Hulkenberg finally sees checkered flag in Oz with sixth-place result

1 Comment

For the first time in his Formula One career, Nico Hulkenberg made it to the end of an Australian Grand Prix last weekend, claiming a sixth-place finish as part of a double points day for Sahara Force India.

The talented German, who migrated to Vijay Mallya’s squad over the winter from Sauber, originally placed seventh but moved up one position after Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo lost his runner-up result and was disqualified for a fuel flow irregularity.

Prior to Saturday night, Albert Park had not been a very kind place to Hulkenberg.

In the 2010 and 2012 Aussie GPs, he was victimized each time by a first-lap incident and last year with Sauber, he was unable to start at all due to a hydraulic problem on his car.

So, if Hulkenberg was heard going ‘Whew!’ after his race Saturday night, it would have been most understandable.

Hulkenberg rose as high as fourth in the early going, holding Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Jenson Button at bay for a time until he lost out to both of them in the pits.

Late in the going, he was unable to keep back a hard charging Valtteri Bottas and eventually settled for P7 – at least, until Ricciardo’s DQ.

“I made a strong start and enjoyed good track position for the first two stints when I was running up in fourth,” Hulkenberg said. “The only real issue I had was some front left graining on the soft tires, which never really cleared up and that compromised my first two stints.

“It was a shame to lose two positions at my second stop [to Button and Alonso] but it looks like some of the cars around us have a bit more pace at the moment.”

Still, he said “it’s nice to reward everyone with some points at the first race.”

New teammate Sergio Perez also made progress in his Force India debut before finishing P11. But the aforementioned issue with Ricciardo enabled Perez to move up one spot to 10th in the race results and, more importantly, earn one world championship point to start the year.

Perez suffered a first-lap puncture following contact with Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez and was forced to pit, but caught a break when a Safety Car appearance allowed him to catch up with the field.

After that, Perez moved up the scoring pylon but was unable to get past Adrian Sutil on track. He would eventually do so in the pits but by that point, catching Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat for P10 had become too tall an order.

“It’s positive to finish the race, because it gives the team lots of information and hopefully that will make us stronger for Malaysia,” Perez said before being elevated into the points, which helped Force India take home nine points altogether from Australia.

Not the biggest of hauls, but certainly a welcome one.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
2 Comments

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”