F1 Preview: 2016 Spanish Grand Prix

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The European leg of the 2016 Formula 1 season kicks off this weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix on the outskirts of Barcelona.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is one of the oldest and most-used tracks in F1, playing host to pre-season testing on a regular basis.

As a result, it offers teams the perfect opportunity to gauge how far they have come since the first runs of their new cars in winter testing three months ago.

Nico Rosberg arrives in Spain riding the crest of an ever-growing wave after racking up his seventh straight grand prix victory in Russia two weeks ago.

With four wins from four races in 2016, history is firmly on the German’s side: no driver has lost the championship after making such a good start.

However, as Rosberg is all-too-quick to point out, none of them had Lewis Hamilton for a teammate. Will the Briton’s revival start on Sunday in Spain?

Here’s our full preview of the race.

2016 Spanish Grand Prix – Talking Points

Verstappen, Kvyat prepare for fresh starts

The biggest talking point heading to Spain – surprisingly – comes from outside of Mercedes. After his disastrous display in Russia, Red Bull announced that Daniil Kvyat would be returning to Toro Rosso for the remainder of the season, with Max Verstappen moving in the opposite direction.

With both drivers slated to take part in Thursday’s FIA press conference, things could get quite awkward. It will be fascinating to see how both deal with such a sea-change in their careers.

For Verstappen, this promotion presents a golden opportunity to prove himself as one of F1’s future stars with a top-line drive. Can he make an immediate impression in Spain?

As for Kvyat… quite where his career goes from here is hard to say. He’ll need to push on from an early stage though.

Reliability the focus for Mercedes after tough start

Lewis Hamilton may arrive in Spain with a 43 point deficit in the drivers’ championship to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, yet the Briton hasn’t been able to fight for a race win so far this season. His luck has been appalling, with power unit problems ruining his weekends in China and Russia.

The focus for Mercedes at the start of the European season has become reliability. The threat of Ferrari is not as great as once feared, easing some of the pressure at the front, but with Hamilton hungry to fight back, ensuring his car is running properly will be paramount this weekend.

If all goes to plan, then perhaps we’ll get our first Rosberg-Hamilton battle of the season. If Hamilton ails to a fifth straight defeat though and Rosberg’s lead swells to 50 points or more, his title hopes will become all the slimmer.

Can Ferrari cut the gap?

After all the pre-season hype, Ferrari’s start to the new season has been disappointing at best. Reliability has been a weak spot, yet the inherent pace of the SF16-H simply does not seem to be up to scratch. Kimi Raikkonen’s failure to even get close to Rosberg in Russia is proof of that.

With rumors of changes in the senior management at Maranello circulating and CEO Sergio Marchionne saying he expects wins to come soon, the pressure is on to cut the gap to Mercedes and get back in the fight.

Updates for the car will arrive in Barcelona, much as they will for all teams, but Ferrari needs to dig deep and ensure it can keep the Silver Arrows in sight. If not, it risks being marooned in second for the entirety of the season – and with Red Bull looking stronger this year, it may even be a battle to hold on to P2.

Updates to shake up the pecking order?

The beginning of the European season ordinarily heralds the first big raft of updates for teams as they push to kick on from the first four rounds.

A number of teams have confirmed that they will be arriving in Spain with sizeable overhauls for their cars, the biggest set to come from Force India. Renault is focusing on engine updates ahead of a bigger step in Canada, while even Haas is bringing some smaller new parts for the VF-16.

The question now is how this will change the pecking order, particularly in the tight midfield. Red Bull and Williams will be hoping to wrestle control in the battle for P3 and even cut the gap to Ferrari, while the likes of Force India, Toro Rosso, McLaren, Renault and even Haas will hope to make some serious gains.

Home comforts

It may only be a ‘little’ thing, but the start of the European season marks the return of F1’s mighty motorhomes. Up and down the paddock in Barcelona, giant structures have been erected to make the teams feel at home over the weekend.

This, combined with the shorter flight times – Lewis Hamilton left Monaco only this morning on his private jet – will leave the teams feeling more refreshed for the next run of races. Between now and the Italian Grand Prix, there are just two flyaways to contend with (ironically, one of them is the European Grand Prix), easing up the amount of travel taking place.

One interesting thought is that Red Bull and Toro Rosso share a motorhome, the Energy Station. Might that make things a little more awkward for Max and Dany?

2016 Spanish Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Corners: 16
Lap Record: Kimi Raikkonen 1:21.670 (2008)
Tire Compounds: Hard/Medium/Soft
2015 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:24.681
2015 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:28.270
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T16 to T1); T9 to T10

2016 Spanish Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 4am ET 5/13
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 5/13
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 5/14
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 5/14
Race: NBCSN 7am ET 5/15

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”