Spanish GP Paddock Notebook – Friday


MONTMELO – Lewis Hamilton’s bid to claim a fourth win of the 2015 Formula 1 season in Spain this weekend got off to a fine start on Friday as the Briton set the pace during practice at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

After seeing teammate Nico Rosberg finish fastest in FP1, Hamilton fought back in FP2 to open up a 0.4 second gap to Sebastian Vettel in second place. Rosberg could only finish third, three-quarters of a second adrift of Hamilton at the top.

However, it was not all plain sailing for Mercedes due to the varying weather conditions throughout the Friday sessions. High temperatures and strong winds made lap times unpredictable, making the pecking order all the more difficult to understand and analyze.

Nevertheless, here is the Paddock Notebook on Friday in Barcelona.




Mercedes still the team to beat

With Ferrari arriving in Barcelona with 16 new parts and a good portion of the car being brand new, there were hopes of the Italian team overhauling Mercedes at the front of the field and springing another surprise just as it did in Malaysia. The status quo remained very much the same during practice, though, and although Sebastian Vettel was only four-tenths adrift in FP2, the race pace difference appears to be swinging things in Mercedes’ favor. That said, if tire management comes into play, Ferrari could yet try to out-think rather than out-pace the silver arrows.

There’s more to life than upgrades

Just ask Toro Rosso. Max Verstappen told us on Thursday that the team had very little in the way of updates for this weekend’s race, only to then finish sixth in both FP1 and FP2 ahead of many who had heavily upgraded their car. The Dutchman explained how the circuit was well-suited to Toro Rosso, but if he can carry this form into qualifying and the race, it would be a remarkable achievement and result for the 17-year-old.

Grosjean benched again

Romain Grosjean was benched for the third race in a row during FP1, making way for Lotus reserve driver Jolyon Palmer. Pastor Maldonado told us after practice that he would make way for Palmer if the team asked him, but Grosjean said that the Venezuelan driver had been asked, yet is unlikely to be sidelined at all in 2015. The Frenchman seemed bemused by the whole matter, and rightly so. Palmer did another solid if unspectacular job during practice, finishing 13th for Lotus, four-tenths up on Maldonado’s best lap.

Hungry like the Wolff

Susie Wolff enjoyed a third practice run-out for Williams on Friday, following on from her two runs in 2014. The Briton finished 14th overall, but said that she made a mistake on her quickest lap, costing her three-tenths of a second that would have taken her onto the fringes of the top ten. Wolff was realistic about her future and what may be in the works with Williams, which was rather refreshing. All too often we hear drivers coming through saying “I’m the next big thing” and “I deserve a seat” – but not Wolff. She remains down to earth and realistic, much to her benefit.


Daniel Ricciardo’s smiley demeanor had every reason to take something of a hit following practice in Spain as he lost yet another internal combustion engine from his power unit, leaving him with just one more to see him to the end of the season (which of course won’t happen). Of course, Dan being Dan, he’s probably shrugged it off, but Red Bull will know that the rest of the year will continue to be an uphill struggle. Going through all four engines in the first five races is disastrous, and Renault will continue to be asked questions. Interestingly though, Verstappen – whose Toro Rosso is Renault-powered – said that he was happy with what the French marque was doing. Perhaps there’s more to this story than meets the eye…


Join us tomorrow for all of the action from Barcelona on NBC Sports Live Extra (FP3 at 5am ET) and qualifying LIVE on CNBC (8am ET). For more information on the broadcasting options for the Spanish GP, click here.

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

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.”