Ferrari chairman: ‘Driver error’ played role in F1 title defeats

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Ferrari’s defeat to Mercedes in both Formula 1 championships this year was down to a combination of “technical issues and driver error”, according to CEO and chairman Sergio Marchionne.

Ferrari entered 2017 hopeful of ending its eight-year championship drought, and made a strong start to the year after adapting well to the overhauled technical regulations for the new season.

Three victories in the opening six races saw Ferrari lead both championships after Monaco, with Sebastian Vettel retaining his advantage in the drivers’ standings through to the Italian Grand Prix in September.

Vettel’s hopes of winning a fifth world title faded across the course of the three Asian flyaways, with a first-lap crash in Singapore and a spark plug issue in Japan forcing two retirements. An engine problem also left Vettel last on the grid for Malaysia, costing him a chance of a victory.

Lewis Hamilton was crowned world champion for a fourth time in Mexico last weekend, wrapping up the title with two races to spare for Mercedes.

Ferrari chief Marchionne refused to put the title defeat down to misfortune, instead picking reliability and driver error as being the two costly weaknesses for the team, appearing to reference the clash between Vettel, Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Singapore.

“I don’t believe in bad luck. Ultimately it’s a reflection of the way in which we manage these businesses,” Marchionne said during a conference call with investors on Thursday.

“It was a combination of especially in the second half of the season between technical issues and driver error, or driver misjudgment.

“As we get close to the end of the season, we’ve now got two races left to complete. As you well know it’s impossible and it was almost an impossible task at the last race on Sunday to think that we could recover at least the drivers’ title.

“I think we’ve learned a lot. I think it’s a painful way of learning it. I think the second half revealed some structural weaknesses in the manner which we are managing this business, which are going to get rectified and hopefully 2018 will be a much better season.”

While Marchionne was disappointed to have seen Ferrari’s run without an F1 title extend into another year, he is encouraged by the team’s performance through 2017 ahead of a renewed championship bid next season.

“I remind everybody who asks me this question – and I’m probably the most critical of the way in which we manage our F1 activities – that if I’d asked anybody at this time last year as to how well we would have done in 2017, I couldn’t have gotten a buyer for the idea that we would be that far advanced in the first half of the season,” Marchionne said.

“So we have done well given our starting point. We were unable to finish the task. It’s a 2018 objective now.

“We regret not having done better, but the car is there. It is in my view probably the best car on the track today.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)