Getty Images

F1 Preview: 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix

Leave a comment

There’s one race down in the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season, but even though the season-opening Australian Grand Prix answered a couple questions, it posed even more.

As a temporary circuit around Albert Park, the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit is somewhat of an anomaly on the calendar, so the results from the weekend won’t necessarily indicate who is poised to be strong throughout the season.

Still, as the first race of the season, it did shine some light on how the on-track action might look for the rest of the season, and this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix should shed yet more light on the outlook for 2018.

And as one of two races to run at night – the Singapore Grand Prix is the other – Bahrain is set to be one of the more unique spectacles all year.

Key talking points to keep track of heading into the weekend are below.

Ferrari vs. Mercedes: Who is Top Dog?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Sebastian Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari capitalized on a Virtual Safety Car in Australia to take victory over rivals Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes AMG Petronas. And they even enter Bahrain as the defending race winners.

Still, Mercedes could easily flip the script, given their dominance in the hybrid power unit era, and their W09 EQ Power+ just might be the fastest car on the grid, evidenced by Hamilton taking pole in Australia by over half a second.

However, Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas isn’t so sure that Ferrari is pretty evenly matched with them, despite the pace they showed at the season-opener.

“I think it’s going to be a close season. We’re not miles ahead,” Bottas said in a story posted on Crash.com. “I think Lewis really got everything right in Q3, maybe the other teams’ drivers didn’t get everything perfect. So I think it’s going to be a big battle and it’s going to be a tough season.”

If Ferrari can be in the ballpark with Mercedes, as they were last year when the teams seemingly traded strengths at every track, then 2018 could see yet another duel amongst them in the driver’s and constructor’s championships.

And Bahrain should give a better indication of such.

Where Does Red Bull Fall in the Title Picture?

Daniel Ricciardo during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Getty Images

Not to be outdone by Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull Racing could be a sleeper in the title chase. Daniel Ricciardo was right on Kimi Raikkonen’s gearbox at the end of the Australian Grand Prix and hounded him throughout the second half of the race as they battled for the final spot on the podium, with Ricciardo eventually finish fourth behind Raikkonen.

Teammate Max Verstappen struggled after suffering damage early on that contributed to a spin, though he did ultimately finish sixth.

If they can keep things clean, this is a team that has the potential to mix it up with Ferrari and Mercedes. Both Ricciardo and Verstappen won races in 2017, one for Ricciardo and two for Verstappen, who won two of the final six races.

What’s more, Verstappen’s triumph in last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix came in a straight fight of sorts against Hamilton, as he overtook the Briton early in the race with a daring move up the inside entering Turn 1.

If they build on their Australia pace and can be close to Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull could easily find themselves battling for the win in Bahrain, a race they last won in 2013.

Can McLaren and Haas Maintain Their Early-Season Form?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 23: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren F1 Team MCL33 Renault on track during practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 23, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

McLaren F1 Team had its best race in years at Australia, with Fernando Alonso finishing at impressive fifth – his best finish since the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix – while Stoffel Vandoore came home in ninth to give McLaren its first double points finish since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Haas F1 Team, too, was fast out of the gates, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean running inside the Top 5 before cross threaded wheel nuts on both cars ended their races prematurely.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team VF-18 Ferrari leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

If both McLaren and Haas show similar pace to what they showed in Australian, then the top half of the grid could be in for a big shakeup.

Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix rolls off at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
Leave a comment

As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”