Ferrari not giving up title hope yet

© Getty Images

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Eight races into the Formula One season and Ferrari remains winless, but the Italian team is not yet ready to surrender the 2016 title to runaway leader Mercedes.

Nico Rosberg’s victory at Sunday’s European Grand Prix, and Sebastian Vettel’s second place for Ferrari, widened the gap between the two drivers to 45 points with 13 races remaining. In the constructors’ championship the margin is now 81 points.

Sceptics have been urging Ferrari to abandon hopes of challenging for this year’s title and instead get a head start on developing a car to meet 2017’s significantly altered design regulations. But Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne believes the team should not abandon hope yet.

“The points difference does not justify such pessimism,” Marchionne said trackside in Baku. “That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but the team will not give up and start to think about 2017.”

“With what happened in the last few races, for me, the championship is fully open. We must try to get ourselves in the game. Maurizio (Arrivabene, team principal) and the team want to do it. I have heard that Vettel is convinced that the car is there and that they will be able to bring the results.”

Second place was a creditable result for the team, given the degree of Mercedes’ dominance through practice, qualifying and then the race.

“Today was a great job for us, we struggled on Friday but to see where we are now is a great recovery,” Vettel said. “Two second places in a row. The car is coming along.”

Kimi Raikkonen was overtaken by Force India’s Sergio Perez for third place on the penultimate lap, but had incurred a five-second penalty for crossing the white line at the pit entry at his pitstop. He would have been relegated behind the Mexican anyway regardless of the passing move.

“I don’t understand the rule of crossing the line, you gain zero from it,” Raikkonen said.

It was a frustrating race for the Finn, who had the TV producers working overtime on the bleep button as he complained over the radio about backmarkers getting in his way. He then had a failure of the hybrid power access which the team was not allowed to help him resolve.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”