Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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The penultimate day of pre-season testing in Barcelona saw Lewis Hamilton finish at the top of the timesheets for the first time since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, when he won his second world championship.

It wasn’t that Mercedes had been tardy or behind schedule throughout the winter, but instead that the German marque had been yet to truly show its hand.

However, it is now clear that, once again, the Silver Arrows will be the cars to beat in 2015. Nico Rosberg’s time on Friday was impressive, but the fact that Hamilton’s theoretical advantage over the rest of the field stands at 1.4 seconds is simply staggering – but more on that later.

Running in Barcelona was dry and cool once again, with only a couple of short red flag periods due to stoppages out on track. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Marcus Ericsson both required recovery in the final hour of the day, whilst Mercedes and McLaren both encountered problems with their cars that meant they could not break the 100 lap barrier.

The rest of the teams did manage to rack up over a century of laps on Saturday. Particularly impressive was Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India, with the German managing 157 laps despite the car being ‘like new’ after rolling out for the first time on Friday.

Rounding up all of today’s action, here’s the Paddock Notebook.

SESSION REPORT

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Meh-cedes?

When Lewis Hamilton pumped in his P1 lap time of 1:23.022, the entire F1 paddock took notice. Not only had he gone quicker than everyone else, but he had done so on a cold track and on a slower tire than the one Felipe Massa had used to set the previous benchmark. Quite clearly, Mercedes is the team to beat once again in 2015. However, Hamilton wasn’t so fussed, saying that it was a so-so day. The team cheekily bolted on a set of the super-soft tires in the final hour before a red flag brought an early end to the day, but had Hamilton been lapping in the right conditions, he could have – according to Pirelli – gone another 1.2 seconds quicker. That makes the theoretical gap to Williams, on the same tire, 1.4 seconds. In F1, that’s basically a lifetime.

Back to reality for McLaren

After completing 100 laps on Friday and appearing to have made a breakthrough, McLaren came back down to earth with a bump on Saturday in Barcelona as Kevin Magnussen could manage just 39 laps in the MP4-30. An oil leak forced the team to end its running after lunch, but the Dane was still happy with his efforts, even if he would prefer to be racing this year for McLaren instead of simply being its reserve driver. The team does not expect to be up to pace and really able to throw the car around until the beginning of the European season, but time will tell just how far behind it is.

In for the long haul

Today marked the final chance for a number of drivers to get in some lap time ahead of the first race of the season in Australia, making race simulations a key focus. After displaying an impressive short-run pace over the winter, Ferrari finally completed a race simulation with Kimi Raikkonen behind the wheel of the SF15-T. The Finn ran mainly on the unmarked Pirelli medium prototype tire, and laid down a very consistent pace that was comparable to that of Williams’ Felipe Massa, suggesting that the Italian marque has made a step forward over the winter. Marcus Ericsson was also completing a long run for Sauber, but his hard tire pace was far from impressive, suggesting that the Swiss team may be in for a rough ride once again in 2015.

Eyes on the ground

One of the advantages of actually being at testing is that you can make visual comparisons and deductions just by simply going out and watching the cars on track. I took some time out in the morning to head to turn ten and see how the different runners were faring, and it was interesting to compare it to the end of last year. Under braking, the Ferrari looks very impressive indeed, waiting quite late before getting on the brakes and staying planted through the corner. The Williams looks particularly smooth when getting on the power out of a corner, unlike the Force India and McLaren cars, whilst Sauber – and I really don’t want to seem like I’m picking on the team – seemed far less stable. The C34 still requires two or three turn-ins for a corner, looking ragged at the best of times. Just a few observations, but interesting nonetheless.

One day to go!

Just one day remains in the 2015 winter testing programme, and we finally appear to have some kind of pecking order shaping up. Mercedes is undoubtedly the team to beat once again, whilst an interesting battle for second between Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams appears to be on the cards. McLaren could yet get in the mix once its car is up to speed and problem-free, whilst Lotus has enjoyed an impressive testing period. Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India are likely to fight just behind, and although Manor may not stand much chance of finishing outside of the bottom two positions, its presence will be welcomed by all (well, maybe not Force India…).

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We’ll be bringing you the final Paddock Notebook from testing in Barcelona tomorrow as the winter period wraps up. Just 15 days to go until the Australian Grand Prix now – where has the winter gone?

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”