After Saturday crash, Sunday’s better for Hinchcliffe in Houston

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Normally a cheerful guy, James Hinchcliffe was anything but after he failed to get out of his grid spot and was then hit from behind by Ed Carpenter off the standing start of yesterday’s Race 1 of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

Hinchcliffe wouldn’t divulge what happened during the incident on Saturday, only noting that he knew what the issue had been. But following Sunday’s Race 2, he was back to his happy self after notching a podium finish – his first since winning at Iowa Speedway seven races ago – with a third-place run.

“I’m really glad this was a doubleheader and we had a chance to redeem ourselves,” Hinchcliffe said after his fourth podium of 2013. “Obviously, yesterday didn’t go – I’m not gonna say ‘not go quite as planned’, it didn’t go anything close to planned. It was a solid race.

“We started eighth, picked some guys off, some guys had problems, but at the end of the day, when we cleared some cars, we had decent pace – not quite up to the par of Scott [Dixon] or [race winner] Will [Power], who were the class of the field for sure, but when you’re keeping guys like Justin Wilson and Sebastien Bourdais behind you on a street circuit, you’re doing something right.”

Like many, however, his thoughts were with Dario Franchitti, who was taken to a local hospital after he was launched into the Turn 5 catch fence following contact with Takuma Sato during the final lap of today’s race.

When Hinchcliffe was asked to describe making his way through the aftermath of the incident at the end of the race, he said it was the biggest debris field he had seen in a crash since what he called “that race in 2011” – a seeming reference to the massive, 15-car incident that took the life of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two years ago.

“It’s never what you want to see,” Hinchcliffe said of Sunday’s crash. “You know how fast that part of the track is. It’s bumpy and we’ve come completely sideways over some of the bumps there.

“I don’t want to say it was a matter of time before somebody got it wrong – obviously, those were two guys racing side-by-side – but it’s almost not even hard to have a single-car wreck in that corner, which should be a pretty straightforward, flat-out piece of race track. It definitely keeps you on your toes, and to get that kind of speed, to launch into the air, it’s not what you want to see.”

Hinchcliffe then expressed his relief that Franchitti would be alright – and his own belief that the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner would “fight on.”

“He’s come back from worse, that’s for sure,” he said.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.