Carlos Sainz Jr shines as top rookie in Bahrain qualifying

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Carlos Sainz Jr. continued his impressive start to life in Formula 1 by qualifying inside the top ten for tomorrow’s Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday.

The Toro Rosso driver produced a scintillating final lap at the end of Q2 to earn himself a place into the third and final part of qualifying, before eventually placing ninth in Q3.

Sainz admitted after the session that the result was something of a surprise, but he was delighted with the turnaround that the team performed following practice on Saturday.

“I feel very happy,” Sainz said. “Probably it was the less expected Q3 of the year, I even thought this was going to be the toughest and most difficult to achieve after what we had seen in FP3.

“But we did a mega turnaround and we went for it. Everything worked out and I’m very satisfied with the result.

“For tomorrow’s race, our race pace should be the same or even better than our qualifying pace, so it gives me quite a good feeling for tomorrow.”

Max Verstappen’s session in the second Toro Rosso was less fruitful though, as he struggled with the setup of the car to prop up the running order in Q2. He will start tomorrow’s race from 15th place on the grid.

“It wasn’t the best qualifying,” Verstappen said. “I suffered from a bit too much understeer on the car and that’s never great for a qualifying lap on new tires, but hopefully this will help to save the rear tires more in the race tomorrow.

“We’ll do our best to do a good start and make the most of the fact that we have one more set of soft tires available.”

The Bahrain Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 10:30am ET on Sunday.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.