Alonso fastest in delayed first practice in Austin

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Fernando Alonso has finished quickest during first practice for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, but two large delays meant that it was hard for many of the teams to deduce much from the shortened session on Friday morning.

The start of the first free practice session was delayed by forty minutes due to a thick layer of fog that had descended over the Circuit of the Americas, with race control shortening the session to one hour as a result. Conditions did eventually improve and Austin was soon bathing in bright sunshine. Kimi Raikkonen’s stand-in, Heikki Kovalainen, was the first driver to go out on track as he looked to get to grips with the E21 car, but it was the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez who set the early pace. American driver Alexander Rossi – deputizing for Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde on Friday morning – also got out early to post a time, although it was far from representative, being four seconds down on Button in P1 and six seconds ahead of Charles Pic.

However, the session was soon red flagged after fifteen minutes of running due to a problem with the medical helicopter. Had there been a crash that required a driver to be airlifted to hospital, this would not have been on hand, meaning that all cars were forced to return to the pits and wait for the arrival of the back-up helicopter.

After a delay of around thirty minutes, the helicopter arrived and the session was able to get back underway with just thirty minutes left on the clock. The drivers were quick to get back out and make up for the lost time, with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber being the first drivers to displace the McLaren drivers at the front. Valtteri Bottas also popped up into second place briefly as the track began to evolve, and the rest of the runners soon put in a competitive lap time. However, some drivers still lacked grip as Adrian Sutil became the first man to run wide at turn nineteen whilst Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez both locked up heading into the first corner.

Most of the teams opted to focus on their long runs due to the delay, with Sebastian Vettel filling his Red Bull full of fuel and failing to bother the front-runners as a result, eventually finishing in eighteenth place. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat got his first taste of running at a grand prix weekend, and posted a respectable time in comparison to full-time driver Daniel Ricciardo. Alexander Rossi made the most of the delayed session to finish ahead of Charles Pic, strengthening his case for a full-time seat, whilst Heikki Kovalainen quickly got to grips with the Lotus car to finish just behind Romain Grosjean. Esteban Gutierrez also put in a good display to finish in fourth place, delighting the sizeable Mexican contingency in Austin.

Due to the delays though, it was very hard for the teams to deduce much from the session, meaning that they will have to regroup and squeeze more running into the second practice session later today.

You can watch FP2 live on NBCSN from 1pm ET.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”