Given smaller teams’ impact on F1’s current grid, they still matter


A fascinating piece penned by veteran F1 scribe Nigel Roebuck for the U.K.’s MotorSport Magazine out today addresses the root of the problems facing Formula One at the moment, and outlines how some of the decisions over the last six or so years have led to the current state of affairs where Caterham and Marussia are off the grid and others have been rumored to be in financial peril.

In looking through the remaining 18 drivers on the grid, it is interesting to note where each driver got his starting point within F1, and note how few have done so at the immediate top of the grid:

  • Sebastian Vettel, BMW Sauber (1 race), then Toro Rosso
  • Daniel Ricciardo, HRT (now defunct)
  • Nico Rosberg, Williams
  • Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
  • Kimi Raikkonen, Sauber
  • Fernando Alonso, Minardi (forerunner to Toro Rosso)
  • Romain Grosjean, Renault (forerunner to Lotus)
  • Pastor Maldonado, Williams
  • Kevin Magnussen, McLaren
  • Jenson Button, Williams
  • Sergio Perez, Sauber
  • Nico Hulkenberg, Williams
  • Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber
  • Adrian Sutil, Spyker (forerunner to Force India)
  • Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso
  • Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso
  • Felipe Massa, Sauber
  • Valtteri Bottas, Williams

As you see, Williams (5 drivers) and Sauber (5) tie for the most of the 18 with a combined 10 drivers getting their careers started there. Sauber has been the perennial midfielder, and that’s not a negative – Peter Sauber and later, Monisha Kaltenborn, have excelled in their talent-spotting ability.

Williams, while one of the most successful teams in Formula One history in terms of Driver’s and Constructor’s Championships, has seen its fortunes ebb and flow over the last 20 years. At no point when Rosberg, Maldonado, Button, Hulkenberg or Bottas debuted for the team was the Williams one of the top two or three cars on the grid. Button’s initial sojourn was BMW’s first go-’round in 2000, and was a learning year for both parties before the Williams-BMW package won its first races in 2001.

But in looking through the remaining eight, you still see midfield teams as the rule, rather than the exception, to being the place of launching driver careers. Ricciardo, Vergne and Kvyat are all part of the Red Bull empire, and two of the three have graduated into the top Red Bull squad – Vergne, the exception, is hanging on to his F1 career.

Alonso began with the forerunner to Toro Rosso, Minardi, and is the lone Minardi graduate still active in F1 today. This is the team that also launched the career of Mark Webber, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli among others, all of whom went onto become Grand Prix winners.

Sutil began with the Force India forerunner of Spyker, and now races with Sauber, even though he hopes his contract will still be honored next season. Sutil is a rare perennial midfielder in modern day F1, a driver who has held onto a career making the most of his circumstances without being in one of the top three or four cars on the grid – much like his countrymen Nico Hulkenberg and Nick Heidfeld, for instance.

Grosjean has been with Renault in two forms – both as the factory Renault squad and now, as Lotus. In 2012, he fought to save his reputation while in 2013, armed with a podium-contending car, Grosjean was a star of the second half. But as the team has regressed, so have Grosjean’s results, but his talent level has not changed.

It is only in the form of Hamilton, who has been in nothing short of a race-winning car all years bar one (2009, and even then, he still took two wins with a difficult McLaren chassis) and Magnussen, this year with a McLaren that has ranged anywhere from being the third-to-fifth best chassis depending on the circuit, who have made their debuts in what you would call immediate podium-contending equipment.

Even in looking at Caterham and Marussia, there’s few within F1 who doubted Jules Bianchi’s star on the rise in his time with Marussia – he seemed destined for a Ferrari seat. Sadly, his Suzuka accident has left him fighting for his life, rather than fighting for a top seat on the grid. We continue to wish the best for him and his family – #ForzaJules.

Teams you don’t see anywhere on that list? Manufacturer outfits. Whether Ferrari, Mercedes, Honda, BMW or Toyota, none of the drivers who are racing for Ferrari and Mercedes or raced for any of those manufacturers who have since pulled out as a factory entry (Honda returns in 2015, but as a power unit supplier) made their debuts with a manufacturer operation. It’s very interesting to note.

The overview of the grid and where the drivers – plus the countless mechanics who’ve all started with the smaller teams as well – is all important because one of the keys to talent discovery in F1 is finding people who can outperform their machinery level once they’ve made it to F1.

It’s why most of the aforementioned drivers are in their current seats; they have long flattered their machinery and thus made themselves more valuable to a Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and/or Williams/Lotus down the line.

If down the road there’s a further team reduction to where it’s nothing but top teams left, and third cars become de rigueur, F1 risks losing this semblance of its history. While there’s something to be said for young drivers having an opportunity in top-flight machinery from the off, it seems to mean more if they work their way up and then eventually make it to a top team, rather than being gifted the opportunity straight away.

It’s one of the fascinating elements that makes F1 so special, and this can’t be overlooked as the future progresses.

The midfield matters, because the current grid wouldn’t be what it is without those launching pads.

IndyCar Detroit GP starting lineup: Alex Palou wins first pole position on a street course


DETROIT — Alex Palou won the pole position for the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series race and will lead the Detroit Grand Prix starting lineup to green on a new downtown layout.

The 2021 series champion, who finished fourth in the 107th Indy 500 after qualifying first, earned his third career pole position as the first of three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in the top four (Scott Dixon qualified fourth, and Marcus Ericsson sixth).

Scott McLaughlin will start second, followed by Romain Grosjean. Coming off his first Indianapolis 500 victory, Josef Newgarden qualified fifth.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It’s the third career pole position for Palou and his first on a street course — a big advantage on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile track that is expected to be calamitous over 100 laps Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

“It’s going to be a tough day for sure,” Palou told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “It feels good we’ve had a great car since the beginning, and it was just about maximizing. They did a great strategy on tires and everything. We need to finish it (Sunday).

“I got off a lot in practice. We wanted to see where the limit was, and we found it. It’s a crazy track. I think it’s too tight for Indy cars and too short as well, but we’ll make it happen.”

QUALIFYING RESULTSClick here for Detroit GP qualifying speeds | Round 1, Group 1 | Round 1, Group 2 | Round 2 l Round 3

The narrow quarters (originally listed as a 1.7-mile track, its distance shrunk by a couple hundred feet when measured Friday) already were causing problems in qualifying.

Colton Herta, who has four career poles on street courses, qualified 24th after failing to advance from the first round because of damage to his No. 26 Dallara-Honda. It’s the worst starting spot in an IndyCar street course race for Herta (and the second-worst of his career on the heels of qualifying 25th for the GMR Grand Prix three weeks ago).

Andretti Autosport teammate Kyle Kirkwood also found misfortune in the second round, damaging the left front of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda despite light wall contact.

“I’m disappointed for the crew because that was a pole-winning car,” Kirkwood told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Man, I barely touched the wall. I touched it way harder in all the practices, and it’s just like the angle at which the wall was right there, it caught the point and just ripped the front off the car.

“If the wall was rounded, that wouldn’t have happened. That’s just unfortunate for the guys, but it’s my mistake. It’s hard enough to get around this place let alone race around it. We’ll see how it goes.”

Many IndyCar drivers are expecting it to go badly, which isn’t uncommon for a new street layout. The inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee, was the biggest crashfest of the 2021 season with 33 of 80 laps run under caution plus two red flags.

It could be worse at Detroit, which is the shortest track on the IndyCar circuit. It also features the series’ only split pit lane (with cars pitting on opposite sides and blending into a single-lane exit), a 0.9-mile straightaway and a hairpin third turn that is considered the best passing zone.

“If there’s one day you need to be lucky in the year, it’s tomorrow,” Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “A lot is going to happen, and it’s being in the right time at the right place.”

Said Dixon: “Expect probably a lot of unexpected things to happen. We’ll try and get through it. I think it’ll be similar to Nashville and maybe the last man standing is the one who gets the victory.”

With the field at 27 cars, Palou estimated the length of the course leaves a gap of about 2.4 seconds between each car, which he preferred would be double. During practice Friday, there were six red flags and 19 local yellows as teams tried to sort out the tricky and tight layout.

“I don’t know what the perfect distance is, but I would say adding 30 seconds to a track or 20 seconds would help a lot,” said Palou, one of many drivers who also said the streets were too bumpy despite work to grind down some surfaces. “We have a lot of cars. It’s crazy. It’s really good for the series, for the racing. But when it comes to practice, and we have 10 red flags, 25 yellows, it’s traffic all the time.”

It seems certain to be a memorable reimagining of the Detroit GP, which was moved downtown by IndyCar owner Roger Penske after a 30-year run at the Belle Isle course a few miles north.

McLaughlin, who drives for Team Penske, believes the race will be very similar to Nashville, but “it’s just going to be up to us with the etiquette of the drivers to figure it out along the way. I think there’s going to be a lot of passes, opportunities.

“With the track, there’s been a lot of noise I’ve seen on Twitter, from other drivers and stuff,” McLaughlin said. “At the end of the day, this is a new track, new complex. I think what everyone has done to get this going, the vibe is awesome. Belle Isle was getting old. We had to do it.

“First-year problems, it’s always going to happen. It’s just going to get better from here. The racetrack for the drivers is a blast. We don’t even know how it races yet. Everyone is making conclusions already. They probably just need to relax and wait for (Sunday).”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


1. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 1 minute, 1.8592 seconds (95.734 mph)
2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 1:02.1592 (95.271)


3. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 1:02.2896 (95.072)
4. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:02.4272 (94.862)


5. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:02.5223 (94.718)
6. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:02.6184 (94.573)


7. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:02.1817 (95.237)
8. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 1:02.1860 (95.230)


9. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:02.1937 (95.219)
10. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:02.2564 (95.123)


11. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 1:02.2958 (95.063)
12. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 1:04.6075 (91.661)


13. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 1:02.5714 (94.644)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:02.1911 (95.223)


15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:02.9522 (94.071)
16. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1:02.2644 (95.111)


17. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 1:03.0017 (93.997)
18. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 1:02.6495 (94.526)

ROW 10

19. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 1:03.1599 (93.762)
20. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 1:02.9071 (94.139)

ROW 11

21. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 1:03.2126 (93.684)
22. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 1:02.9589 (94.061)

ROW 12

23. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 1:03.3879 (93.425)
24. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 1:03.4165 (93.383)

ROW 13

25. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:03.7728 (92.861)
26. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 1:03.7496 (92.895)

ROW 14

27. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:03.8663 (92.725)