Formula 1 paddock divided in third car debate

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As the possibility of teams having to run a third car in Formula 1 continues to increase following the demise of both Caterham and Marussia in the past few weeks, the issue has been a divisive one in the paddock ahead of the United States Grand Prix weekend.

Earlier this year, former Williams chairman Adam Parr caused a stir when he said that this season would be “the last year of F1 as we know it. In 2015 eight teams will contest the championship, with several teams entering three cars.”

Although it was dismissed at the time, the collapse of Caterham and Marussia has prompted many to ask whether it could be a sincere possibility for next season, given that Sauber is also known to be struggling financially.

In the drivers’ press conference ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, many were supportive of the idea, believing that it could tighten the grid up.

“I think from our position it’s something, if we’re requested to have a third car, I think we’ll definitely look into it and try to make it happen,” Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo said. “I wouldn’t see any downside from a driver’s point of view.”

World championship leader Lewis Hamilton feels that it could help the sport to nurture more young drivers and open up more jobs.

“Perhaps they will come along a lot more than they ever have in the past,” he said. “When I think about the two teams that have dropped out, my biggest concern really is just for all the employees in those teams that have to provide for their families that perhaps don’t have a job now. If we do this perhaps they still have space in other teams.”

“I think it will definitely help the opportunities of the drivers,” said Force India’s Sergio Perez, who would have remained with McLaren for 2015 had the team been able to run three cars. “Obviously there will be a bit more of a chance. Formula One is really limited. The spaces where you can go and where you can  actually win during a year, so it can create a bit more opportunity to the drivers, as a driver point of view.

“I think it’s also sad to not have so many people set out from Marussia and Caterham – so hopefully they can be in a better position for the future and, if it’s good for the sport, why not? I think we should all help this sport to get better.”

However, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff feels that there are alternatives to third cars, and that a larger number of teams running two drivers is healthier for the sport.

“I’m not a big fan of third cars,” Wolff said. “I think if there is money left over, it should be distributed to the smaller teams to secure the grid. That’s my personal opinion.

“If a third car is needed, because the level of cars on the grid drops to a critical number, now we could discuss what the critical number is, and the big teams are being asked to fill in a third car then we should make it exciting and the ideas which have been discussed is giving it to a young driver like you say, to somebody who hasn’t had an awful lot of experience in Formula 1.

“It would be exciting to see how he performs against the superstars. Definitely some interesting ideas around that, making it a rookie championship.”

The idea of guest drivers was also supported by American racing legend Mario Andretti, who believes that it could be particularly successful in selling the sport to the American market.

“What if say Mercedes, which obviously has the best car today, would invite a guest driver?” Andretti contemplated. “Obviously do a bit of testing and so forth, but pick an IndyCar driver for instance to be at this race, like I did when I started.

“You can say ‘oh well things have changed’. You know what, as much as things change, they stay the same. A decent driver, an IndyCar driver, in a car like a Mercedes might surprise you with how well they do. That might be an interesting factor all around from everything. Every newspaper in the country would write about it.”

The peril of third cars is that the DNA of modern Formula 1 would change dramatically. Teams traditionally have had two drivers and two cars, unlike endurance racing where three cars are very common. Although it may create more opportunities, it would also further the disparity of power that exists in the sport. The rich would get richer and the poor would get poorer – if the poor still existed, that is.

McLaren team boss Eric Boullier said earlier this year that teams would need six months’ notice to be able to implement third cars, and with the beginning of the 2015 season now just four months away, a decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Rossi remains “The Story” in INDYCAR in 2019

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly-timed move to race side-by-side with Herta going into Turn 1. By Turn 2 of the first lap of the race, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing missing from deeming Rossi’s race complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pits stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by one-full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished third three of the four times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the frontstraight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle, but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash just as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution. Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816-of-a-second behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he was never challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBC Sports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties like with Honda. Both him and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBC Sports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there, I think we’re getting there,” Andretti said. “We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that. After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500? In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races 10 years from now and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, that is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist. Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”