix on Sept. 22.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.