Midfield seizes its chance in Spanish GP from fourth on back

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The retirements of Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen from Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix opened the door for nearly all of Formula 1’s midfield to break into the points. Most teams seriously nailed their opportunity.

At the front of the field, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) had their own scrap, and were ultimately separate by just 3.4 seconds at the checkered flag. In third, Daniel Ricciardo picked up the final podium position for Red Bull, albeit more than one minute behind.

But from fourth on back, the midfield teams starred as five of the seven remaining teams made the top 10 and scored points, in Force India, Renault, Toro Rosso, Sauber and Haas.  Force India and Toro Rosso were the only teams today that got both cars in the points.

McLaren didn’t get either of its cars in the points, although Fernando Alonso had what was, from his standpoint, his best race of the season and finishing in 12th. Williams’ Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, meanwhile, had a miserable day, ending 13th and 16th.

The enthusiasm for Force India might be stunted as the team was called to the stewards post-race for a possible compliance issue with the new regulations regarding the new bigger numbers that were implemented this weekend.

Alas, it’ll be easier to have nearly each driver from fourth on back on the road recap their days, as most spoke to NBCSN’s Will Buxton post-race.

4th, Sergio Perez, Force India (15th straight points finish)

“It has been a fantastic weekend for me. It hasn’t been easy. We brought some parts at the beginning of the weekend. (With) the setup of our car under those conditions, you never know what’s working and what’s not. We made sure we got safely through Turn 1, did an incredible couple of stints. Scoring 15 straight is incredible for the team.”

5th, Esteban Ocon, Force India (fifth straight points finish, best of career)

“This is what you work so hard for. I’m so happy with the result of the day. A fantastic weekend overall. We maximized the results all the time. The team is not doing anything wrong. It’s all great, and I’m so pleased with that.

“We are not the richest team on the grid but we keep up the progression. We’re always there, and we’re always going to be there.

“I think from last year, I was not expecting to be this fast at the beginning .We weren’t there in testing but we are improving all the time. We can be a real P4 in the championship easily.”

6th, Nico Hulkenberg, Renault (third straight points finish, best of season)

No quotes, but this tweet will work.

7th, Carlos Sainz Jr., Toro Rosso (equal best finish of season)

“It was good. It was a bit chaotic at the start as you saw. We gained a couple of positions. We were P9 and from there it was full on attack to try to recover. We got to P7 from P12 (on the grid), so it was good.

“As you saw, I was pushing the whole time. Pit lane, Turn 1, Turn 5 it was a great battle (with Kevin Magnussen). It was a very complete weekend; it was a lot of positives and a good P7 in the end.

“I think we saw today a race in Barcelona that people are not used to seeing in Barcelona. Usually you start and people disappear into the distance. We put on a good show. I looked at the crowd and they were pumped up. We had a good race.”

8th, Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber (best career finish; seventh on road with 5-second time penalty)

“I thought that’s the perfect strategy for today. We couldn’t two-stop. We committed to a one-stop, that was the only thing we could do… or it was no points we could get from this race. That was the risk, and it paid off.

“The first stint was really difficult. I did one stint on the soft tire. Same amount of laps. That was the most difficult part. Sainz put a lot of pressure, but I managed to put him behind me. With the five second penalty I lost that one, but I was ahead of the rest of them.

“I think I showed in Bahrain, I’m back. This race was better than any race this year. It’s nice to see my back is fine. I’m performing at a very high level. The health and fitness is back.

“It’s nice to me. It was hard to watch the other guy (Antonio Giovinazzi) driving and not be able to drive. The team suffered a lot, but I suffered even more.”

9th, Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso (went from last row of grid to ninth)

“This feels great. I’m proud of myself and my team. We pushed hard. We got it right today. I want to bring the qualifying from first three races back to me; that was my strong point. I did every lap like a qualifying one today. It was completely OK. I wasn’t struggling. I gave my all.”

10th, Romain Grosjean, Haas (inherited point after puncture cost teammate)

“All the guys spun in front of me and I lost a number of positions. We got straight into traffic. I was planning to go much longer, but we got the (virtual) safety car (virtual). The car wasn’t as good as I wanted on the medium. Hopefully we can get better.

“This is two races in a row I’m struggling with the car. I didn’t do any long run with the updates on Friday. We need to make it better for Monaco.”


12th, Fernando Alonso, McLaren (started seventh, first finish of the year)

“It has been a good weekend in general. A positive. At the moment we finished the race. Hopefully this is a first step forward on reliability. There was not the pace to be in the points

“At end of the day we had too much tire difference. For passing, I was with new softs, and Williams on old mediums.”

14th, Kevin Magnussen, Haas (spirited battle with Sainz; tire puncture after Kvyat contact)

“That one is annoying. We could have had points on both cars. There was some contact. I had a puncture from the contact. I gave it everything I had. If we had finished in the points it would have been a good finish, but we couldn’t do it.”

Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Hannah Grisham at the Heart of Racing shootout (Mike Levitt/LAT)

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with the Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

Hannah Grisham reviews data with Heart of Racing sports car driver Gray Newell during the team’s shootout last November (Mike Levitt/LAT).

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

The Heart of Racing’s female driver shootout drew interested candidates from around the world (Mike Levitt/LAT).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.

“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Rianna O’Meara-Hunt was one of two women selected by the Heart of Racing to drive in the SRO SprintX Championship this year (Mike Levitt/LAT).

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving. It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”