F1 Preview – 2018 Austrian Grand Prix

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The second leg of a three-race “triple header” – a stretch of three races in a row for Formula 1 – is at the Red Bull Ring for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

The circuit may be named for the Austrian energy drink, meaning it’s a home race for Red Bull Racing, but Mercedes has dominated at the circuit since it returned in 2014. Former Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won twice (2014 and 2016), while Lewis Hamilton (2015) and Valtteri Bottas (2017) have one victory each.

And Mercedes enters the Red Bull Ring on a high note, coming off a dominant Hamilton victory at the French Grand Prix, a win that vaulted Hamilton back into the championship lead – he leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 14 points entering Austria.

Talking points ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix are below.

Who will have the advantage between Mercedes and Ferrari?

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MAY 13: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 13, 2018 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Mercedes and Ferrari have engaged in a tug of war throughout 2018, and each race seems to change which one has the upperhand over the other.

In France, it was Mercedes that had the advantage, possibly thanks in part to a power unit upgrade. Hamilton and Bottas were fastest all weekend and qualified 1-2, with Hamilton going unchallenged on his way to victory.

Bottas, meanwhile, suffered misfortune in the form of contact with Sebastian Vettel in the first corner, which punctured the left-rear tire of Bottas’ W09 – he eventually finished seventh.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff fully expects the back and forth with Ferrari to continue, however, highlighting the Austrian circuit’s tighter nature as well as an additional DRS zone – there are three in play at the Red Bull Ring – as obvious variables they’ll have to account for.

“The relatively short lap in Austria makes the circuit challenging as it closes up the field in qualifying and will make the margins even tighter. We will aim to hit the ground running as qualifying is particularly important because overtaking has historically been tricky despite the long straights – although we need to wait and see if that changes this year with an additional DRS zone,” Wolf explained.

Rest assured, things will likely be very close again amongst the two heavyweights.

Bottas Looks for Lady Luck to Cut Him a Break

Valtteri Bottas during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 22, 2018 in Le Castellet, France.

Valtteri Bottas might be the unluckiest driver of the 2018 season. Although he sits fourth in the driver’s championship with four second place finishes to his name, Lady Luck simply hasn’t blessed him when he’s needed it.

A victory beckoned in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix before a cut tire in the final laps saw it slip away and he finished 14th – teammate Hamilton won that day.

And in France, Bottas should have easily finished on the podium, but the aforementioned contact with Vettel, which was not of Bottas’ doing, dropped him from podium contention and forced him to spend the remainder of the race with a damaged car.

Wolff highlighted Bottas’ bad luck, asserting that he’s run better than the results have shown.

“We’re going to Austria leading both the constructors’ and the drivers’ championships, but we know that we will once again get every detail right if we want a chance to win the race – and, in Valtteri’s case in particular, he needs luck to go his way a little more than we have seen in recent races, because he hasn’t had the results that his performances should have earned,” he explained.

Bottas is the defending winner in Austria, so this round presents an opportunity for him to get back on track.

Red Bull Looks for Success on its Home Turf

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JUNE 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 22, 2018 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

The 2014 and 2015 races at Red Bull’s home circuit left a little bit to be desired – they did not score a podium in either race.

However the last two have seen their fortunes shift. Max Verstappen finished second in 2016, and Daniel Ricciardo back up that effort in 2017, finishing third.

The Red Bull Ring is among the shorter circuits on the schedule, giving it something in common with the Monaco Grand Prix circuit – Red Bull dominated that event, with Ricciardo overcoming an MGU-K issue to take the victory.

Mercedes and Ferrari have a pace advantage on Red Bull, but the short Austrian circuit could negate that and give them more of a fighting chance.

“Austria is a short lap, but a very busy one. It’s pretty hectic,” Ricciardo said of the circuit. “The middle and last sectors are really fast, in fact the final two corners are my favourite, especially in the current cars. The race is intense and feels high paced from start to finish so you have to concentrate hard. As the lap is so short there is no room for error – one little mistake will cost you, as all the times are very close.”

Verstappen is motivated to improve upon last year’s outing, which saw him drop out after Lap 1 due to contact. And an influx of Dutch fans will give him extra motivation to do well, giving him his own small “home race” of sorts.

“Last year ended way too soon due to contact at Turn 1 so I’ll be out to make up for that this year,” he explained. “The track is a fun lap, sector two is definitely my favorite part of the circuit. As you come into the infield you have back-to-back fast left hand corners which are really enjoyable. This year there will also be a stand full of Dutch fans there, so that will make it even more special. There is in fact a Dutch campsite just outside the circuit which I heard around 5,000 fans are attending – that sounds like it will be fun, certainly noisy!”

Misc.

  • Romain Grosjean is yet to score any points in 2018 despite a strong amount of pace. Conversely, teammate Kevin Magnussen sits on 27 points after finishing sixth in France. Grosjean will be desperate to get in the points, and soon – being so badly outscored by a teammate, even if it is largely down to luck, is never a good thing.
  • McLaren looks to rebound after both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne failed to score points in France. Alonso hasn’t scored since the Spanish Grand Prix, while Vandoorne has been scoreless since Azerbaijan.
  • Charles Leclerc will look to continue his strong run of performances. He has four finishes inside the points in 2018, putting him on the radar of teams like Ferrari, and more finishes like that will only add to his stock.

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IndyCar Preseason, Day 1: Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing Josef Newgarden

Newgarden Pagenaud feud
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A roundup of nuggets from the opening day of preseason IndyCar Content Days for media that lead into two days of preseason testing Thursday and Friday at The Thermal Club, starting with a playful “feud” between former teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud:

After making a point to needle Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Pagenaud laughed about why he likes poking at his ex-teammate at Team Penske.

“I just love to press the button with Josef,” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates. Pagenaud notably was hot after a 2017 incident at Gateway during Newgarden’s first season with the team, but he later backtracked and blamed it on his French blood.

Pagenaud says all is good between now – though he also admits with a devilish grin that he’s taking advantage of the freedom from leaving Penske last year.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before,” he said with a laugh about teasing Newgarden. “I would get in trouble.

“Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go press it a little bit.”

When he was informed of the sardonic comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.

“He doesn’t get many opportunities these days, so I’m sure he enjoyed that,” Newgarden said. “Take them when you can get them. There’s so much happening I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, he’s a big note-keeper, that guy.”

Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCar’s media session.

“I will do better this year,” he said. “But I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my résumé better than his.”

For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.

During his Rolex 24 availability, Pagenaud also took playful aim at the “Bus Bros,” the branded social and digital content that Newgarden and teammate and buddy Scott McLaughlin have been producing for nearly a year.

“Apparently they hang out together all the time,” Pagenaud cracked. “They’re ‘Bus Bros.’ Do you guys know what this is, the ‘Bus Bros’ thing? Have you watched it? I should start watching it.”

Newgarden and McLaughlin are scheduled to appear together on the second day of the preseason media event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, so stay tuned for the next round of snark.


Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.

But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.

“It’s actually something I’m really interested in for my future but in another life,” he said. “I love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project.

“But it is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.

“I always had a passion for it because it’s a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There’s so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesn’t have to be just racing. It can be events. I’m into that. I’ve always been. Certainly when it’s time to stop driving, it will be something that I’m interested in, yes. That’s maybe 20 years from now.”


Felix Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.

But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and O’Ward on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.

He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last season’s uncertainty.

“I think I handled it probably as good as I could,” Rosenqvist said of last year. “That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year. I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.”

Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over O’Ward at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isn’t worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”


After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is “back to 100% like it was before from both sides.” The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.

He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.

“It was a tough year,” said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. “Could have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didn’t have anything around in our minds. It’s a part of racing.

“I’m just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments (in 2022) where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.’ But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.”


Pato O’Ward unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,” said O’Ward, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “I said, ‘I want at least six weeks. Don’t talk to me, don’t text me, I don’t want to hear anything.’ It’s healing. It’s very healing.

“As much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, there’s a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I don’t normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, ‘OK, race cars now.’ ”


Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the team’s anchor driver if he can maintain last season’s consistency.

Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassi’s unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.

“I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. “I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. “Yeah, it is; I’m angry,” Ericsson deadpanned. “I think we’re OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.”


Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.

“I’ve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,” Armstrong, 22, said. “It’s cool because IndyCar is massive where I’m from because of him. I’ve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ‘never.’ If I’m honest with you, I’m happy where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said. “I can understand why they’ve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.”


In among the wildest stories of the offseason, rookie Sting Ray Robb revealed he landed his ride at Dale Coyne Racing because he ran into Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist at PitFit Training, a physical fitness and performance center used by many drivers in Indianapolis.

Lundqvist was the presumptive favorite for the DCR No. 51 Dallara-Honda, which was the last open seat heading into the 2022 season. Because of his Indy Lights title (since rebranded as “IndyNXT”) with HMD Motorsports, Lundqvist had a six-figure sponsorship to bring to an IndyCar team, and DCR is partnered with HMD.

“There was a few teams that we were talking to, and Dale’s team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver,” Robb said. “Obviously with Linus winning the championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.

“But I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Pieter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, ‘Hey, we’re available.’ I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. That’s when conversations began. Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.

“I think there’s been some opportunities that were miraculously created that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Robb, who finished second in last year’s Indy Lights standings, hasn’t talked to Lundqvist since their PitFit meeting.

“Linus does deserve a seat” in IndyCar, Robb said. “His on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into IndyCar. You’ve got to have a village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasn’t just in my performance, but it was the people around me.

“I feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didn’t have those same people around me. So there you go.”