Jenson Button seeks rebound at Azerbaijan after Montreal last-place disappointment

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To say it has been a disappointing season thus far for McLaren driver Jenson Button is an understatement.

The 2009 Formula One champion has continued the same struggles he had in 2015. He finished last season 16th in the final F1 driver standings and through the first seven races that’s where he’s at thus far in the 2016 standings, as well.

The 36-year-old native of Great Britain has earned just five points since the start of the season.

Now it’s on to a brand new race and track, the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe at the Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan.

Things were starting to look up for Button in the three races before Montreal, with finishes of 10th at Sochi and back-to-back ninth-place outings at Catalunya and Monte Carlo.

But his last-place finish (22nd) at Montreal, dropping out just nine laps into the 70-lap race due to engine failure (for the second time this season) – was not what he anticipated coming into that race.

Now it’s on to a new challenge at Azerbaijan, with a new street course and renewed optimism that things may get back on track for Button and his team.

“After a disappointing end to what was a fairly positive weekend in Canada, I’m already relishing the prospect of the next race,” Button said in a media release. “The Baku City Circuit looks pretty cool – especially as the city center has so much history attached to it, yet we’ll be roaring over the cobbles there at over 300km/h (186mph) in the middle of the city walls.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve transformed the area to accommodate a Grand Prix race. I’ve heard good things from Fernando (McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso) about the layout too, with some really exciting narrow sections mixed in with wider areas that should be promising for overtaking.

“It’ll be tough on the car with its long, fast straight, strong loads on the ERS and high fuel consumption, so we need to buckle down and work hard to get our package set up as quickly as possible for the demands of this circuit.”

The new track, coupled with limited time and practice and no prior race data, could make this a more wide open affair than usual. But at the same time, Button and his team are also working on a strategy that they hope helps them stand out from the rest of the race field.

“In terms of things like strategy, tires, temperatures, of course we have a lot of simulator data – a few of the guys in the team have visited and already have a pretty good handle on the conditions – but until we get there, it’s all a bit of unfamiliar,” Button said. “Having a new circuit on the calendar definitely does spice things up a bit and puts everyone back on a more level playing field, at least initially, so I’m looking forward to the challenge of a new track.”

It’s important to stay positive and keep looking forward, Button noted.

“It’s imperative we bounce back quickly from the disappointment of Canada,” he said. “And the fact we go to a completely new Grand Prix means the focus will rapidly shift from one to the other. There’s definitely a heightened sense of anticipation and excitement for the next race.

“We’re working hard to keep improving race to race and despite the blip in Canada, hopefully we can continue seeing gains – however small – in the next few crazy weeks of back-to-back Grands Prix.”

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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”