F1: Mercedes prepares for Suzuka, homestretch of World Championship fight

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After a Singapore Grand Prix that saw Lewis Hamilton reclaim the World Championship lead and Nico Rosberg done in by a contamination involving his car’s steering column, it’s now a straight-up fight between the Mercedes duo as Formula One heads to Japan this weekend.

Hamilton holds a three-point lead over Rosberg but Suzuka has not been an especially solid track for the Brit. He’s won the Japanese Grand Prix before, but at the Fuji Speedway.

At Suzuka, he only has one podium in five starts.

Nonetheless, Hamilton has a deep respect for this particular race and track, both of which hold an important place in the sport’s history.

“Suzuka is one of the races on the calendar that drivers love the most – and arguably one of the greatest tracks in the world,” Hamilton said in a team release. “There’s so much history and there have been so many defining moments there – like those unforgettable battles between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

“I’ve never won at this circuit and have only made the podium once, on my first visit way back in 2009. I’ve had a couple of chances and last season was probably the best of those.

“This year, though, we have an exceptional car and I’m really hoping I’ll finally have my shot at the top step. All the greats of Formula One have won at Suzuka since the sport first came there in the 1980s and I’m determined to add my name to that list this weekend.”

Teammate and rival Rosberg was equally effusive about Japan, hailing the local fans as “absolutely crazy for Formula One.” He also touched upon his reliability woes in Singapore before metaphorically turning the page on the subject.

“I said at the time that Sunday in Singapore was probably the toughest moment of my year so far, and looking back on it, I still think that is true,” the German said.

“To have the chance from a top result basically taken away before you even reach the grid is hard to swallow and, of course, it was a lot of points lost in the championship battle.

“I can’t fault the effort of the team, though. I go to the factory and I see how hard everyone is working, so it’s clear that they want the results just as much as us drivers to. I have faith in my colleagues to improve our reliability and I know they will get it right.”

Their team boss, Toto Wolff, especially emphasized that need to bring reliability up to par after Singapore.

However, he insists that everyone at Brackley are working hard to make sure their season ends in glory.

“Inside the team, motivation is stronger now than at any point so far this year,” Wolff said. “Every single one of us wants to finish 2014 in style.”

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

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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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.”