United States GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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As the boom for Formula 1 in the United States continues, this weekend’s grand prix in Austin, Texas is set to be a fantastic event that is loved by both the fans and the F1 paddock as a whole.

The Circuit of the Americas is a superb facility, already establishing itself as a firm favorite for the drivers thanks to its exhilarating yet challenging sections, punishing any errors and rewarding the brilliant and the brave in the field.

Practice today saw Lewis Hamilton dominate proceedings, finishing quickest in both of the sessions on Friday at COTA. However, his margin of victory in FP2 was quite literally a matter of inches: 0.003 seconds across a 5.5km lap equates to just 6.7 inches between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at the top of the timesheets.

Besides the on-track action, the debate about the F1 cost crisis continued in the team principals’ press conference, and once again it went around in circles. The recent demise of Caterham and Marussia appears to have done little to change the perspective or opinion of the major manufacturers in Formula 1, much to the sport’s detriment.

Here’s the complete paddock notebook from Friday at the Circuit of The Americas.

SESSION REPORTS

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

It’s been a very interesting day at the Circuit of The Americas. Although the on-track action did not exactly stir much in the way of shock and awe, a good number of fans still turned out to see both practice sessions on a warm day in Austin.

Yet again, it was Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes who led the way, with Nico Rosberg clinging desperately to his coattails in this championship chase. The German driver did run him very closely in the second session on Friday though, finishing just 0.003 seconds behind the world championship leader. Whichever way you look at it, the fight at the front is going to be a close one.

However, the Mercedes cars once again proved that they are not infallible. Both Hamilton and Rosberg were reporting gearbox problems on their W05 Hybrids, with a fuel leak then forcing the Briton to box and bring his session to an early end. As a result, his times are difficult to understand in terms of a sustained long-run pace.

Rosberg needs to win this weekend’s race in Austin. If he doesn’t, not only will the mathematical difference leave him with a mountain to climb, but his psychological demons that continue to dog his bid for a maiden world title will only grow stronger.

Further back, Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams appear to be locked in a close battle for third place this weekend behind the two Silver Arrows. Although both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo hit trouble during practice today, both showed some good, sustained long-run pace during FP2. Williams was less hot, but it always seems to struggle on a Friday before coming alive later in the weekend. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen should also be in the mix for Ferrari at COTA.

Since getting the drive with Red Bull for 2015, Daniil Kvyat has been in a fine vein of form, qualifying an excellent fifth for his home race in Russia last time out. In practice today, he was brilliant once again, finishing fourth in FP1 and seventh in FP2, not letting 17-year-old Max Verstappen upstage him. That said, Verstappen did hold his own once again, and is quickly proving his critics wrong ahead of his F1 debut next March.

Lotus’ day was a bit of a disaster in terms of pace, but with the trial of the 2015-style nose, it was never really about setting the timesheets ablaze. Interestingly, it was Romain Grosjean and not Pastor Maldonado who suffered a few spins today, appearing to lack front-end grip.

In the team principals’ press conference, the big questions about costs were asked once again, and once again they appeared to fall on deaf ears. Toto Wolff and Eric Boullier sat on the front row, saying how a cost cap was unviable, whilst the three representatives from the teams facing financial challenges all pleaded the exact opposite. One journalist perfectly pointed out that the very fact that they couldn’t even agree on one simple topic in the media conference proved the instability harming F1 at the moment.

With the collapse of two teams in the past week, the sport is facing a crisis. The saddest part is that it is not great enough to really prompt change from the powers that be in F1.

Qualifying tomorrow should be an interesting affair, with the FIA sensibly deciding to knock out four cars in both Q1 and Q2 to make up for the absence of Caterham and Marussia. Sebastian Vettel will start from the pit lane, but Red Bull has confirmed that he will still take part in Q1 to ensure that he meets the 107% rule and does not risk being forced out of the race by the FIA stewards.

We’re in for another almighty scrap between the Silver Arrows, but for the time being, Lewis seems to have the advantage – even if it is only by a matter of inches.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Newgarden looks to continue streak of success at Road America

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INDYCAR Photo
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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – There are several drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series whose skill sets seem to be a perfect match for the mammoth race course at Road America. Josef Newgarden is one of those drivers.

In the three years since IndyCar’s return to the 4.014-mile, 14-turn road course located in this lakeside resort region of Wisconsin, Newgarden has been a central part of the storyline.

In 2016, when he was driving for Ed Carpenter Racing, Newgarden was involved in a massive crash at Texas Motor Speedway with Conor Daly, suffering a broken hand and a broken clavicle. He had JR Hildebrand on standby to drive his car at Road America on Friday, but after he was cleared to return to the cockpit, Newgarden began his comeback on Saturday.

He was on a fast lap in his qualification group, but went into the Carousel portion of the course too fast and ended up qualifying 20th. Despite his injuries, Newgarden battled back to an eighth-place finish.

In 2017, his first season with Team Penske and a year when he would go on to win the NTT IndyCar Series championship, Newgarden started third and led 13 laps.

That was before a shootout with leading challenger Scott Dixon on a Lap 31 restart. Dixon hit the throttle at the green flag, raced Newgarden down the long front straight, and dove to the inside of Turn 1 to make what proved to be the race-winning pass.

Newgarden and Team Penske learned a valuable lesson, and made sure it wouldn’t happen again in 2018. Newgarden won the pole and led 53 laps in the 55-lap contest before fending off a strong challenge from Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay to win the race.

Newgarden returns as the NTT IndyCar Series points leader and kicks off the second half of the season in the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America (Sunday, Noon ET on NBC).

He comes off his third win of the season on June 8 at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. Road America, one of the classic road courses in the world, delivers a vastly different style of racing. But it does help to have some momentum on your side.

“Yes. I think we’ve had good momentum throughout the year,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com. “We’ve had some bobbles that can shake that, but we’ve been good at not letting a bobble shake our confidence. I feel really good about where we are at. This win at Texas was a good time to have it with everyone going into the break feeling pretty good about things and having a weekend off.

“We just need to pick back up now. We can’t slow down. It’s the second-half push for the championship. We have to stay on it now to the finish.”

There are nine races completed in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, which leaves eight races remaining in the fight for the title. Newgarden has a 25-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport and a 48-point lead over Team Penske teammate and Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.

The second half begins in the “Land of Bratwurst,” just a few miles from Johnsonville, Wisconsin, and at a track that thoroughly earns the reputation as “America’s National Monument of Road Courses.”

“I’m a big fan of Road America,” Newgarden said. “It’s one of our last ‘old school’ tracks in the world. It’s an ultimate IndyCar track. It has a little bit of everything. It’s tantalizing. If you make a mistake around Road America it penalizes you. I think drivers like that. You don’t want it easy. You don’t want a ton of runoff. It has great high-speed sections. Very classic corners. It’s very high commitment brake zones, quick, long straights so an Indy car can open its legs up a lot. It’s really what you think of when you go to a high-speed, IndyCar road course. And, it’s a beautiful backdrop. Elkhart Lake is a gorgeous part of the country, especially in the summer time when we go there.

“It’s a classic facility. One of my favorite tracks in the world.”

Newgarden also has high-praise for the Wisconsin race fans, who come out in the tens of thousands and start camping on Thursday and stay through the end of Sunday’s race, which regularly draws over 50,000 fans.

“There is tremendous support there,” Newgarden said. “The place seems full on race day. It adds to the ambience of the track. It’s pretty, even when nobody is there, but when you feel it up with all the people and the campers, it takes it to a different level. They really do come out and support it. They are very knowledgeable people to our series and what is going on. I think the drivers appreciate that. They know what is going on all year.”

From a driver’s standpoint, this race is fairly straightforward, strategy-wise. According to Newgarden, the variance of strategy depends on who can go the longest on one tank of fuel. The normal fuel window is between Laps 11-15. If a driver dives into the pits early, then he’s committed to racing as hard as possible to build up a gap on the field in order to get in and out of the pits before the other drivers on a normal pit stop strategy.

“Fuel matters there and the longer you can run on a stint, it seems to help you. That is where you see the strategy difference,” Newgarden explained. “Overall, the general layout of pit stops is pretty straightforward in that race. Unless an oddball yellow comes out, if you are running out front, that is the strategy you can going to run.

“We have conversations before the race what we are trying to do. There are different points where you need to be pushing and are flat-out and not worried about fuel and other points where you need to be saving as much as you can. There is always a fine-line. You are generally always trying to save some fuel by going as fast as possible, which is a very conflicting thought process, but that’s what we are always trying to do.

“It really depends on how the race flows. At Road America, when the yellows fall, that will dictate what we are doing, and I will get feedback from the pit. It’s all relative. It depends on whether I’m in the front or in the back. If I’m up front and the yellow falls at a weird time, they will let me know what other people are doing and if that changes our game. If it does, then I will adjust what I’m doing.

“It’s always a moving target, but you try to plan this stuff out. If it’s a green race all the way through, here is the plan and if the yellows fly, then this is what we are going to do. We try to plan all of that out before the race starts and stuff starts happening, you know how to react.”

Newgarden has learned from his mistakes at Road America and that is one reason why he is once again a major threat to win this race. Despite his broken hand and broken clavicle in 2016, his eighth-place finish was in many ways a victory.

“It was a very good weekend in a lot of ways,” Newgarden recalled. “Just getting back out on the track and not lose ground in the championship as very important to me. I was very satisfied we were able to do that. It took a lot of support and help, and everyone pitched in to get it done. I was a little bit disappointed. I think we had a much faster car than eighth place in 2016. I made a mistake in qualifying. I pushed wide in the Carousel and it put us 20th. We could have probably started in the top five in that race and had a shot at the podium and maybe a win there. If anything, I was disappointed at where we qualified and where there that put us.

“But it was a great recovery. It was a great weekend overall. Getting a top-10 was really a win in a lot of ways. I think there was more to be had that weekend, though.”

In 2017, he was ready to challenge for the victory, but was a victim of bad timing.

“We got nipped by that yellow at the wrong point,” Newgarden explained. “We were on the wrong tire. Right as we came out of the pits on the Black tires, Scott came out on new Reds. It was a yellow when we didn’t need it. To get the tires up to temperature for the restart was really our challenge in that race. Ultimately, it did us in, in Turn 1. We didn’t get a great launch off the final corner, Scott dragged alongside and completely the pass in Turn 1.

“We didn’t make that mistake last year, tire-wise, when the yellow came out at the end of the race and had a shootout.”

His win last year gave off the image of having the field under his control. But the driver pointed out it wasn’t as easy as it looked.

“That was actually a very tough drive,” Newgarden recalled. “I wish that drive was a lot easier than it was, but it was very difficult to keep Ryan Hunter-Reay behind us last year. He was really the guy hounding us the whole race and had a lot of pace, probably more pace than us in different parts of that race. Trying to keep him at bay and doing what we needed to do to get in the right window, it was not an easy drive. If it was an easy drive, we would have sprinted off into the distance a little more. We really had to work hard to hit our windows and make sure Ryan stayed behind us.

“It was a tough day; it was a long day. We had to do a lot or work to run that whole race. We had a very consistent race car. It was very predictable and easy to drive. I had the speed and the car underneath me so that I could manage the situation.”

The ability to manage the situation is a great quality to have for any driver in the NTT IndyCar Series. In Newgarden’s case, it may be the key ingredient to winning a second IndyCar championship.