Barcelona F1 Test Paddock Notebook – Sunday

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The trouble with pre-season testing is that the lap times are impossible to take on face value. With varying tire choices, fuel loads and development programmes in play, the timesheets are rarely representative of what we will see in Australia next month.

However, it is possible to come to some conclusions from the past four days of running in Barcelona, especially as the teams begin to explore the limits of their new cars more.

Today, it was Romain Grosjean who soared to the top of the timesheets for Lotus, completing a hat-trick for the team after Pastor Maldonado finished fastest on Thursday and Saturday in Barcelona. A quick run on the super-soft tire proved to be enough for Grosjean as Nico Rosberg finished two-tenths of a second down on the Lotus.

The big story of the day was Fernando Alonso’s crash and subsequent transfer to hospital at lunchtime in Barcelona. The Spaniard crashed at turn three, and although little is known about the incident, he did require medical attention. Thankfully, a CT scan showed that he was not injured, although he will remain in hospital overnight for observation.

Here’s a full recap of all of the news and action from the final day of testing in Barcelona this week.

SESSION REPORT

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

So that’s it for test two, and we’re still none the wiser as to how the grid will be shaping up in 2015. After Ferrari and Sauber shared the spoils in Jerez, Lotus and Red Bull were the teams to top the standings this week. No-one had a perfect test by any means, but some will certainly be happier than others. Here are some of the big talking points following the end of the test on Sunday.

Mercedes still top dog despite finishing second

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton may have failed to finish quickest on any of the eight days of running in pre-season, but Mercedes is undoubtedly still the team to beat. Today in Barcelona, Rosberg had to settle for second place in the final standings behind Romain Grosjean. However, bear in mind that Grosjean’s P1 time was set on the super-soft tire; Rosberg’s was on the medium. The pace difference between these is huge, maybe around 1.5 seconds, showing that the Silver Arrows still hold the advantage. The W06 may not be as dominant as its predecessor was, but Mercedes is still the team to beat in 2015.

Lotus has certainly made progress

Three out of four ain’t bad for Lotus. The one lap pace of the E23 Hybrid certainly looks good, with both Grosjean and Maldonado finishing fastest on their allocated days behind the wheel, and the Mercedes engine is giving the team a far easier ride than last year’s Renault did – definite progress is being made. That said, the long run pace of the team still isn’t up there with the other teams. Grosjean managed to complete most of a race simulation today, and his times were behind those of Red Bull and Williams when they conducted theirs. Lotus may not yet be back up with the front-runners in F1, but you can certainly expect the team to fare better in 2015 than it did last year.

Quiet confidence from Williams?

Once again on day four in Barcelona, Williams didn’t make a great deal of noise and fight up at the sharp end of the timesheets. In fact, despite being the second fastest team for much of 2014, the team has not finished inside the top two at all during pre-season. However, the FW37 is yet to have truly been unleashed. Over the past couple of days, the team has focused on making sure that all systems are running smoothly, and the times Bottas completed in his race simulation today were impressive. Test three should see the team’s true form come to light, but don’t go thinking that it won’t be fighting for podiums and wins once again in 2015.

Back to reality for Ferrari

After finishing inside the top two for all of the first six days of winter testing, Ferrari came back down to earth this weekend as the SF15-T flared up with some teething problems. Sebastian Vettel’s running was limited on Sunday, restricting him to just 75 laps in total and seventh place in the final standings. The new car is certainly an improvement over the old one – then again, that’s not hard – and the team seems to be in a far better place this year. Conditions were very tricky on track today with cold weather and gusts of wind, but Ferrari will be hoping to make another step forward next week to keep Mercedes on its toes.

Alonso walks away unharmed

Following an accident during the morning session, Fernando Alonso had to be airlifted to hospital for a precautionary check-up and assessment, sparking concern throughout the F1 community. The incident itself remains a mystery, with few pictures showing what impact the McLaren driver made with the wall at turn three, but the main thing is that his is okay. The Spaniard will remain in hospital overnight for observation, and will hope to return to the track in Barcelona next week as the team tries to make up for lost time with the MP4-30.

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So that’s it for test two. We’ll be back in Barcelona on Thursday for the third and final pre-season F1 test. Melbourne draws ever closer, but there is still an enormous amount of work still waiting to be done by all of the teams racing this year.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”