Santino Ferrucci returns to IndyCar for final rounds with Dale Coyne

Santino Ferrucci is set to return to the IndyCar paddock for the last two rounds of the season at Portland and Sonoma, four months after making his debut at the Duel in Detroit. This announcement has been met with a rather confused reaction, primarily because of the events of the British F2 races at Silverstone, but we’ll get onto that later…

Santino Ferrucci. Image courtesy of Haas f1

First things first, Dale Coyne turned to Ferrucci because of his performances at the two races in Detroit earlier in the season. On the face of it, the results don’t seem that great with 22nd and 20th place finishes in the respective races, but there’s more to it than that. In Race 1, the American was hit from behind by Charlie Kimball and ended in the barriers while, after initially running well in Race 2, he spun on pit exit and it was a recovery drive from there.

The impressive part of Ferrucci’s weekend was that he was often out-pacing his vastly experienced teammate, Sebastien Bourdais. After putting in strong performances in both practice sessions, Ferrucci qualified just behind his teammate for Race 1, starting eighteenth, but then went onto out-qualify Bourdais by three places for Race 2, starting thirteenth. So, while he failed to deliver in the races, Ferrucci showed excellent pace all weekend.

Judging by just this, there would be very little questioning of the decision by Dale Coyne – he has the pace, he just needs to string a race together. However, there’s a lot more to the Ferrucci case than just his performances at Detroit…

Many people, myself included, thought that Ferrucci had hit self-destruct for his racing career after his conduct during the F2 weekend at Silverstone earlier this year. He pushed his Trident teammate, Arjun Maini, off the track in Race 1 and received a 5-second penalty before deliberately crashing into Maini on the cool-down lap of Race 2. Subsequently, Ferrucci was called to the stewards to explain his actions but did not attend and was therefore excluded from the Race 2 results.

He ended up being banned for the following two F2 events – Hungary and Belgium – after driving his car between the paddock and pitlane while holding his phone, as well as for the previously mentioned incidents. There were also rumours of racist remarks towards Maini, but these reports are unconfirmed and were not addressed by the stewards.

Unsurprisingly, Trident fired Ferrucci and he seems to have been let go by Haas, who he was a junior driver for – or though there has been no official announcement.

This seemed to be game over for Ferrucci’s career, but Dale Coyne have thrown him a life-line by putting aside his actions at Silverstone – which were very briefly mentioned in the press release – and going on just his Detroit performances.

Ferrucci will pilot the #39 as a third car for Dale Coyne, alongside teammates Bourdais and Pietro Fittipaldi, for the last two IndyCar races of the 2018 season. He will also test at Portland during the open IndyCar test on the Thursday, a day before the weekend officially gets going.

This announcement has been met by various amusing GIFs from fellow drivers along with a lot of questioning from fans and journalists. The team know what went on at Silverstone but, for whatever reason, they have decided to give him another chance based on his performance at Detroit.

Ferrucci will take that chance with open arms, no matter what everyone else thinks, and his performances at Portland and Sonoma will decide whether he’s in the market for a 2019 IndyCar drive or not.

Norris to make McLaren FP1 debut in Belgium

McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris will make his F1 race weekend debut at the Belgian Grand Prix, taking over Fernando Alonso’s car for Friday practice.

The running will mark Norris’ third time driving McLaren’s MCL33, following appearances at the in-season tests in Barcelona and Hungary, and could be followed by another FP1 drive next weekend at Monza.

McLaren sporting director Gil de Ferran called the Friday practice role “part of [Norris’] ongoing development”. He added that the team would “take a strategic view race-by-race” whether to give Norris any more outings in future Grands Prix.

Zak Mauger, LAT Images / FIA F2 Media

Coming after Alonso’s decision to leave F1 at the end of 2018, it’s understood that McLaren will use Norris’ Friday performances to judge whether he is ready for a promotion to F1 for next year in place of Stoffel Vandoorne.

Norris had been tipped to join McLaren in 2019 after storming to an early lead in this year’s Formula 2 championship. But a run of varying results in the mid-season triple header, which led to George Russell taking the title lead in Austria, have raised questions about whether next year is too soon for the 18-year-old to make his F1 debut.

Norris is currently 12 points behind Russell in the standings, and has one win to Russell’s four.

Joe Portlock / McLaren

Haas juniors Maini and Ferrucci form Trident F2 lineup

Trident Motorsport will field an all-Haas junior F2 lineup in 2018, with Arjun Maini graduating from GP3 to partner Santino Ferrucci.

Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Maini finished ninth in the standings in his first full GP3 campaign last year, taking his first series win at the sprint race in Spain and a further podium in Abu Dhabi. He was signed to the Haas F1 junior ranks as the team’s test and development driver in May 2017.

At F2’s post-season test in Abu Dhabi, Maini drove for both Trident and Russian Time.

“I’m very excited to be competing in the FIA Formula 2 championship,” Maini said. “I felt we were very competitive during the post-season test and given the series is using all-new cars for the coming season, I’m quite excited for the year ahead.

“Trident is a very strong team and I’m sure if we work hard we’ll be in for some strong results during the course of the season.”

Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Maini’s new teammate Ferrucci will be contesting his first full F2 season in 2018. The 19-year-old American joined Trident for the final five races of 2017 after a mid-season move up from GP3, and scored points at Hungary and Spa.

Trident team owner Maurizio Salvadori praised Ferrucci and Maini as “two undoubtably valuable prospects who have all that it takes to be among the future stars of motorsports for the years to come.

“It is certainly not by chance that [Haas F1] selected them to join their junior development programme.”

Latifi takes up Force India third driver role

Force India has signed Canadian F2 racer Nicholas Latifi as its new test and reserve driver for the 2018 F1 season.

Latifi’s role will comprise simulator work as well as participation in young driver tests and “a number of Friday practice sessions” throughout the year.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” Latifi said in a statement. “Sahara Force India is a team that has shown constant improvement for the last few years and I’m proud to become a part of one of the success stories of Formula One.

“I am eager to show the team what I can do and help them as they continue to close the gap to the front of the grid.”

Joe Portlock/FIA Formula 2

Force India team boss Vijay Mallya said of the appointment, “Nicholas joins us off the back of a strong season in F2 and strengthens our driver development programme. He will support our simulator programme and work with the team during a number of Friday practice sessions.”

Mallya added: “We have a long track record of bringing on young talented drivers and Nicholas will learn a huge amount as he gets embedded in the team, and looks forward to a career in Formula One.”

Latifi, who previously held a test driver role at Renault, took one race win and nine podiums to finish fifth in the 2017 F2 Championship.

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