F1 Friday Analysis: Is Lewis the man to beat?

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After the sun went down in Singapore, the on-track action came alive on Friday with practice under the lights of Marina Bay. Championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg both looked to make a good start to the race weekend, but come the checkered flag at the end of second practice, one man was P1 and the other was P13.

For Hamilton, the day was a successful one (on paper, at least). He finished second in FP1 and topped FP2, trailing and leading Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the respective sessions, and looked typically at ease in Singapore. The Briton has one race win here and a good track record, not to mention the fact that he is in the form of his life.

However, Lewis is a master of self-depreciation. He underplays just how good he is – either that or he genuinely does have a nightmare of a Friday before getting it right across the rest of the weekend. His comments after the second session were cautiously optimistic, but he said that bagging pole position was crucial to his hopes of a race win.

Nico’s views may appear to be a little too cheery, given that he did finish the second session down in 13th position. However, this was not by his own doing: Pastor Maldonado’s shunt (yes, another one) brought out a red flag that interrupted Rosberg’s run when he was well up on the quickest time. In the end, the German driver opted not to put in a quick lap on the super-soft tires, electing to focus on his race pace.

In terms of race pace though, Hamilton appears to have the advantage. Looking at the Mercedes drivers long-run times – that is, their longest sustained run – Rosberg was averaging a pace around the 1:53.6 region. Hamilton, on the other hand, was dipping into the ’52s on average, although he did alternate between hot laps and cool down laps (one lap in the ’52s, then one in the ’57s, and repeat). Rosberg’s pace was more sustained – take what you will from that. You can see the full lap classification here.

Hamilton (longest FP2 run) Rosberg (longest FP2 run)
1:52.239 1:52.838
1:57.613 1:53.386
1:52.962 1:53.815
1:57.680 1:53.483
1:52.513 1:53.518
1:52.660 1:53.676
1:53.822

Just behind Mercedes though, Red Bull and Ferrari appear to be jostling to complete the podium positions. Sebastian Vettel suffered a difficult Friday after an engine failure, but his team not only did a four-hour job in just three to fix his engine, but they managed to get him out in the final few minutes of FP2. Even though he completed just five laps, the three-time Singapore winner finished fifth, two places behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

Ferrari’s Friday pace is always something of an enigma. The Italian team has ran well in most of the early practice sessions so far this year, but eventually gone on to drop further down the order. Monza was a perfect example of that.

This time around though, Fernando Alonso – a Singapore specialist – and Kimi Raikkonen might stand more of a chance, having finished second and fourth respectively in FP2. Perhaps more important for Ferrari is the fact that Williams is languishing right down the order, even behind Sauber. Although its FP1 pace has, juxtaposing that of Ferrari, been poor before the team has fought back later in the weekend, this time around, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas are a little less optimistic. However, they should not be ruled out of the points this weekend.

Finally, we come back to Pastor Maldonado. Yet another crash for the Venezuelan, which will not ease any of the concerns (or jokes) about his driving ability. The Lotus E22 is certainly a troublesome car, but Romain Grosjean has been a little more dignified, shall we say, in his efforts this season.

There are a lot of questions still to be answered ahead of qualifying tomorrow. If you’re an early bird, be sure to join us at 6am ET on Live Extra for coverage of FP3. Failing that, we’ll see you at the slightly more leisurely time of 9am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra for qualifying from Marina Bay.

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”