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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

MRTI: Toronto digest

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Last year’s visit to the streets of Toronto for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires proved to be a pivotal point in the championship chase that year.

Kyle Kaiser swept both races in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and doing so gave him firm control over the championship, and he all but clinched it ahead of the season finale at Watkins Glen – Kaiser needed to only start that event to wrap up the title.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while Parker Thompson swept the weekend, Oliver Askew was caught up in a crash in Race 2. Combine that with a second place finish from 2017 title rival Rinus VeeKay – VeeKay also finished third in Race 1 – and it kept the championship within reach of VeeKay, who took it all the way to the finale at The Glen.

The 2018 visit north of the border will likely be remembered for a similar impact on the MRTI championships, both in Indy Lights and USF2000 and, maybe most significantly, in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

A look at big stories to emerge from a wild weekend on the streets of Toronto is below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia scored a much needed win in Race 2 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia’s championship hopes were teetering entering the weekend – he was 49 points out of the lead and had been vastly overshadowed by title combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta for most of the season. But, his Race 2 victory combined with a second place in Race 1 to close him to within 40 points of O’Ward for the championship lead. He’s still a bit of a long shot, but his chances look much brighter leaving Toronto than they did entering.
  • More significantly, Colton Herta’s title hopes may have taken an enormous hit. After crashing in Race 1 qualifying, just after grabbing the pole as well, Herta suffered a thumb fracture that he aggravated again after crashing during Race 1. It forced the team to recommend Herta essentially sit out Race 2 – he pulled off after running only a couple laps and finished sixth – and he dropped to 18 points behind O’Ward, who won Race 1 and finished second in Race 2. The margin is hardly a commanding one for O’Ward, but with the next stop at the ultra-physical Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Herta’s injured hand could remain a factor in the coming races and allow O’Ward to widen the margin.
  • One can’t help but feel bad for Victor Franzoni. Coming off the high of winning his first Indy Lights Race at Road America, Franzoni’s season took a turn for the worse. He crashed in Race 1 and then pulled off in Race 2 in order to conserve finances and resources – Franzoni detailed afterward that the budget is tight for him this year and crash damage from Race 1 does him no good. It would be a genuine shame if Franzoni’s season was derailed by funding issues, as the likeable Brazilian has made great progress all year and has the potential to make it as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver. He just needs the backing to get there.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay now trails Parker Thompson by only seven points in the Pro Mazda championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • No Mazda Road to Indy Championship was shaken up as much as Pro Mazda. Parker Thompson entered the weekend with a sizeable lead of 46 points over Rinus VeeKay. He exits the weekend only seven points ahead after finishes of eighth in both races – he was involved in a crash in Race 1 and made an unscheduled pit stop after thinking he suffered suspension damage in Race 2. Meanwhile, VeeKay dominated the weekend, winning from the pole in both races. It all means that what was once looking like a possible runaway has been all but reset. And we might see a genuine duel between them all the way to the season finale at Portland International Raceway.
  • There are few words to describe the relief everyone felt in seeing Harrison Scott walk away unhurt after his frightening airborne crash in Race 1. This was the first major crash test in a race for the Tatuus PM-18, and it aced it. And big kudos should also be given to the AMR Safety Team, who were already tending to Scott barely a few seconds after his car had come to a rest. Scott did start Race 2, but pulled off with a mechanical problem…which seems minor in comparison to what could have happened in Race 1.
  • Oliver Askew had his best race of the year in Race 2, finishing second to VeeKay for his second podium of the season. It’s been a tough year for Askew and Cape Motorsports after winning last year’s USF2000 title, and getting a podium under their belt could be just what they needed heading into the season’s stretch run.

USF2000

Kyle Kirkwood continued his USF2000 dominance on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • After another weekend sweep, Kyle Kirkwood has one hand on the USF2000 championship. He leads Kaylen Frederick by a staggering 131 points – that’s over four road course races worth of points. He may well leave Mid-Ohio as the USF2000 champion. And even if he doesn’t, it would take something unheard of to keep the championship from his grasp.
  • Kaylen Frederick sits second, only three points up on Igor Fraga. Fraga had his best race since Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, when he finished second, and he nearly outdueled Kirkwood for the win in Race 2. Both he and Frederick have caught fire of late, and their battle for second is very evenly matched.
  • Don’t count out Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second in the championship either. The Swedish driver is seven points behind Frederick and scored his third podium of the year by finishing third in Race 2 at Toronto. Second is well within his reach.

The Mazda Road to Indy is off this weekend before heading to Mid-Ohio, where Indy Lights and USF2000 again have double headers, while Pro Mazda will enjoy a triple header.

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