Contrasting fortunes for Williams in qualifying


Williams’ campaign in 2013 may have been nothing short of disastrous, but the British team appears to be on the cusp of a revival after Valtteri Bottas produced a stunning display in qualifying meaning that P9 – a great result given the team’s recent form – was somewhat disappointing for the Finn.

Bottas had shown good pace during practice, and he managed to carry this over into qualifying to finish the first session as the quickest driver ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Esteban Gutierrez. Although getting into Q2 was nothing new for Bottas, he managed to sustain his pace throughout the second session, and even had the luxury of not going out for a second run such was his initial pace. The Finn eventually finished in fourth place, and was well poised to hassle the front-runners in the final session.

Unfortunately for Bottas, he failed to up his pace in Q3. He went out for an initial lap, but opted to pit and go for just one run at the very end of the session as the levels of grip improved. However, the Finn could not match his Q2 pace, going four-tenths slower and ending up P9 as a result. Although more was on offer for Bottas, he will be pleased to have scored his second top ten grid position of the season, after finishing third in the wet session ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Things could not have been more different in the other Williams, though. Pastor Maldonado – who found out this week that he would not be racing for the team next year – finished a lowly P18. Although his first run was compromised by Esteban Gutierrez, with the Sauber forcing Maldonado to take evasive action, the Venezuelan driver failed to improve on his final lap and was eliminated in Q1 as a result. He did not mince his words after the session, inferring to the British media that the team had sabotaged his car and aided Valtteri Bottas, explaining the 1.5 second gap between them.

Nevertheless, the team will be hoping to get at least one car in the points tomorrow, and those hopes burn brightest with Bottas up in ninth place as the Finn goes in search of his first points in Formula One.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”