© Getty Images

F1 preseason starts with teams targeting Mercedes again

1 Comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Formula One returns Monday for preseason testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona with teams still trying to catch Mercedes, the sport’s dominant force in the last two seasons.

Mercedes hasn’t been seriously challenged since major rule changes were introduced, leaving drivers struggling to keep pace with defending champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

The four days of testing should provide a clue into whether teams have made any gains in their pursuit of Mercedes or if they will be fighting for second again. The second and final test sessions are scheduled for March 1-4, also in Barcelona.

Mercedes was able to get an early feel for its new car during a promotional event a few days ago, and based on Rosberg’s first impressions it’s not good news for the rest of the grid.

“Here we go, what an awesome feeling, first lap with the new Silver Arrow,” Rosberg said in a video released by the team. “Flat-out down the stretch, eighth gear, it feels really quick already.”

The car was unveiled on Sunday on the team’s website.

Here are other things to watch out for in the first preseason test:

VETTEL’S CHALLENGE

Ferrari was the team that got closest to Mercedes last year, with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel the only driver to win races in addition to the Mercedes’ duo. Vettel finished third in the standings and Ferrari was second in the constructors’ championship.

“Naturally our goals are growing,” Vettel said. “We all want more and hopefully this car will help us achieve it. Very excited to get on track and see how it feels.”

The German driver said he could feel around the factory that the team is extra motivated to raise the bar and contend for the title.

“Everybody is fired up and we want to win, so the target is clear, the expectation is there,” Vettel said. “We will see how close we are and how much there is to do during the season.”

STEP FORWARD

Williams was third in the constructors’ championship the last two seasons and is working to take a step forward in 2016. It only had four podium finishes last year.

Deputy team principal Claire Williams said the team is expected to be challenging at the front this season.

“There will be a number of strong teams who have us in their sights,” she said. “We started design work on the car earlier than normal and hopefully this extra development time will stand us in good stead.”

BETTER FORTUNES?

McLaren and Red Bull are eager to get on track again after a disappointing season last year. Red Bull couldn’t manage better than a fourth-place finish in the constructors’ championship, while McLaren was second-to-last after switching to Honda engines.

McLaren, which unveiled its new car on Sunday, is expected to show improvement compared to last year, although it’s unlikely to be enough to allow the team to start contending for podiums or victories, which could mean another frustrating season for two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and one-time champion Jenson Button.

Red Bull has already warned that the team likely won’t peak until the second half of the season.

“We put in a phenomenal effort through last year,” said Red Bull chief engineer Paul Monoghan. “Many skilled people put in a lot of dedicated hours, and we are judged relative to the front-running car. If that’s us, fantastic, if it’s not, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

NEW FACES

Haas F1 will be making its Formula One debut in Barcelona this week, while Renault returns to the sport after taking over financially strapped Lotus.

Hass, the first American-led team in F1 since 1986, launched its car on Sunday with the goal of “scoring points” and being “respected by fans and other teams.”

“Everything is new for us. It’s not only a new car, but a new team,” said team principal Guenther Steiner. “In our first test of the season and first as a team, you try to make sure everything works as you designed it. You try to learn as much as possible about the car. You get the baseline on the car and you work off that baseline the rest of the year.”

Renault had relinquished team ownership after the 2009 season and had become an engine supplier.

“We know the road map and we have to deliver in the next three or so seasons,” Renault racing director Frederic Vasseur said.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

Leave a comment

Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”