Brown on McLaren’s engine switch: ‘It’s time to move on’ (VIDEO)

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McLaren executive director Zak Brown joined F1 on NBC Sports’ live coverage of qualifying this morning to expand on the team’s impending switch from Honda to Renault engines for 2018, and the team’s progress this weekend (qualifying also re-airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The expected strides from Honda never came and after three years, Brown pretty much said a change of direction was inevitable.

“Ultimately we knew we were in trouble in winter testing,” Brown told Bob Varsha, who fills in for Leigh Diffey this weekend (Diffey is in Sonoma for IndyCar coverage) alongside David Hobbs and Steve Matchett in the booth for NBCSN and CNBC’s F1 coverage.

“Year one, P9 in championship was somewhat to be expected with a new power unit. Year two, we got a little bit better. But we expected much better for this year. It obviously didn’t happen. It was three years of good effort. Everyone tried.

“We have a good relationship with Renault. They’ve won six of the last 12 championships. It was time to move on, and time to get back up. We have a lot of confidence in our relationship with Renault going forward. I’m disappointed things didn’t work out with Honda but as you know in racing, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

If the team was to have Renault power now, Brown said the McLaren chassis would be good enough to threaten the Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull teams at the top of the charts.

“We would be near the top of the timesheets if not at the top,” he said. “We’re happy with progress. Drivers are happy. With similar horsepower we can do some fun stuff next year.”

Odds are still good for a big points haul this weekend in Singapore, though, if the reliability is there (race coverage starts Sunday at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN).

McLaren scored nine of its 11 points this season at Hungary, when Fernando Alonso was sixth and Stoffel Vandoorne 10th. Alonso’s ninth place in Baku was the team’s only other score this year.

With Alonso eighth and Vandoorne ninth in qualifying for Sunday’s race, the team put both cars into Q3 for the third time this year – joining Monaco and Hungary. At Monaco, it was Jenson Button who did so with Alonso racing at the Indianapolis 500. However grid penalties hit both of them for power unit and gearbox issues, and Vandoorne started 12th and Button from pit lane.

Brown said sixth was a best case scenario for qualifying, seventh a more realistic target. They were just pipped by Nico Hulkenberg in his Renault for seventh today.

“We have a good race car. We’ve had a good race car all year. We knew Singapore would be one of our better races. Let’s finish where we start this weekend,” Brown told NBCSN.

“We have two really good drivers but have additional aerodynamics this weekend. It’s planted. Both happy. A little more grip over the bumps needed but we are happy.”

Neither Alonso nor Vandoorne was super happy in qualifying but still seek big results tomorrow.

“The car has been working well all weekend,” Alonso told NBCSN’s Will Buxton. “There’s been some issues in practice… (with) deployment for the power unit. Now everything is OK. We need the reliability to finish the race.

“It’s opportunity to score good points, so we can’t miss it.”

Vandoorne added to Buxton, “We’ve been competitive since the start. We expected to have both cars in Q3 and we got it. I’m reasonably happy. Q1 and Q2 were both good, then we missed a bit in Q3. Nonetheless it’s a good result.

“Hopefully we can go forward. Our race pace looks quite strong. With a bit of mayhem, we could benefit.”

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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