F1 Preview: 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix

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While Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes may have already captured both Formula 1 titles for 2017, the final two races of the year are far from being dead rubbers as attention quickly turns to next season.

Nico Rosberg proved with his charge to the 2016 F1 title just how important the late-season races can be to build momentum, having won the final three rounds in 2015 as Mercedes teammate Hamilton took his eye off the boil.

Hamilton will be eager to avoid making the same mistakes this time around, particularly with stiffer competition in the form of both Ferrari and Red Bull as they plot their assault on both championships in 2018.

Here are the key talking points heading into this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

2017 Brazilian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Hamilton looks to tighten up, finish strongly

Lewis Hamilton’s misfortune played a big role in his title defeat to Nico Rosberg in 2016, but there is a decent argument for his distractions off-track, the extended celebrations of a third title win and the subsequent downturn in form on-track being a key factor in swinging momentum in his teammate’s favor.

Rosberg convincingly won the last three races of the year in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi to set himself up well for a title assault in 2016, continuing the good form through the early part of the year.

Hamilton may be currently facing a “storm” back in his native Britain over leaked tax details, but he stressed his focus is on finishing the season strongly even with a fourth world title sewn up.

Ferrari and Red Bull have been strong in recent races, meaning Hamilton is unlikely to have things all his own way in Brazil. A victory would unquestionably be a solid way to answer his critics and send out an early warning shot to his rivals in the 2018 title race.

Can Verstappen continue his simply lovely run?

Max Verstappen had a rotten middle part of the season, suffering a number of retirements due to technical issues on his car and on-track incidents that denied him the chance to fight at the front of the pack on a regular basis.

But things have since turned around. Two wins in the last four races and a second-place finish in Japan have given Verstappen a huge amount of momentum, with his dominant victory in Mexico arguably making him the man to beat in Brazil this weekend.

Verstappen has quipped over team radio about things being “simply lovely”, and they definitely are right now. The Red Bull RB13 car is stronger than ever, giving the team the chance to finish on a high.

One year on from his star display in the rain, you can be sure that Verstappen has plenty in the tank still to produce another headline performance and fight for victory again.

Ferrari bids to prove pace after setbacks

Ferrari’s collapse over the Asian flyaways caused its capitulation in the title race, with the lack of reliability robbing us not only of a closer fight for the championship, but also in the races themselves.

Ferrari’s pace looked very, very strong in Malaysia, Japan and Mexico, yet various incidents and reliability issues meant we never got the chance to see just how the team’s SF70H car stacked up against Mercedes and Red Bull’s runners.

Vettel may have lost the championship, but he still has second place to protect from Valtteri Bottas, who is 15 points adrift in the second Mercedes. A strong end to the year will be crucial to ensure he doesn’t finish third in a two-horse race.

Farewell Felipe

Just as it was 12 months ago, the Brazilian Grand Prix is being talked up as Felipe Massa’s final F1 appearance on home soil – only this time, it definitely will be.

Massa’s surprise return this year has offered him another chance to delight the home crowd at Interlagos, but this time around it will be a farewell after confirming last week he would be retiring at the end of the season.

Massa’s form is such that a strong result to sign off on may only be a finish as high as seventh or eighth, yet you can be sure the Williams driver will be giving his all to impress at the track he grew up on and came to taste success at in F1.

Another certainty is the grace and gratitude that will flow both ways between Massa and the fans in Brazil, as seen last year after he crashed out and emotionally walked back up the pit lane draped in a national flag.

2017 Brazilian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Juan Pablo Montoya 1:11.473 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Super-Soft/Soft/Medium
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:10.736
2016 Fastest Lap: Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:25.305
DRS Zones: T15 to T1, T3 to T4

2017 Brazilian Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”