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F1 drivers happy with the hurt dished out by faster cars

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Battered and bruised, Lewis Hamilton loves the punishment he is receiving from his more physically demanding Mercedes.

Because if some extra soreness is the price for increased speed, then Hamilton and Formula One’s other drivers say they are more than happy to pay it.

“I’m finding the car is much more physical to drive than in the past,” Hamilton said during last week’s first preseason test near Barcelona.

Drivers will have a second round of trying to tame their powerful vehicles on the same track from Tuesday to Friday.

“I think the cars look fantastic, the tires look fantastic, the wider wheels, the wider body and the wider chassis,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully it is great for the fans.”

Wider means faster, since the added width on tires and wings increases the car’s grip to the track and lets drivers hit higher speeds while veering through curves. And those faster corners translate into added stress in the form of G-force pummeling drivers’ bodies lap after lap, turn after turn.

“It’s so much faster in the corners. The force you feel on your body and on your neck is much higher,” Hamilton said. “I’ve got bruises and bumps where I’ve never really had them before.”

“These are the hardest cars I have ever driven,” Hamilton told F1.com in a separate interview. “My guess is that in the next couple of months we will see transformation in peoples’ neck sizes and their physical presence.”

Hamilton was not alone in his praise for the results of the biggest rulebook change since 2014 aimed at reinvigorating F1, and possibly producing a challenge to Mercedes’ three-year reign at the top.

Retired champion Nico Rosberg marveled firsthand at the cars he won’t get to drive when he visited the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya last week.

“They look like proper monsters, I mean, wow,” the former Mercedes driver said. “With those cars the drivers need to be gladiators out there. The cars are going to take them to the limit, physically also, even now they’re hurting bad, all of them.

“That’s how it should be also. It should take the drivers physically to their absolute limits. And maybe we’ll even see some races where someone will lose a win because he’s just knackered. That would be exciting.”

For Fernando Alonso, regardless of the problems his McLaren team is having, there is simply no contest: The cars in recent years were neither fast nor furious.

“I apologize to the fans for the last five or six years that they saw horrible cars,” Alonso said, adding that the new cars allow drivers “to express your driving style” and not have to hold back as they did before in order to save their tires.

Valtteri Bottas, Rosberg’s replacement at Mercedes, was quickest through the first four days of testing, setting the fastest time since layout changes were made at the Barcelona track a decade ago.

Bottas said that he and the rest of the field had gone through more rigorous workouts over the winter to prepare for the more difficult drives.

“I modified my training regime to fit to the requirements of the new cars and its G-forces,” Bottas said. “And it worked well, as I felt super in the car right away.”

Felipe Massa, who briefly retired after last season only to be lured back to Williams after Bottas left, said that his focus was on keeping in better shape.

“I took a new trainer straight away and immediately started to train hard every day. I’m working and training more than ever,” Massa said. “And I am 35 years old so need to train even more. That was a big task. But when you decide to come back you have to do it in a proper way.”

What is still to be seen is if the faster speeds that drivers relish will translate to more exciting races for those watching from the stands and on television.

Wider cars that take up more track could hinder overtaking, and leave F1 with the nagging problem of boring races of the best cars speeding away from the pack.

“There is definitely less space compared to previous years,” Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg said. “So yes, when I think about it my guess is that racing will get tougher.”

Hamilton also has his doubts about the new cars really leading to change because this season’s more resistant tires will mean fewer pit stops, and thus fewer breaks in the flow of the race.

“I was behind a couple of cars out there and it was harder to follow but that is to be expected,” the three-time former champion said. “The tires are so hard. They keep going and going. So it is most likely we will be doing a lot more one-stoppers and as there is not any degradation less mistakes and less overtaking. That is my prediction.”

Whether Hamilton is correct will be seen on March 26 at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”