Fernando Alonso is expecting the first few races of the 2014 Formula 1 season to be all about constant improvement and getting to know the new cars as the sport enters a brand new era.
A raft of technical and sporting changes to the sport – most notably downsizing from V8 engines to turbocharged V6 power unit – appears to have shaken up the pecking order. If testing is anything to go by, Red Bull’s dominant spell might come to an end next weekend in Australia, whilst Mercedes and Williams could be the teams leading the way.
However, Ferrari’s Alonso is cautious about making any predictions, but he believes that the first few races will be mainly about trial and error.
“We come to the start of this championship with the team having had twelve days of testing, while as a driver I’ve had six,” the Spaniard explained. “A few more days would have been useful given how much has changed for this season.
“With every lap of testing we learned something and improved pretty much constantly. I think that will still be the case in Australia, especially on the first day and then actually in the first few races.”
Having not won a world title with Ferrari since joining in 2010, Alonso may have his best chance yet this season thanks to the regulation changes. Throughout testing, Ferrari was the fastest team without a Mercedes engine, and the team’s qualifying pace appears to be particularly impressive. Quite whether this pace translates into the long-runs remains to be seen, though.
2014 is undoubtedly a year of change at Ferrari. Following Felipe Massa’s exit, Kimi Raikkonen has been signed, creating a very strong yet possibly volatile pairing with Alonso. For the first time since 1979, the team has two drivers on an equal footing both with a shot of winning the championship. It marks a big change in policy at Maranello, and it remains to be seen quite whether the team will get through 2014 without any war wounds.
To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.
The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.
“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”
In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.
“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”
Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.
He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.
In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.
Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.
The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.
After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.
“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.
“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.
“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”
Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.
The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.
Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.
The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.
“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.
“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.
“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”