Massa fastest for Williams as final F1 pre-season test begins

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Felipe Massa has begun the third and final pre-season F1 test of the year in the best possible fashion by topping the timesheets ahead of Marcus Ericsson and Lewis Hamilton.

The last four-day test of the winter kicked off today in Barcelona, with Massa posting a fastest lap time of 1:23.500 to finish over seven-tenths of a second clear of Sauber’s Ericsson as Williams began to show its true colors.

After focusing on long runs and reliability in the first two tests, the British team finally stirred as Massa recorded the fastest lap time so far from the five days of running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Williams’ pace was underpinned by a trouble-free day that saw the Brazilian complete over 100 laps, with his fastest time being set on the soft compound tire.

Sauber had failed to continue its early testing pace in Barcelona last week, but showed signs of improvement today as Ericsson finished second with a fastest lap of 1:24.610 on the super-soft tire. With 120 laps in the book, the Swede also finished with the most mileage as a number of teams struggled on Thursday.

Lewis Hamilton managed to continue Mercedes’ impressive medium-tire pace by finishing third, but failed to get out in the afternoon session following an MGU-K failure on his W06 Hybrid. The Briton finished with just 48 laps to his name, and will be hoping for better luck when he returns to the car on Saturday.

Carlos Sainz and Jenson Button also hit trouble, finishing seventh and eighth on the timesheets respectively. Sainz’s day was interrupted by an off at turn ten in the afternoon that brought out a red flag, although he did still managed to complete 85 laps. Button was less fortunate, with another problem on the Honda power unit limiting the McLaren driver to just seven laps as the team continued to struggle.

Red Bull’s day got off to a bad start when Daniil Kvyat’s car ground to a halt at the end of the pit lane, but the issue was minor enough to allow the Russian to get back out on track soon after the stoppage. He eventually finished fourth in the final standings ahead of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen.

For many of the teams on Thursday, the running was more about evaluating their new parts ahead of the season opener in Australia as opposed to finding the optimum lap time. Although Massa and Williams finished at the top, the advantage does still appear to lie with Mercedes, with the Silver Arrows’ medium-tire pace giving its rivals serious cause for concern.

Testing continues at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Friday, with Force India set to debut its new 2015 car in the afternoon session.

Barcelona 2nd Test Day 1 – Final Classification

1. Felipe Massa Williams 1:23.500 (103 laps)
2. Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:24.276 +0.776 (122)
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.881 +1.381 (48)
4. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1:25.947 +2.447 (75)
5. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:26.177 +2.677 (75)
6. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:26.327 +2.827 (80)
7. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1:26.962 +3.462 (86)
8. Jenson Button McLaren 1:31.479 +7.979 (7)

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

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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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.”