Dry qualifying in Bahrain reveals Williams’ true colors

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After two wet qualifying sessions in Australia and Malaysia, a dry qualifying session at the Bahrain Grand Prix finally revealed the true one-lap pecking order of the teams in 2014. However, there was never really any doubt about who the pace-setter was: Mercedes duly delivered by locking out the front row on Saturday night in Bahrain.

The one team that had lamented the wet conditions so far this season was Williams. In Australia, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa could only line up ninth and tenth on the grid, whilst in Malaysia there was even more disappointment as neither driver made it through to Q3.

However, Bottas was sensational in Australia, overtaking nineteen drivers as he fought back from a grid penalty and a puncture to eventually finish fifth, whilst the team scored its first double points haul since the 2012 United States Grand Prix in Malaysia. It was clear that the team had the pace in the dry, but wet qualifying sessions were causing more than a few headaches.

As expected, Bahrain produced a bone-dry qualifying session on Saturday as the drivers ran in the cooler night time conditions. Despite running just once in Q2, both Massa and Bottas easily made it through to the final session, where they continued their good form to secure the team its best qualifying result of the season. Massa finished eighth, and although Bottas was only three-tenths faster, it was good enough to secure the Finn fourth place.

Daniel Ricciardo qualified in third place, and because of his 10 place grid penalty, both Williams drivers will make up a position on the grid.

After a disastrous 2013 campaign, Williams has certainly turned a corner this year. Gone is the volatile Pastor Maldonado, and in has come the compliant and cheerful Felipe Massa. The new regulations have given the team a chance to start with a blank page, and the results have improved significantly as a result.

In the whole of 2013, Frank Williams’ team scored just five points. After just two races in 2014, it has 20 points. The proof is in the results.

However, it could get better still. From third place tomorrow, Bottas will be keen on fighting for his first podium finish in Formula 1, and considering Williams’ pace in the dry, he could be the man to beat in the battle to be ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.