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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.”

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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