Button, Alonso show they’ve still got it at Silverstone

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There were two fascinating performances at Silverstone Sunday that showcase two great elements of Formula One. One is when a driver outperforms his or her machinery; the other is when a veteran shows the relentless doggedness and determination they showcased earlier in their careers.

On Sunday, former World Champions Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso did just that in their down on outright pace 2014-spec McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari, respectively.

Button ran second early, ultimately passed by Lewis Hamilton in the opening laps, but consistently ran third or fourth the remainder of the race.

What followed in the closing laps was very nearly a spiritual drive as Button closed to the tune of 1-1.5 seconds per lap on the ailing Daniel Ricciardo, on older, softer tires in his quest for his elusive first British Grand Prix podium.

He came up just short at the flag but it was a memorable performance. It was especially well-timed considering comments made by Ron Dennis telling him to “step it up” entering the weekend.

Yes, the tire gap had a lot to do with it but you could tell this was Button at his fighting best – a la race-winning performances of Hungary 2006 or Canada 2011 for instance – when he could have been resigned simply to bag the fourth place and not be able to reel him in. He was spurred on by the home crowd and Ricciardo reckoned if Button had had one more lap at his disposal, he would have been past.

It would have been fitting for Button to score a home podium and to pass Ricciardo to have the honor. It was Button, coincidentally, who inherited Ricciardo’s podium at Ricciardo’s home Grand Prix in Melbourne following the Red Bull driver’s disqualification for exceeding the fuel flow limit. Alas, Button has a podium this year, but wasn’t able to celebrate it. And this was a day that he drove better than in Australia, but again, came up just shy of the rostrum.

Meanwhile Alonso’s fight with Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate, Sebastian Vettel, was amazing to watch in the moment and is likely going to enter F1 lore in the years to come.

Ace stat man Sean Kelly mentioned Alonso in the same breath as Gilles Villeneuve for Ferrari, and Ayrton Senna for 1992 in McLaren – no small comparison. Being mentioned in that regard meant that Alonso, again, simply willed a car on a day it had no business being as high up as it was.

This has been the hallmark of Alonso’s Ferrari career. He went there expecting to win more World Championships; instead, year after year, he’s had to ring the absolute hell out of a car that has traditionally been third or fourth best, at best, on the grid. This year it might not even be that high considering the engine and chassis are both down by comparison to the Mercedes power unit and the Mercedes, Red Bull and even Williams chassis.

For Button, 34, and Alonso, 33 later this month, they’re closer to the ends of their F1 careers than the beginning. Button is the most experienced driver on the grid with 250+ Grand Prix starts since 2000; Alonso only trails by a handful with 225+ since 2001. They are now F1’s old guard – despite entering the sport at age 20 and 19, respectively.

Still though, as F1 always stands on the balance of youthful exuberance versus the wisdom, sage and experience of the veterans in terms of the grid, it’s refreshing to see the old dogs still have some youthful bark.

Seeing them put on these performances at the iconic and legendary Silverstone Circuit was simply great theater that spanned generations.

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah,  good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”