More Mercedes speed, Red Bull issues during Bahrain Day 3

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As Formula One’s testing period enters its second half – today was the seventh of 12 official days of 2014 preseason testing – the narrative didn’t change too much. Mercedes-powered cars again were fast and reliable. Renault-powered ones were again not-so-fast and fragile.

Lewis Hamilton took his turn atop the timesheets, back in the Mercedes W05 after Nico Rosberg had it on Thursday, with a best lap of 1:34.263 the fastest of the week thus far. Hamilton spent some time in the garage during the afternoon while the team experimented with different set-ups, but he wasn’t resigned to the garage because of any issues.

Jenson Button enjoyed a rather good day with second at 1:34.976, and completed the most laps on the day with 103 in the McLaren MP4-29-Mercedes. And after a rough month or so to start the year, with the loss of his father John in January, he announced much happier news with his engagement to longtime girlfriend Jessica Michibata.

Williams-Mercedes also enjoyed a positive day with Felipe Massa clocking in third, albeit some 2.8 seconds back at 1:37.066 in 60 laps, and Valtteri Bottas providing the winter’s oddest statistic thus far with 55 laps completed but no time registered. The reason for that was that the talented Finn spent the majority of his day entering and leaving pit lane, to provide the team a chance at live pit stop practice.

Things were less rosy for the Renault brigade. Daniel Ricciardo managed 28 laps for Red Bull, most in the morning and only 5 in the afternoon, thanks to further mechanical problems. Ricciardo remained upbeat, as the Australian usually is, while the now oft-quoted Red Bull race engineering coordinator Andy Damerum said the car needed to be stripped for repairs ahead of Saturday’s running.

“We came across a mechanical issue that we hadn’t encountered before and because of its nature it means we have to take the car apart,” he said in the team’s release. “As everyone in the pit lane is finding out this is a long process, so we decided to suspend running in the afternoon so that we can be ready for the final day. These issues are of course frustrating but this was unrelated to the others so it’s just a case of tackling each issue as it appears.”

Elsewhere Lotus managed its most laps thus far this week  – 26 with Pastor Maldonado – and broke into the 1:39 bracket at 1:39.642. Daniil Kyvat bettered that mark in the Toro Rosso-Renault at 1:38.974.

Ferrari’s day was neither great nor negative. Meanwhile for the tail-enders, Marussia’s Max Chilton completed only four laps before an engine change, and Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson completed 98 laps as he garners the necessary mileage for his FIA Superlicense.

Here’s Friday’s breakdown of laps completed by manufacturer, although note Bottas’ were all in-and-out laps:

  • Mercedes: 342 (Hamilton 67, Button 103, Massa 60, Sergio Perez 57, Bottas 55)
  • Renault: 209 (Kvyat 57, Maldonado 26, Ricciardo 28, Ericsson 98)
  • Ferrari: 144 (Esteban Gutierrez 96, Kimi Raikkonen 44, Chilton 4)

For the week, Mercedes holds a clear laps completed lead and have also had their teams be able to work on setups and pit stops. Renault, largely thanks to Caterham’s pounding over the three days compared to Marussia’s struggles, is ahead of Ferrari on total laps completed:

  • Mercedes: 886 (238 Wednesday, 306 Thursday, 342 Friday)
  • Renault: 505 (95 Wednesday, 201 Thursday, 209 Friday)
  • Ferrari: 462 (149 Wednesday, 169 Thursday, 144 Friday)

And here’s Friday’s times:

1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m34.263s, 67 Laps
2. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m34.976s, 103
3. Felipe Massa, Williams-Mercedes, 1m37.066s, 60
4. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m37.180s, 96
5. Sergio Perez, Force India-Mercedes, 1m37.367s, 57
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1m37.476s, 44
7. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m38.974s, 57
8. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus-Renault, 1m39.642s, 26
9. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull-Renault, 1m40.781s, 28
10. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham-Renault, 1m42.130s, 98
11. Max Chilton, Marussia-Ferrari, 1m46.672s, 4
12. Valtteri Bottas, Williams-Mercedes, no time, 55

Bourdais hopes last year’s crash turns into Indy 500 Cinderella story on Sunday

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Sebastien Bourdais has relived his May 20, 2017 crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying over and over in his mind, day after day, week after week and month after month.

He would think of the worst crash of his open-wheel racing career at least once — if not several times — a day, particularly when he’d experience a slight twinge of pain.

“I think about it every day,” Bourdais told MotorSportsTalk. “Even though I’m functionally 100 percent now, it’s still very rare that during the day that there’s not a little pinch or something that reminds me of what happened.”

But this past weekend while qualifying for this year’s 500, one year later, the French driver said he was finally able to work past the mental roadblock that just would not leave his mind.

The solution was simple: complete the task he wasn’t able to do so last year, namely, qualifying for the race – and qualifying well.

Bourdais will start fifth in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, in the middle of Row 2.

“(Last year’s crash is) still in my mind,” Bourdais said. “But I think the biggest hurdle, at least mentally, was qualifying last weekend, putting yourself back in the same set of circumstances, going back on the line there.

“It felt a little bit the same, chances of rain, some rain, delays, you get back in line, conditions change, everything gets harder because it gets hotter, but that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome. After that, it’s back to business.”

Bourdais has already won once in 2018 – the season-opening race in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.

It helped jump start him to a strong overall run in the first five races of the season, including a fourth-place showing two weeks ago at the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis, coupled with entering the 500 third in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

Now, he wants to win the biggest race of his career. If he does so, he’ll feel as if he finally and completely has come full circle from last year’s devastating wreck that shattered his pelvis, going head-on into the Turn 2 wall at a reported 228 mph.

“Well, it’s the Holy Grail of IndyCar, it doesn’t really get any bigger than that,” Bourdais said of the 500. “It’s the biggest achievement that you can accomplish in IndyCar.

“I don’t think I’m any different than anybody else: we all want to win it pretty bad, but I’m sure after what happened after last year, it’d be a Cinderella story.”

But there’s a caveat to Bourdais writing that story: “There’s 32 other drivers that want to accomplish the same thing, and it’s a one day event. We’ll give it our best shot … you can only give your very best and see what happens on that given day.”

Bourdais has a lot going for him heading into Sunday. First off, he’ll start from the highest qualifying position he’s ever had in what will be the seventh Indy 500 of the 39-year-old’s racing career.

Second, his confidence and comfort level are higher than they’ve ever been coming into the annual classic at the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval.

Third, he’s forgiven himself – not IMS – for what happened last year. He has no ill feeling towards the racetrack, nor does he seek revenge. If he were to start thinking that way, it would serve no positive purpose.

“No. I’m not really that way,” he said when asked if he wants revenge over the racetrack. “The track didn’t beat me up, I beat myself.

“The bottom line is there were a couple of reasons why it happened, but I got more comfortable and more confident and confidence and comfort at some point just bite you at Indy.

“You just do your laps, you get into such a rhythm and the week had gone perfectly with an awesome car and there was not a doubt in my mind it was going to stick (going into Turn 2), and that’s when it happened – and I paid the price.”

So, Bourdais is simply going to go out and race, again, hoping to complete what he started last year before being so painfully derailed.

His best finish to date in the 500 has been seventh (2014). He just needs for his Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser – Sullivan Honda to finish six places higher on Sunday.

And if he does, his move to Dale Coyne Racing last year – he’s competed in 13 of 23 races with two wins, 3 podiums and one pole – would only serve to make what already has proven to be a great move into a potentially brilliant move.

Because, yes, Bourdais isn’t just thinking Indy 500 win, he’s also thinking of a potential championship this season.

“I sure hope so,” Bourdais said when asked if his team’s success will continue. “I like to say it’s (the success that the Coyne camp has had since he came there) a little bit of my baby, bringing in Craig (engineer Craig Hampson) and Olivier (race engineer Olivier Boisson) and reinforcing the existing crew.”

Bourdais is no stranger to winning championships. He won four straight combined titles in CART and the Champ Car World Series from 2004 through 2007 (he also won 28 races in that four-year span).

“Obviously, it’s one thing to get into a winning team and basically meet expectations,” Bourdais said. “It’s another thing to try and build something and change the status of the underdog and turn him into a contender week in and week out.

“We got a glimpse of that last year, and this year, we’ve been competitive every weekend so far, and that’s a great feeling. Once you’re able to be competitive on street course, road courses, short ovals and superspeedways, then you can start saying and thinking championship.”

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