What next for Bianchi in his journey from Marussia to Maranello?

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Formula 1 can be a cruel mistress at the best of times, especially when you’re scrapping at the back of the grid. Caterham’s demise and difficulties over the past few months have been well documented, but just up the grid, Marussia appears to be only on the rise.

The Anglo-Russian team has been Caterham’s closest competitor throughout their time together in Formula 1, and hadn’t really moved above them until this season. Although Marussia finished one place ahead of Caterham last year, it had trailed behind for all but three of the races; Jules Bianchi made it count when the team had the pace to secure P13 in Malaysia.

Once again in 2014, it was Bianchi who made waves for the team, scoring its first ever points at the Monaco Grand Prix after finishing ninth. It is hardly surprising that he is being linked with a move up the grid, perhaps even to parent team Ferrari.

However, it’s really a question of trying to fit in somewhere else. The Frenchman is undoubtedly a star in the making, and has his sights set on a future for the works team at Maranello. The rumors concerning the future of both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen continue to circulate, but is he really ready to make such a leap up the grid?

Maybe he is. During his test for Ferrari at Silverstone last month, he put in a very impressive display and finished the day as the quickest driver. However, as he explained to us after the run-out, he is not expecting a call-up for 2015.

“At the moment I know that it is not the plan for the next year because they have a plan for their drivers,” he said. “I will just focus on what I have to do which is Marussia at the moment and try to get good results.”

And he’s certainly been doing that. Ferrari’s ‘plan’ for 2015 is quite obvious: Alonso and Raikkonen. However, if Fernando does choose to move to McLaren, or if Kimi is given the heave-ho one year early, Bianchi would undoubtedly be in the running for a seat.

So where else could Bianchi go? He looked to be a shoe-in at Force India for the 2013 season (even in his own eyes) until engine supplier Mercedes leaned on the team to hire German driver Adrian Sutil. The only way back there may be if Nico Hulkenberg is snapped up by Ferrari as a replacement for either of its drivers, and Bianchi can secure a place alongside Sergio Perez. Of course, this is all hypothetical: Vijay Mallya has made clear that he wants to hang onto both of his drivers for 2015.

Sauber may be another option with its own Ferrari engine deal, but with five drivers already scrapping over two seats, it could prove to be a bit of an impossibility.

In reality, Bianchi’s future depends largely on how Ferrari wants to play it with Alonso and Raikkonen. The latter has already made his intention to retire after the 2015 season clear, so the long-term (well, two year) plan may be to bring Bianchi to Maranello then. You would have to feel that if either Kimi or Fernando did jump or be pushed now, it would be Hulkenberg to get the nod. He came within a signature of a seat at Ferrari last season; maybe Raikkonen wasn’t the best option after all…

Whatever his future, Bianchi looks to be on the right track to make it at Maranello. The saturation of drivers in the sport at the moment means that it can be difficult to find a seat; a happy medium for Ferrari that is a step between Marussia and Maranello.

As Marussia continues to grow and develop though, it may be the right place for him. What’s next for Bianchi? Most probably more of the same for 2015. Silly season has a knack of not being as easy to call as that, though; a surprise could yet be sprung.

With 200 IndyCar wins in the books, Penske looks for No. 201 at Indy

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The history of Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a storied one that features 16 Indy 500 wins, including a pair of four-time winners in Al Unser and Rick Mears, and number of utterly dominant performances.

Yet, they’ll head to this year’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 looking to avenge a pair of relatively subpar performances in each of the last two years.

Power was the only Penske driver to finish in the Top 10 in 2016, with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud finishing 11th and 19th after fuel strategy intervened late in the race. And last year, all the Penske cars were somewhat down on pace compared to other teams, notably the Honda cars.

Power was the only Penske driver to qualify for the Fast Nine Pole Shootout last year – he qualified ninth. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves were 18th and 19th in the grid, while Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were 22nd and 23rd.

And only Castroneves was in winning contention in the final laps as he battled eventual winner Takuma Sato – Montoya was sixth, while Pagenaud was 14th and the only other Penske running at the end. Both Newgarden and Power crashed out on Lap 183.

This year, however, could see a return to the dominant form we’re used to seeing from the Penske outfit. All four cars entered – Pagenaud, Power, Newgarden, and Castroneves – qualified inside the top nine, with Pagenaud and Power on the front row.

They have all been near the front of the time sheets, especially in laps without a tow from another car, and the indication is that the Penske cars may be the fastest ones in the field.

All told, it leads to very high expectations for a team that already expects highly of itself.

Leading the way for Penske is current points leader and defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. Newgarden’s best Indy 500 finish is third in 2016, but he only has one other Top 10 there – ninth in 2015.

But, with an IndyCar title now under his belt, Newgarden has his eyes set on an Indy 500 win.

Josef Newgarden looks to add an Indy 500 crown to his 2017 championship. Photo: IndyCar

“I think Indianapolis…is certainly next on the list for me,” he detailed in a press conference ahead of qualifying. “It’s not next on the list for the team, they’ve won it many times. The good thing is we have four great opportunities, especially having Helio back. I think we have one of the best opportunities in the entire field to win this race.”

Pagenaud, like Newgarden, is also looking for his first Indy triumph, though his record there isn’t quite as good. He has been fast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but only has two Top 10s to show for it – eighth in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and tenth in 2015 in his first year with Penske.

And a Pagenaud win would be somewhat historic – it would be only the fourth time a French driver has won the “500,” and the first since 1920 (Gaston Chevrolet).

Pagenaud explained that this race always holds a place as a top priority, and that success at Indy is all about preparation.

Simon Pagenaud looks to become only the first French driver to win an Indy 500 since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920. Photo: IndyCar

“It really is our number one goal. In Roger and Tim’s heart, it’s the most important one,” Pagenaud declared. “We prepare really hard. The team does a fantastic job at just understanding every bit and component of this new aero kit, trying to extract the best out of the equipment.”

Pagenaud added, “On the driver side, there’s a lot you can do obviously to review the past races, try to focus yourself, try to put yourself into the race before it happens, try to just improve. That’s what we try to do every day. That’s the goal. That’s why this group is so good. We push each other so hard that you always try to push the limits away.”

Power, the man who delivered Penske his 200th IndyCar win, is no stranger to success at IMS, having won the Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course three times. But, he is yet to find Victory Lane on the oval, and that leaves a void in an otherwise stellar career.

Will Power has won the INDYCAR Grand Prix three times, and looks for his first win at the “500” this weekend. Photo: IndyCar

Power spotlighted the opportunity in front of him, and detailed that running in traffic has been a strength thus far through practice.

“It’s fantastic to have that opportunity. Obviously very focused on (trying to win),” he revealed. “I feel like we have a really good opportunity to win this year. I mean, I think Chevrolet has brought a really good engine. I feel like we’re really fast. Running in traffic and such, I felt like we’ve been pretty strong, especially when you get to the front.”

Castroneves is the only Penske driver with Indy 500 wins on his resume. But, with three wins to his name, Castroneves is more than familiar with IMS glory.

Now a part-time IndyCar driver who races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with the Acura Team Penske outfit, Castroneves’ sole focus is on getting that elusive fourth win.

Helio Castroneves looks to join the four-time winners club at the Indy 500. Photo: IndyCar

And he has momentum on his side too, coming off a debut IMSA win for the Acura Penske outfit at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A fourth Indy 500 win would put an exclamation point on the month for Castroneves.

“I think about it every day,” he said when asked about how often he ponders getting that fourth win. “It was one of those incredible ones, I have phenomenal car, the Pennzoil car was really strong last year. Obviously coming back here, first of all, I want to thank Roger and (team president Tim Cindric) for giving me the opportunity to be back at the Indy 500. It’s such a special place for so many people. Just to be back and able to continue our goal and pursue for the number four, it’s incredible.”

Pagenaud and Power will flank pole sitter Ed Carpenter on the front, starting second and third respectively. Newgarden starts fourth, while Castroneves will start eighth.

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