Hamilton fastest as Mercedes impresses again on day three

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Lewis Hamilton has continued Mercedes’ late pre-season push by finishing at the top of the timesheets on day three of the final F1 winter test in Barcelona.

The British driver put in a fastest lap time of 1:23.022 to finish two-tenths of a second clear of Williams’ Felipe Massa, who had led for most of the day after running on the super-soft tire just before lunch.

Hamilton proved once again that Mercedes is still the team to beat in 2015, beating Massa’s time despite lapping on the soft compound tire, which is thought to be 1-1.2 seconds slower than the super-soft.

After evaluating their new upgrades on the first two days of the final test in Barcelona, most teams opted to focus on both one-lap pace and race simulations on Saturday. Seven drivers completed over 100 laps, with Kimi Raikkonen finishing Ferrari’s first full race distance of the winter. The Finn ended the day third, 0.254s down on Hamilton at the top.

Mercedes’ day was not without its problems, though. The German marque was limited to just 76 laps in total after an issue on Hamilton’s car prevented the defending world champion from getting back out on track following the lunch break.

There was worse news down at McLaren, though, as Kevin Magnussen could complete just 39 laps before the team opted to end its running. The MP4-30 suffered an oil leak after lunch, bringing the McLaren reserve driver’s first stint in the 2015 car to an early end.

Sauber’s running was also curtailed when Marcus Ericsson stopped out on track in the final hour of running on Saturday. The Swede had posted a fastest lap of 1:24.477 to finish the day in fourth place, but was unable to complete his race simulation as a result of the issue.

Having only debuted the 2015 car on Friday, Nico Hulkenberg was keen to put in plenty of laps for Force India, and finished with the most mileage of any driver on Saturday. The German finished down in seventh place, but with over 150 laps on the board, the team will be hoping that some of the deficit created by the delays has been made up.

Carlos Sainz Jr. brought his winter testing programme to a close on Saturday by finishing fourth for Toro Rosso, but his hopes of a trouble-free day were ruined when his car stopped at turn three with 15 minutes remaining in the day. Max Verstappen will take over the reins of the STR10 on Sunday.

Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo both enjoyed solid days in their final runs before the first race of the year, finishing fifth and ninth respectively without suffering any stoppages or problems.

At the top though, it was Lewis Hamilton who followed in the footsteps of teammate Nico Rosberg by turning up the heat for Mercedes on Saturday and gapping the field, leaving little doubt as to where the advantage lies ahead of the new season.

Pre-season testing comes to a close on Sunday in Barcelona, with the first race taking place two weeks later in Melbourne, Australia.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”