Teammate battles in Bahrain a refreshing tonic for F1

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I touched on this briefly in another MST piece this am, but the 10 points-paying finishers in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix came from the minimum possible number of teams, five.

What was intriguing about all that was that in each team instance, there weren’t any major dramas or public team orders determining how the pair of drivers would finish.

Mercedes’ pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had the epic scrap for the win between them. Hamilton and Rosberg would exchange moves that borderlined on crazy if one was established number one, but it was just a pure fight between them. Even in the final stint, as Rosberg was on the softer option tires, he should have by rights had the position over Hamilton. But he had to earn it, and despite several attempts, he was unable to pass Hamilton on the primes.

Red Bull provided the rare “Sebastian, Daniel is quicker than you” line on a radio transmission at one point as Daniel Ricciardo was, at that early point in the race, quicker than teammate Sebastian Vettel. Ricciardo had to fight to get ahead of him and ultimately ended fourth, while the four-time champion ended sixth. Ricciardo has done pretty much all that could be expected of him, and more, through three races thus far and his improved race pace has been a welcome sight for those more accustomed to his qualifying prowess at Toro Rosso.

Force India? What is it with Sergio Perez and Bahrain that ignites a fire under the young Mexican, where he’s fearless on passing maneuvers in places of the Sakhir circuit that you otherwise wouldn’t dare pass? He and Nico Hulkenberg had multiple great dices during the day, with Perez ultimately securing the team’s first podium in four and a half years, much to the delight of team principal Vijay Mallya.

Same story at Williams – the consternation of Malaysia had been replaced by another great, clean, fair fight between Felipe Massa and emerging superstar Valtteri Bottas a week later in Bahrain. Massa’s start was sublime; both were unlucky in the safety car period to fall from podium contention down to seventh and eighth.

Even Ferrari had Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen close, although Alonso appears ahead in that internal team battle thus far. There’s bigger issues at Maranello than the driver lineup; the car and power unit package weren’t in the same zip code this weekend.

But in all five of those instances, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific number one versus number two driver situation other than at Red Bull. And even there, Ricciardo’s established himself quickly as worthy of the seat to make it a near 1-and-1A situation.

With no established hierarchies within the teams – as yet, anyway – we were treated to five teams’ epic scraps as on-track battles won out over team preferences from the pit wall.

Team orders will always exist to a degree, but for less than two glorious hours Sunday night in Bahrain, they were not the story.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”