Mercedes drivers confident there is time to be found after Abu Dhabi practice

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ABU DHABI – Both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are confident that they have more time to find following the first two practice sessions for the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday.

Hamilton heads into the final race of the year with a 17-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship, knowing that a top two finish at the Yas Marina Circuit will be enough to clinch him a second world title.

The Briton sent out an early statement of intent to teammate and rival Nico Rosberg by finishing quickest in both FP1 and FP2 on Friday, but believes that there is still room for improvement.

“It’s been a good Friday,” Hamilton said after FP2. “We’ve run the same programme as we run every race weekend but this time we had the whole of both sessions to work with the tires, look at long runs, analyse setup and the countless other things you need to assess in practice which was great.

“We made good steps forward with the setup but, as always, there is still more time to be found. We’ll keep chipping away at it and look to improve in every area possible.

“But the car feels great – the best I’ve ever driven here without doubt. The team have done an amazing job. Coming into the weekend I was already excited and couldn’t wait to get out on track. When you know you have a package as competitive as ours it’s like being a kid at Christmas.

“I don’t feel any particular pressure this weekend. I’ll just drive the way I always drive and what will be, will be. So far it’s all moving in the right direction so I just have to keep working away at it.”

Rosberg’s deficit to Hamilton was only small, but he does not feel that he has hooked up a perfect lap just yet.

“It’s been a good day today but I really haven’t got my best lap together yet, so there is still a lot of work to do over the rest of the weekend,” the German said. “In general the car felt great out there today. I just need to fine-tune it so that the set-up is exactly to my liking, then go for it and get the job done.

“This track really is amazing. It’s always a highlight when darkness falls and the lights come up – just spectacular! It will be a great show here, so I hope the fans at the circuit and everyone watching at home enjoy it.”

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.”