Takuma Sato blames Romain Grosjean for crash in second practice at St. Pete GP


ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — After a fantastic debut with Andretti Autosport, fortunes went south for Romain Grosjean during a crash-filled NTT IndyCar Series practice Saturday morning.

Grosjean, who set the pace Friday in his first practice with the No. 28 Dallara-Honda, rear-ended Takuma Sato (who is driving the No. 51 of Dale Coyne Racing that Grosjean drove last year) in Turn 10 about 25 minutes into the second session of the race weekend.

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin led the 45-minute practice Saturday morning with a blistering 59.7342-second lap ahead of Colton Herta. It’s believed to be the first lap under a minute on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile road course that has played host to IndyCar since 2003.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: Session II l Combined sessions

The session’s second red flag began after Sato had slowed for traffic entering the corner, and Grosjean made impact with hardly any braking. Both cars limped back to the pits with Sato’s car suffering major body and gearbox damage, and Grosjean’s left front wing broken.

Sato blamed the incident on Grosjean, whom he said also had made contact with Helio Castroneves earlier in practice.

“It’s a shame,” Sato told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Everybody is trying to make a gap. We were just slowing down, and I had to hit the brake coming through 9. Grosjean, I don’t know what he was thinking. He was reckless. I don’t know what he was thinking. He could clearly see the cars in front.”

In an interview before qualifying, Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns that he could have gotten more help from race officials in clearing traffic.

“The footage is pretty obvious, so I think we move on that,” Grosjean said. “Luckily the car is repaired. … The marshals could have done a better job with flags, because you come out of the kink in Turn 9, and I didn’t know those guys were stopped, and when you’re stopped, you should be off the racing line. It’s pretty obvious.”

After rebounding to qualify fifth despite bruised hands from the crash, Grosjean said he and Sato “agreed to disagree” after talking about the crash. He also elaborated on the need to provide more warning and drivers impeding the racing line.

“There was just no flags on the track, and I think we should have flags when these cars are that slow to corner,” he said. “I just think if I had known there were like four cars (ahead) because you cannot see (beyond the turn). I know there was one on the left, one on the right. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know there were some in front.

“If there’s only one, the guy should accelerate. Obviously there were more, but I think just a white flag to tell us that, and I just think you shouldn’t be driving that slow on the racing line.”

In a separate incident, Jimmie Johnson spun in Turn 8 and made light contact with the left front of his No. 48 Dallara-Honda. It was the second spin of the session and third since Friday for Johnson, who is racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this season.

With just more than five minutes remaining in the session, defending series champion Alex Palou crashed in Turn 9.

The practice also was stopped after 17 minutes for a similar incident involving Jack Harvey, whose No. 45 Dallara-Honda brushed the wall in Turn 9 and then slammed into the barrier with its left front on the corner exit.

Harvey is making his debut this weekend with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing after racing in IndyCar for Meyer Shank Racing since 2017.

Andretti Autosport led Friday’s first practice with Grosjean and Colton Herta turning the quickest two laps on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course.

Qualifying will take place at 12:30 p.m. ET (Peacock).

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.