Valtteri Bottas leads both F1 practices for Tuscan Grand Prix

F1 Mugello practice
Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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MUGELLO, Italy — Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas has some cause for optimism after leading F1 practice in both sessions Friday at the Mugello circuit for the Tuscan Grand Prix.

His confidence needs boosting because he trails teammate and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton by 47 points in the standings, and not won a race since the season opener in Austria.

“It’s been a lot of fun today and I’ve enjoyed every single lap,” Bottas said. “There’s still quite a bit of lap time to unlock, both in the car and also as a driver. This track is definitely one of the most physically demanding.”

Mugello’s 5.2-kilometer (3.2-mile) Autodromo Internazional track, nestled amid a stunning backdrop of the Tuscan hills, usually plays host to MotoGP. This will be its first F1 race

“The whole opening section with the high-speed chicanes and the second sector is just amazing,” Bottas said. “This track is definitely one of the most physically demanding.”

The succession of fast corners even left a big impression on Hamilton, who took a bit of time to settle into his driving.

“I have to say, this track is pretty intense. So fast and challenging, it’s amazing to experience. I love it,” he said. “There’s no time to play around here and it’s one of the most physically demanding that I’ve driven for a while.”

But whereas Hamilton was driving on it for the first time, Bottas was one of a handful who had tested here. Hamilton was about half a second slower than Bottas in the first session – where he was only fourth – but improved in the afternoon by placing 0.207 behind Bottas in second.

Encouragingly for Red Bull, Max Verstappen was only 0.246 behind Bottas in third place in the second practice, having been even closer in P1 when he was second.

“I’m pretty pleased with how the car was behaving,” Verstappen said. “We were not too far off Mercedes so that was a good thing.”

Celebrating its 1,000th F1 race on a track it owns, and where its drivers tested in June, made little difference for struggling Ferrari. Charles Leclerc was 10th and Sebastian Vettel 12th. Worse still, Vettel’s engine cut out right at the end, and he was left stranded on the side of the track. Last weekend, both Ferraris failed to finish the Italian GP.

Friday’s afternoon session was briefly suspended twice after minor crashes left debris scattered around.

Approaching the halfway point of the 90-minute session, McLaren driver Lando Norris lost the rear of the car and went backward into the barriers.

Then about 15 minutes from the end, the red flag came out again when Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo spun into gravel. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, who announced this week he will be leaving the team after the season, was just behind him, and a crash was narrowly avoided. Both drivers were summoned by the stewards over the incident, and Perez was given a one-place grid penalty for Sunday.

There is a third practice Saturday ahead of qualifying in the afternoon.

Fans were present for the first time at the ninth race this season amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The 3,000 spectators were split into three stands.

Earlier Friday, Bottas was 0.048 quicker than Verstappen with Leclerc third and Hamilton fourth.

Pierre Gasly, who won his first race last weekend in Monza, was fifth.

Vettel was a lowly 13th, and Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto tried to explain why.

“Charles (Leclerc) drove very well this morning, I think Seb’s searching for confidence in the car a bit,” Binotto said. “Which is the real Ferrari? I think it’s neither one nor the other.”

Haas driver Romain Grosjean almost crashed into the back of Perez and had to swerve suddenly to the left. Grosjean then sat out the last 30 minutes of P2 because of an electronic failure.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”