Getty Images

Verstappen can challenge for F1 title if Red Bull car allows

2 Comments

PARIS (AP) — If Max Verstappen carries on where he left off, this season’s Formula One title race could be a thrilling three-way tussle.

Whether the Dutchman is competitive against Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes or Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari depends less on Verstappen’s undoubted ability and more on his Red Bull vehicle’s questionable reliability.

Problems with the Renault engine powering Red Bull’s car cost Verstappen and his former teammate Daniel Ricciardo multiple retirements from races in the past two years. Red Bull ditched Renault and trusted the future to Honda, despite the Japanese engine provider’s much-publicized problems with McLaren in recent years.

Give Verstappen a car that lasts the distance and you could get a Formula Champion this year. Pre-season testing left him feeling optimistic.

“Our performance seems pretty promising and we hope to be competitive from the beginning of the year,” he said. “Overall, I think we have a pretty good package, but we won’t know where we are until we get into the race weekend and see if we have closed the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari.”

Verstappen will find that out next Sunday, when the season kicks off at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. He will line up on the grid alongside a new and ambitious teammate in 23-year-old Frenchman Pierre Gasly, a rival from their junior karting days. Gasly has a steely streak that could test Verstappen, after some awkward moments with Ricciardo led to Verstappen alluding to head-butting media .

Temper has always been an issue with Verstappen.

But in terms of pure ability, only five-time champion Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – now retired – have been better than the 21-year-old Dutchman since he burst onto the scene in 2015. But in the latter stages of last year’s F1 campaign, Verstappen was so good he even outclassed Hamilton on occasion.

Verstappen had four podium finishes in the last four races of last season and scored 76 points to Hamilton’s 77. It would have been 83-70 to Verstappen if not for a moment of brazen and unjustifiable one-upmanship by French driver Esteban Ocon during the Brazilian GP.

Despite having already been lapped, Ocon refused to let race leader Verstappen go past him – something he never would have done with Hamilton behind him. Instead they tangled and bumped, sending Verstappen’s car spinning back to second place and pushing Hamilton up to first.

Verstappen found Ocon after the race shoved him three times before angrily pointing a finger at him as he walked away. He was typically unrepentant over his altercation , even suggesting the French driver got away lightly.

“I thought it was quite a calm response,” he said. “What do you expect me to do? Shake his hand and say, `Thanks very much.”‘

Don’t expect anything different from Verstappen, who simply does not deal in diplomacy. For while he has curtailed some of his the overly risky driving that drew criticism from Vettel and even the unflappable Kimi Raikkonen , the only currency Verstappen deals in is victory.

Verstappen was 18 when he became the youngest driver to win an F1 race and to qualify on the front row of the grid.

He says he’s now more mature, calmed by the two days of community service he was ordered to do by F1’s governing body following the Ocon incident. It was hardly exerting, he had only to attend a Formula E race in Morocco as an observer.

But it had a surprisingly illuminating effect on the hot-blooded Verstappen, who understood how difficult things are for stewards on race day in the slower Formula E format – let alone the full-throttle world of F1.

With his speed intact and his temper in check, Verstappen appears ready to challenge Hamilton and Vettel.

Whether his car allows remains a key question.

Indianapolis 500 weather forecast: Rain chances decreasing for start

Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS — As the green flag keeps approaching for the 103rd Indianapolis 500, the chances of clear skies Sunday keep increasing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The chance of rain at the start of the race was down to about 30%, according to the wunderground.com site as of late Saturday night, and the forecast seemed good until late afternoon when the odds of precipitation rose to about 80%.

If the race starts on time at12:45 p.m. ET, that should be a long enough window to run the full 500 miles and certainly an official race (102 of 200 laps).

With Indiana on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone and a 9:02 p.m. sunset on race day, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles said the green flag probably could be held as late as 6 p.m. if a worst-case scenario of bad weather hits.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch

“We ran the NASCAR race (in 2017) almost right up to sunset,” Boles said. “The challenge of getting closer to sunset is just getting people out when it’s still light. The race itself is more than 2 hours and 40 minutes so you have to back-time yourself.

“We’ll sit down with IndyCar over the next 24 hours and at least have that in the back of our mind. If there’s a window to get it done, our intent would be get it in Sunday, so we would want to go as late as we could.”

Boles said National Weather Service representatives are on site this weekend to help with forecasting. Regardless of if there still is a threat of rain, the track will start the race on time as long as the surface is dry.

“I can’t imagine we’d postpone the start because we think it might rain,” Boles said. “If it’s not raining, we’re running the race.

Boles said track officials are monitoring Sunday’s weather daily but won’t discuss any potential contingency plans until Saturday night. Regardless of whether it’s raining Sunday morning, some pre-race ceremonies likely will remain in place.

“It’s hard to speculate on what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s likely Sunday morning will be the first time that we have any definitive statement on what we think is going to happen. Instead of giving you information that we don’t know what it’s going to be like, I’d rather wait until that Sunday when we see the conditions, and we’ll let you know.

“Obviously, if it’s raining, then we’ll have to decide what the next steps are.”

Boles said Indiana weather traditionally is unpredictable, noting that qualifying was completed last Sunday despite predictions of a complete washout.

“Last year the prediction was it was going to rain on race day, we got up next morning, and it was perfect,” Boles said. “It just changes so rapidly around here.”

Should it rain, IndyCar officials will make every reasonable attempt to run the Indy 500 on time,. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also recently used a new sealant on the track surface which makes it quicker to dry the racing surface.

During the previous 102 runnings of the Indy 500, there have been 12 impacted by rain: three complete postponements; two partial postponements and seven shortened races.

So what happens if it does rain? Some options:

Rain-shortened race

The Indy 500 could turn into the Indy 255. If more than 255 miles (102 laps) are completed in Sunday’s race, the race can be deemed official. If the race is called, driver’s finishing positions are based on their position in the race at the time of the caution flag for rain.

The Indy 500 has been shortened by rain only seven times, most recently in 2007. The race was stopped nearly three hours because of rain on Lap 113 and was declared officially over with Dario Franchitti in the lead when rain again hit at the 415-mile mark.

Partial postponement

If fewer than 102 laps are completed Sunday, the race will resume on the next dry day. With most Americans on holiday Monday because of Memorial Day, a partial postponement still might allow for a healthy audience at the track and watching on NBC.

The race has been partially postponed only twice in the 102 previous runnings, in 1967 and 1973.

Complete postponement

Fans shouldn’t worry too much about a complete postponement of the race, as it has only happened three times, most recently in 1997. If rain completely postpones the Indy 500, the race will be rescheduled for the next day with the start time dependent on the forecast.

The 1997 race ran 15 laps on Monday before rain again postponed the remainder of the race until Tuesday. The 1915 and ’86 runnings were postponed until the following Saturday.