F1 notes and quotes: Bahrain Day 1

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The first day of Bahrain testing – the first of four this week, and first of eight overall to round out official Formula One preseason testing – occurred Wednesday. It’s still early days yet, but the initial narrative of Mercedes pace and reliability while Renault teams struggle for laps appears to be the case.

Here’s the notes and quoteboard from around the paddock for the rest of the runners beyond Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, the two main headline-makers on Day 1.

  • Ferrari, second with Fernando Alonso on Wednesday, hasn’t begun its performance chase yet. “I think it is still too early to say just how satisfied we are, as we are still learning how the F14 T behaves in various situations and we are trying to gather as much data as possible,” said Scuderia Ferrari and Deputy Chief Designer Simone Resta, via Ferrari’s official website.
  • Mercedes revealed its revolutionary 360-degree interactive camera earlier on Wednesday. The team continues running the #KeepFightingMichael hashtag on its car in support of Michael Schumacher. As for the day on track, Lewis Hamilton wrote on Twitter, “At the moment we are aiming for reliability and not necessarily topping the timesheets. The team can be really proud of what we’ve achieved!”
  • Kevin Magnussen’s running for McLaren focused primarily on aerodynamic runs. He hit a social media milestone today, crossing over the 50,000-follower mark on Twitter – not bad for a guy who only joined the social media service in November.
  • Sauber’s Adrian Sutil also focused on aero tests and rear wing comparisons. The German led all runners with 82 laps completed in the Ferrari-powered car. “We still have issues with the brakes and the engine driveability, but we were able to progress, which is good,” Sutil said, via the team’s official website. “It was good to have a better day today than any we had in Jerez and I am more confident now.”
  • The lone reserve driver nominated to test this week, Caterham’s Robin Frijns, clocked in 68 laps, most by far for any of the Renault-powered teams. He said the car felt “ok,” but felt a breakthrough on the medium compounds. “The grip levels on those was much better and I could really start to push on that set,” said the talented young Dutch driver, via the Caterham F1 website.
  • Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat got an installation lap complete, but that was it for the young Russian.
  • Williams’ chief test and support engineer Rod Nelson, on the team’s fuel system issue: “After replacing some components it then became necessary to remove the power unit to investigate the fuel cell. We were able to get some laps in at the end of the day but we will aim to resolve the issue and continue our programme with Valtteri (Bottas) tomorrow to get through as much of our planned running as possible.”
  • The first official run for Lotus didn’t include any official quotes, but did provide a first glance at where the PDVSA logos, brought by new driver Pastor Maldonado, will appear on the E22 chassis. PDVSA appears on the front wing aero, rear wing endplate, and above the sidepod on the power unit cover.
  • No quotes from Marussia either, but no real need given they didn’t complete any laps. Max Chilton takes over from Jules Bianchi on Thursday.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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