Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Saturday


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.





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…).


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?

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”

Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”

Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).