Spanish GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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MONTMELO – Just when you thought Nico Rosberg was out of form and perhaps already out of the title fight, he has pulled himself right back in by claiming his first pole position of the season in Spain on Saturday.

Naturally, points are won on Sunday, and Lewis Hamilton’s starts have been particularly strong in 2015. However, the Briton was clearly second best in qualifying at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, even admitting himself that he simply lacked the pace to beat his teammate to pole position.

Qualifying went largely as expected, with those lacking updates – Force India and Sauber – struggling whilst the top five teams managed to pull away and gap the rest of the field. Once again though, it was Mercedes who ruled the roost, locking out the front row and claiming its 17th consecutive pole position.

Rounding up all of the news and action from Barcelona on Saturday, here is the Paddock Notebook.

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Right place, right time for Nico

Nico Rosberg’s charge to pole position in Spain on Saturday could not have come at a better time. The German driver has looked weak for much of the opening part of the 2015 season, and despite showing some flickers of a revival in Bahrain, few would have seriously tipped him to take pole in Spain. However, he controlled qualifying, getting into a rhythm in Q2 before finding his sweet spot in the final part of qualifying, posting two lap times that would have been good enough for pole. On Saturday, Hamilton was second best. Rosberg’s big strength in 2014 was his qualifying form. If he can kick-start from here, then the title fight may be back on.

Different directions at Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen’s weekend has been a difficult one. After running with a number of new parts on Friday, the Finn opted to revert to the Bahrain-specification SF15-T on Saturday, only to finish seventh in qualifying and one second down on teammate Sebastian Vettel. Kimi remained unflustered though, saying “it is what it is” and focusing on the race. Vettel was surprised by the size of the gap to Mercedes – half a second – and it will be interesting to see just how serious a threat he can pose to the Silver Arrows on Sunday. Like Malaysia, it all depends on his strategy.

Toro Rosso’s Saturday surprise

When Max Verstappen told me on Friday that he thought he could fight with Williams and qualify on the second row, I thought he was being way too ambitious. Like he has with many people in 2015 though, he proved me wrong. Toro Rosso enjoyed its best qualifying of the season in Spain, and will line up fifth and sixth on the grid tomorrow with Carlos Sainz Jr ahead of Verstappen. The STR10 car is low on updates, but is particularly strong here. Points are most certainly on the cards, and taking down both Williams and parent team Red Bull would be a huge victory for the rookies.

McLaren targets points, but needs some luck

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button had differing views on McLaren’s chances of points in Barcelona following qualifying. Alonso said a top ten finish was possible, whilst Button was less optimistic. P13 and P14 on the grid will mark the team’s highest starts of the season, and although progress has been made, the big gap between the top ten and the rest is a cause for concern. A few retirements could give Button and/or Alonso points, but McLaren needs a few more weeks before being there on merit.

A lack of upgrades hits Force India and Sauber hard

Heading into this weekend, Force India and Sauber both wanted to keep the other midfield teams within their reach despite not bringing a sizeable upgrade package to Spain. Despite suggesting that they just might during practice, this optimism soon faded. Sauber fill out positions 15 and 16, Force India is 17th and 18th with only Manor behind them. Points are out of the question for both teams, and the alarm bells regarding the next few races may well be ringing.

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That’s all for Saturday in the paddock. Be sure to join us on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”