F1 Preview – 2018 British Grand Prix

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Round 10 of the 2018 Formula 1 season concludes a busy stretch of three races in a row between the end of June and early July, as the championship heads to the Silverstone Circuit for the British Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing took advantage of Mercedes’ blunders to win the Austrian Grand Prix, an outcome that left Mercedes, and Hamilton in particular, seething.

A trip to Silverstone may be just what the doctor ordered – Hamilton is the defending British Grand Prix winner, and his own home race will undoubtedly provide him with even more motivation to right the ship after the blunders at the Red Bull Ring.

Talking points ahead of the British Grand Prix are below.

Championship Fight Continues Its Twists and Turns

MONTREAL, QC – JUNE 10: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 10, 2018 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Sebastian Vettel is back in front of the driver’s championship, leading Hamilton by one point – Ferrari also is back in front of the constructor’s championship, by 10 points over Mercedes.

The ebb and flow of the championship has seen momentum in a constant state of flux between the two teams – it’s almost as if this is becoming a championship no one wants to win.

Rest assured, the latter assessment is hyperbole, but it does not lessen to massive swings in momentum the season has seen.

Last week’s Austrian Grand Prix is a perfect example. Ferrari was on the back foot entering Sunday’s race – Mercedes locked out the front row, and was coming off a dominant win for Hamilton at the French Grand Prix, while Vettel started sixth after incurring a three-place grid penalty.

And with Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas running 1-2 early on, it seemed like Mercedes would again roll to a seemingly easy win. But, following a hydraulic failure for Bottas, a strategic blunder for Hamilton, and then a power unit failure for Hamilton, Ferrari found itself with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel on the podium, while Mercedes was left with a double DNF – and Red Bull and Verstappen snuck through to steal the win.

Unpredictability is becoming a theme of the 2018 season, and it may well continue this weekend in Silverstone.

Opportunistic Red Bull Look to Steal More of the Spotlight

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – JULY 01: Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing and The Netherlands during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 1, 2018 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

On sheer pace, Red Bull should probably not have three Grand Prix wins this year. They’ve only had raw, race winning pace – meaning they haven’t had to rely on blunders from Ferrari and Mercedes to challenge for the win – at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Yet, Daniel Ricciardo has two wins on the board, and Max Verstappen is Formula 1’s most recent winner, having taken the checkered flag in Austria.

But don’t tell team principal Christian Horner that they shouldn’t be considered title threats.

“Nine races, three victories, the same amount of wins as Ferrari and Mercedes,” said Horner in a story on Formula1.com. “Our Achilles heel has been not scoring with both cars, either through reliability our other incidents.”

He continued, “Formula 1 is full of ifs, buts and maybes, but if you look at the positions that we were in and should have been in then we should be leading the championship today – but the scoreboard is slightly different to that. We’ve closed the gap over the last few races, and there’s still a long, long way to go. What are there, 12 races left? So I think you’d have to consider us as an outside contender. Certainly our determination within the team is to keep pushing and try and ensure that we’re getting both cars ahead of our opponents.”

The gaps in the driver’s and constructor’s championships both seem insurmountable at the moment – Ricciardo is the best of Red Bull drivers with 96 points, which leaves him 50 behind Vettel, while Red Bull as a team sit 58 points behind Ferrari in the constructor’s.

But, if they don’t have reliability issues, they can easily throw yet another wrench into the title picture.

Haas Keen to Build on Best Weekend in F1

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – JULY 01: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team VF-18 Ferrari on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 1, 2018 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Despite showing pace good enough to battle well inside the points, Haas F1 has had a tough year. Prior to Austria, only Kevin Magnussen had scored for them in 2018, with Romain Grosjean having a big zero on the scoreboard.

And races like the Australian Grand Prix, when both Magnussen and Grosjean had the potential to finish on the podium, seemed to fall by the wayside, either by luck or error – in Australia, it was a pair of pit stop errors that cost them, as both drivers dropped out after exiting the pits with loose wheels.

But, Austria was the weekend they’ve been waiting for, as their impressive form finally netted them the results to match, with Grosjean finishing fourth and Magnussen in fifth.

It was their best result since entering F1 in 2016, and they’ll look for even more of the same in Silverstone.

Misc.

  • Fernando Alonso finished eighth in Austria, but the wheels seem like they’re coming off at McLaren. Alonso’s finish was the team’s first points scoring effort since the Spanish Grand Prix, and teammate Stoffel Vandoorne has not scored in five consecutive races. They showed promise early on, scoring in each of the first five races (including three double points finishes), but things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse in recent races.
  • Force India had their best outing of 2018 as a team in Austria, with Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finishing sixth and seventh. Outside of Perez’s third place in Azerbaijan, Austria was the first time in 2018 that Force India has demonstrated the form that got them fourth place in the constructor’s championship in each of the last two years. They’ll look to build on that in Silverstone.
  • Charles Leclerc’s stock continues to rise, as he has scored points in five of the last six races. Rumors are already starting to fly that he may replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next year – Leclerc is member of the Ferrari Driver Academy – and another points scoring effort will only add fuel to that fire.

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IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.