Lotus reaches top 10 for the first time in 2014 thanks to Grosjean

2 Comments

Romain Grosjean has secured Lotus’ first top 10 grid position of the season during qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix on what was a bittersweet day for the British team.

Whilst the Frenchman finally found his feet with the E22 car to qualify 10th, teammate Pastor Maldonado did not even make it out on track after an engine problem forced him to sit on the sidelines during qualifying.

The Venezuelan driver had a disastrous Friday in China, spinning in FP1 and then crashing at the pit entry in FP2. However, when he was forced to pull over during practice on Saturday morning, it was through no fault of his own. When the car was recovered and brought back to the pits, it was found that there was an engine problem that required fixing.

Fighting alone, Grosjean was keen on securing the Lotus’ best qualifying result of the season after a difficult start to the year. Financial problems blighted much of the team’s progress at the beginning of the year, meaning that it had to miss the first test in Jerez. Ever since, it had been behind in the development race, but the team finally appears to have found some form in China.

In Q1, Grosjean managed to scrape through in 16th position ahead of Esteban Gutierrez after the rain grew heavier towards the end of the session, preventing any improvements. A well-timed lap in Q2 meant that he eased through in 7th place whilst Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen all failed to make it into the final part of qualifying.

Q3 was a less fruitful session for the Frenchman, and he finished three-tenths of a second adrift of the rest of the field to finish down in 10th place. However, simply to make it through into the top 10 shootout was a major achievement for the entire Lotus team.

Now, the target will be for Grosjean to score the team’s first points of the season tomorrow, and with light rain forecast, he might just be able to make it a reality.

Despite not technically qualifying, Maldonado should be permitted to race by the stewards after setting times within the required 107% of the fastest driver during practice on Friday.

Lewis Hamilton will start the Chinese Grand Prix from pole position. You can watch the race live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2:30am ET tomorrow.

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.”