Sizing up IndyCar’s remaining free agent pool (UPDATED)

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We did this on Monday for Formula One, and now with most of the top seats filled in IndyCar, here’s a look at its remaining free agent pool for 2014. Only four to potentially six full-time seats remain to be filled (Barracuda, second cars for KV, RLL and Coyne, with Panther, Dragon and Dreyer & Reinbold statuses to be determined).

UPDATE, 5:00 p.m. ET: Take Takuma Sato off the free agent board as his return with A.J. Foyt Racing was confirmed this afternoon.

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO, 13th in 2013

  • GOOD: Her seemingly never-ending positive attitude, high paddock support, consistent improvement and strong finish to 2013 has boosted her stock after her first three years had more valleys than peaks.
  • BAD: A liability on ovals, even though she has made some strides on them in 2013.
  • VERDICT: With the continued support of her partners, who would likely seek a minority ownership stake in a team’s second car, de Silvestro will land in one of the remaining second seats. Coyne more likely than RLL or KV, though, at this stage.

E.J. VISO, 15th in 2013

  • GOOD: Has really, really calmed down on track the last three years with far fewer accidents after denting his reputation his first few years in the series.
  • BAD: Has more or less gone silent, save for a handful of Instagram posts and maybe one news report or two, since missing the season finale at Fontana.
  • VERDICT: Viso might not have enough of a budget for IndyCar next year anyway. A move to sports cars seems probable.

JAMES JAKES, 19th in 2013

  • GOOD: Quick on his day and brings a healthy budget to any available seat.
  • BAD: No one would accuse him of being the hardest worker in IndyCar.
  • VERDICT: Like de Silvestro, figures to land somewhere depending on where the dollars and chips may fall.

TRISTAN VAUTIER, 20th in 2013

  • GOOD: Unfulfilled potential after three great years in ladder series, the pace to match and a very positive attitude.
  • BAD: Trial-by-fire as a rookie led to a lot of mistakes in 2013.
  • VERDICT: Likely out for 2014, but could re-emerge as a one-off later in the year.

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA, 21st in 2013

  • GOOD: Had some great qualifying efforts early in the year.
  • BAD: Dwelled in anonymity the rest of the year.
  • VERDICT: With two other Colombians on the grid in 2014, hard to see where Seb junior fits unless Dragon continues for a handful of events.

ORIOL SERVIA, 22nd in 2013

  • GOOD: IndyCar’s most underrated shoe. Consistent, quick, dependable, and an asset to any team he would join.
  • BAD: Flies so far under the radar that TV cameras often miss him. And has a horrible streak of driving for teams that ultimately run out of funding.
  • VERDICT: If talent alone merited a spot, Servia’s place would be set. Alas, it’s not.

ALEX TAGLIANI, 24th in 2013

  • GOOD: Veteran experience, quick on his day, good technical feedback.
  • BAD: Still makes more mistakes than he probably should.
  • VERDICT: With Ganassi spot gone, sports cars almost certainly beckons. Although it would not surprise me to see him in Indianapolis 500 or Toronto one-offs.

JR HILDEBRAND, 25th in 2013

  • GOOD: We forget he dominated an Indy Lights field in 2009 with 13 future IndyCar drivers in it. We also forget he was 11th in the 2012 points ahead of 13 other full-timers. Scored Panther’s best result of 2013, a forgotten fifth at Long Beach.
  • BAD: Panther’s dismissal of him left a pox on his reputation.
  • VERDICT: Good enough to merit a second chance at a proper operation, although Bryan Herta Autosport and Barracuda Racing appears his only shot at the moment.

POTENTIAL ROOKIES/PART-TIMERS

  • Ana Beatriz: Adopting another name, Bia Figueiredo, and exploring sports car racing. Doubtful she’ll have another IndyCar opportunity anytime soon.
  • Luca Filippi: Front-runner at Barracuda if funding issues don’t enter the equation, and could be placed elsewhere by Honda if he fails to land there.
  • Pippa Mann: As ever, persistently working to secure funding for future races, likely on ovals as she raced in 2013.
  • James Davison: Has a full-time sports car ride with TRG’s Aston Martin Vantage, but is in play for one Indianapolis 500 seat and perhaps more.
  • Stefan Wilson: Minimal news yet for Justin’s younger brother but we need some “Bromates” action back in IndyCar at some point.
  • Conor Daly: The European exploration nearing an end, Daly has set his sights on IndyCar. Talent would do it, but he needs to find funding to put it all together.
  • Townsend Bell: Like Davison, has a full-time sports car ride with Level 5’s Ferrari 458. Will probably do his usual Indianapolis 500-only program.
  • Katherine Legge: Like Davison and Bell, committed to the TUDOR Championship with the DeltaWing, but would welcome another IndyCar chance if the funding’s there.
  • Buddy Lazier: Seems set for another Indianapolis 500 program.
  • Sam Bird: Rumored by RACER to make the switch to IndyCar, Bird’s starred in GP2 but lacks the budget needed for F1. It could be viable in IndyCar.
  • Sage Karam: The Indy Lights champion has some funding and is still working to find more for the step up.
  • Mikael Grenier: Young French-Canadian who tested for KV in November is not particularly likely to find the budget needed for a series debut.
  • Jack Hawksworth: Will test for Dale Coyne Racing this week, which already is his second in an IndyCar. The Englishman could use more seasoning, but may make the jump if his management team finds the funding.
  • Arie Luyendyk Jr.: Seems bullish on an IndyCar return and has tested once for Coyne already. If a full-season ride doesn’t happen, a month of May program could.
  • Francesco Dracone/Giuseppe Cipriani: They either have tested or will test for Coyne. Anything beyond that for either of them would be a serious stretch.
  • A.N. Other: There’s always at least one other driver completely out of the woodwork that could appear, so reserving this bullet point for them. 

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

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, 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 for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already 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 will inevitably 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 principle 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.