Red flags cause chaos in qualifying for Azerbaijan GP

The sun was shining over the Baku Street Circuit this afternoon as qualifying for the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix got underway.

Q1 began with two brief yellow flags when Hamilton and Hulkenberg both ran off-track before rejoining the circuit, with Stroll also having a brief scrape with the wall.

A red flag came out just moments after the chequered flag fell on Q1, with Williams’ driver Robert Kubica clipping the wall at turn eight and hitting the barriers. Kubica was okay, but Williams were left with a huge repair job on their hands.

The first session ended with Pierre Gasly in P1, followed by Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton. The five drivers knocked out of Q1 were Stroll, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Russell and Kubica.

LAT Images

After a delayed start due to the recovery of Kubica’s William’s, Q2 finally got underway, but the red flag was brought out again within minutes when Charles Leclerc crashed into the barriers at turn eight – the exact same place where Kubica crashed in Q1. Leclerc was uninjured but was left understandably frustrated as he made his way back to the Ferrari garage.

After yet another half-hour delay, Q2 finished without further incident. Max Verstappen topped the time sheets followed by Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in P3. The five drivers out in Q2 and lining up from P11-P15 on the grid for tomorrow’s race are Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly, who didn’t set a time in Q2 due to his penalty for missing the weigh-in yesterday in practice. He will start tomorrow’s race from the pit-lane.

Q3 was relatively uneventful with nine out of ten drivers out on track in a bid to get pole position. Despite having crashed out in Q2, Leclerc set a competitive time and will start tomorrow’s race in tenth place.

Valtteri Bottas set a sensational lap time of 1:40.495, placing him on pole position for tomorrow’s race. Hamilton completed the front row with Sebastian Vettel behind in P3 next to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The rest of the grid consists of Perez in P5, Kvyat in P6, Lando Norris in an impressive 7th, with Giovanazzi, Raikkonen and Leclerc rounding out the top ten.

LAT Images

If today’s dramatic qualifying is anything to go by, tomorrow promises to be a very interesting race in Azerbaijan!

[Featured image – LAT Images]

IndyCar Season Preview

After a long off-season, the start of the 2019 IndyCar season is just a few days away. 2019 holds huge potential for great racing and a very close title fight, with numerous contenders all looking to topple the defending champion, Scott Dixon. Since the end of last season, there have been some significant changes, affecting action both on and off the track, so here’s a run through of them.

2019 will see the same number of races as 2018, seventeen, but there have been a few switches and substitutions. Phoenix and Sonoma have both left the calendar, with both experiencing financial difficulties and drops in attendance over recent years. With Phoenix gone from its slot in second on the calendar, the first oval race will now be the Indy 500, which is certainly a change from years past.

Replacing Phoenix is the Circuit of the Americas, which has been an F1 venue since 2012. This is an addition that has been expected for some time, and it has finally materialised for this season. Similarly, Laguna Seca is making its long-awaited return to the IndyCar calendar, taking over from Sonoma as the season finale.

Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

The only other changes are relatively minor; Long Beach and Barber are switching around so that Barber is now third and Long Beach fourth and Iowa and Toronto have done the same, with Toronto now eleventh and Iowa twelfth.

Some more major changes have taken place off the track, with regards to how fans will be watching the series this year. Last season, ABC aired its last IndyCar race at Detroit, handing over exclusive rights in the US to NBCSN, who will show all races in 2019. Outside the US, it’s all change with IndyCar taking international coverage in-house, rather than going through ESPN as they have done in the past.

This means that UK coverage switches from BT Sport to Sky Sports, who will be showing all qualifying sessions and races live on their Sky Sports F1 channel. While it’s far from free-to-air, Sky is slightly more accessible than BT and it means that viewers can get F1 and IndyCar on the same channel, making the cost a bit more acceptable.

Fernando Alonso was reported to have taken over IndyCar rights in Spain near the end of last year, but that was never officially confirmed. Meanwhile, Canada’s TV coverage remains somewhat up in the air, with some races available on NBC, but not all, and no clear provider announced, which isn’t exactly great for one of IndyCar’s biggest audiences.

Credit: Doug Matthews/IndyCar

Back on track, there have been some alterations to what is the biggest IndyCar race of the year – the Indy 500. These changes mainly revolve around qualifying and bumping, after James Hinchcliffe was infamously bumped out of the race last year. With 33 entries already confirmed, and more expected, bumping will be taking place this year, but with a difference…

This year, the Saturday session will lock-in starting positions 10 through to 30 – leaving the order of the Fast Nine and the last three entrants to be decided on the Sunday, in two separate sessions.

Many are citing this as a way of avoiding any shock bumpings, meaning that all the full-time drivers should qualify for the race, as should Alonso who makes his Indy 500 return after a year away.

Another new addition to the Indy 500 will be the Advanced Frontal Protection system, which is scheduled to make its race debut at the 500 before being used in all races thereafter.

IndyCar launch all-new frontal protection system

For the season as a whole, there’s a wide range of drivers that could be in the mix for both race wins and the championship. The usual suspects of Scott Dixon, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay should all be in contention, but the likes of Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, and even some of the rookies like Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson, could also be strong challengers.

The season kicks off at St Petersburg on March 10th, with the race starting at 12:30pm ET, 5:30pm GMT. The full schedule and entry list for St Pete are as follows:

March 8th

Practice 1 – 10:45am (ET) / 3:45pm (GMT)
Practice 2 – 2:20pm / 7:20pm

March 9th

Practice 3 – 10:25am / 3:25pm
Qualifying – 2:30pm / 7:30pm

March 10th

Final Warmup – 9:20am / 1:20pm
Race – 1:30pm / 5:30pm

Entry List:

#

Driver Team
2 Josef Newgarden Team Penske
4 Matheus Leist AJ Foyt Racing
5 James Hinchcliffe Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
7 Marcus Ericsson (R) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
9 Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing
10 Felix Rosenqvist (R) Chip Ganassi Racing
12 Will Power Team Penske
14 Tony Kanaan AJ Foyt Racing
15 Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan
18 Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne Racing
19 Santino Ferrucci (R) Dale Coyne Racing
20 Ed Jones Ed Carpenter Racing
21 Spencer Pigot Ed Carpenter Racing
22 Simon Pagenaud Team Penske
23 Charlie Kimball Carlin
26 Zach Veach Andretti Autosport
27 Alexander Rossi Andretti Autosport
28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport
30 Takuma Sato Rahal Letterman Lanigan
59 Max Chilton Carlin
60 Jack Harvey Meyer Shank Racing/Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
85 Ben Hanley (R) DragonSpeed
88 Colton Herta (R) Harding Steinbrenner
98 Marco Andretti

Andretti Autosport

Season Calendar:

10th March – St. Petersburg (S)
24th March – Circuit of the Americas (R)
7th April – Barber Motorsports Park (R)
14th April – Long Beach (S)
11th May – Indianapolis GP (R)
26th May – 103rd Indy 500 (O)
1st June – Detroit Race 1 (S)
2nd June – Detroit Race 2 (S)
8th June – Texas Motor Speedway (O)
23rd June – Road America (R)
14th July – Toronto (S)
20th July – Iowa Speedway (O)
28th July – Mid-Ohio (R)
18th August – Pocono Raceway (O)
24th August – Gateway Motorsports Park (O)
1st September – Portland (R)
22nd September – Laguna Seca (R)

(R) – Road Course
(S) – Street Course
(O) – Oval

Schedule subject to change

(Featured image credit: Chris Jones/IndyCar)

The (very nearly) complete 2019 IndyCar grid

The 2019 IndyCar season is almost upon us with a grid packed full of talent from across the world, each with varying amounts of experience in the series. Five rookies join the grid this season, accompanying the seven champions and plethora of race winners. Here’s a run-down of the twelve main teams and their respective drivers for 2019…

Reigning champions Chip Ganassi Racing have retained Scott Dixon, with their partnership entering into its seventeenth year, while a different driver steps into the #10 entry for the third year running. After Ed Jones’ fall from grace with Ganassi, Swede Felix Rosenqvist will be hoping for better fortunes in his rookie season. The ex-just-about-everything driver makes his IndyCar debut this season, after running in Indy Lights in 2016 and walking away from a top Formula E drive to take up the Ganassi vacancy. He, like all Dixon’s previous teammates, will have his work cut out trying to match ‘The Iceman’, but he’ll be learning from the best and has good potential for the season ahead. For Dixon, the aim’s the same as it always is; to win the championship – and you’d be brave to bet against him doing just that.

Credit: Stephen King/IndyCar

Andretti Autosport are keeping their four-car line up for 2019, with the same drivers as they had last season. Alexander Rossi leads the charge after just missing out on the title in 2018, while Ryan Hunter-Reay will be looking to regain his once established position as team leader. Zach Veach lines up with a year of experience under his belt after a tough but promising rookie season, with the youngster looking to take the fight to his teammates on a more regular basis. Attention is starting to turn to whether Marco Andretti really deserves his drive at the team after he extended his losing streak to 126 races in 2018; his future is in doubt if he doesn’t put that right soon. Andretti are planning to run five cars at the Indy 500 with Conor Daly joining the team in the #25.

Like Andretti, Team Penske are sporting an unchanged line up for 2019 with their three drivers all crowned champion in the last five years. Will Power was the main one flying the flag for Penske last season and will be aiming to continue to do so heading into this season. Josef Newgarden’s hopes of championship retention came crashing down during 2018, and he will not want to be left behind by Power again in 2019. Simon Pagenaud’s career seems to be on the rocks at Penske, with him edging ever nearer to the same IMSA fate of Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya – he needs a good season to stand a chance of staying at Penske. Castroneves will join the team for the Indianapolis GP and the Indy 500, as he did last season.

Dale Coyne Racing have kept hold of four-time CART champion Sebastien Bourdais, who will have the job of leading the team and coaching yet another rookie through their first season of IndyCar. This time, it’s F2-reject Santino Ferrucci who has had to turn his back on his F1 dreams to instead chase a career in the States, after his high-profile departure from F2 last season. Ferrucci’s pace was promising at the four races he competed in during 2018, and you’d expect Dale Coyne to benefit from the consistency of having a single driver in the #19, a far cry from the car sharing shenanigans of 2018.

Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing are the third of four teams to have an unchanged line up for 2019. Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato will once again be fielding the two RLL cars for the full season, while Jordan King will be joining them for the Indy 500. After Sato took the team’s only win last season, all involved will be hoping for a more fruitful 2019 and a rise up the grid, after years of inconsistencies.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a new title sponsor in Arrow Electronics, after being a personal sponsor of James Hinchcliffe for a number of years. Hinchcliffe is staying put at SPM, but he welcomes a new teammate for the third year running. Marcus Ericsson joins SPM after five years in relatively back-marker teams in F1. Having another new driver was not the intention of SPM, but after Robert Wickens was seriously injured at Pocono last season, they had to bring another driver in. Wickens continues to recover and the #6 SPM remains open to him ‘when he wants to and is able to return’. Jack Harvey will also run with the team in partnership with Meyer Shank Racing for ten races, up from the six he competed in last season.

Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

Ed Carpenter Racing have kept on two of their three drivers from last season with Jordan King leaving and Ed Jones replacing him in the shared #20 drive. Spencer Pigot will once again be in the #21 car for the full season while team owner Ed Carpenter and Jones share the #20 – with Carpenter in on the ovals and Jones in for the road courses, as per the usual arrangement. The only difference this season is that Jones will be entering the Indy 500 in a one-off #64 entry, taking his race total up to thirteen for 2019.

Despite a fairly dismal 2018, AJ Foyt Racing haven’t been tempted to shake things up with their drivers, keeping their all-Brazilian line up of Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist. At 44 years old, it’s widely accepted that Kanaan is nearing the end of his IndyCar tenure, while teammate Leist is only just getting started. They worked well together last season and will intend to do so again in 2019 in an attempt to drag AJ Foyt Racing back up the grid.

After initially expecting to have a three-car lineup, Carlin have ended up only entering two cars, with some doubt over whether the second will be running as a full-time entry or not. Max Chilton will be in the #59 full-time, as he was last season, and he’s once again joined by Charlie Kimball however, the American has only be confirmed for five races in the #23. RC Enerson, who has previously run in IndyCar, albeit briefly, has been announced as another driver of the #23, but his races are yet to be confirmed and there is some speculation that there could be a third driver in the #23.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing are another team who promised more entries than they have delivered. Indy Lights runner-up Colton Herta will be in the only full-time entry for the team while the #8 car is expected to run in the Indy 500, though a driver has yet to be announced. Previously, Indy Lights champion Pato O’Ward was signed for Harding, but after it emerged that they had failed to get an engine lease for the #8 to run for the full season, he walked away and is yet to find a new drive.

Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

Juncos Racing also have a bit of a cloud over their heads with the team only confirmed for one race, Texas, with Kyle Kaiser. They’re expected to run in more with another driver, but nothing more has been announced.

DragonSpeed are the only new entrant to IndyCar in 2019 to be running in more than just the Indy 500. Ben Hanley makes his IndyCar debut with the team after racing with them in IMSA, WEC and ELMS over the past few seasons. Hanley’s been confirmed for five races in the #85, including the Indy 500.

That’s a wrap for the 2019 IndyCar grid! Stay tuned for more previews for both IndyCar and the Road to Indy in the run-up to the first race at St Petersburg on March 10th.

(Featured Image: Chris Jones/IndyCar)

RB15 racing livery revealed ahead of first test

It’s business as usual in the Red Bull garage as they have finally unveiled the racing livery for the RB15 ahead of the first session of winter testing which began in Barcelona this morning.

After an exciting week of livery reveals, Red Bull were the talk of the pit-lane by unveiling an unusual geometric livery ahead of the official ‘shake-down’ and filming day at Silverstone. It was made clear from Red Bull’s press release that the livery being displayed wasn’t set to last: “In recent years, we’ve chosen to kick off the year with some memorable paint jobs – but we revert back to our well established racing colours pretty quickly”.

The clarifications did not prevent fans disappointment as many had hoped the livery would have at least lasted until the end of pre-season testing, which begins today.

Thomas Butler / Red Bull Content Pool

The traditional matte colour scheme remains, with the trademark charging bull along either side of the car. The livery has been updated slightly to reflect their partnership with Honda, however it doesn’t create much of a difference to the design overall.

Although it would have been nice to see Red Bull really shake things up with their livery, it doesn’t stop them shaking things up on the grid this season. The Red Bull has put on its racing suit – bring on 2019!

 

[Featured image – Thomas Butler / Red Bull Content Pool]

Williams unveil new ROKiT-sponsored livery for 2019

Williams have revealed their all-new livery for their upcoming season and announced telecommunications company ROKiT as their new title sponsor, replacing previous sponsor Martini after their five-year partnership came to an end.

The livery, displayed on a 2018-spec car, features a white, blue and black colour scheme and sports the RoKit logo on the engine cover.

The announcement was made at an event at the team’s factory in Grove, Oxfordshire, ahead of the expected launch of the 2019 car before the start of pre-season testing on Monday.

Speaking at the event, deputy team principal Claire Williams said, “We are delighted to welcome ROKiT to our team as our title partner for the 2019 season and beyond. We share many similar values and aspirations with ROKiT; primarily putting engineering and innovation at the core of everything we do in our pursuit to be the best – the perfect platform from which to start a partnership.

ROKiT is on an exciting journey in their world of telecommunications, as we are at Williams as we build the team for a successful future. Taking that path together will make us both stronger in our endeavours and so I can’t wait to get started.”

Alongside the new livery, for 2019 Williams will also have an all-new driver line-up comprised of Robert Kubica and George Russell. The Australian Grand Prix will be something of a momentous occasion for both drivers – for Russell it will be his first ever start in F1, while for Kubica it will be his first race back in F1 since he suffered severe injuries in a rally crash back in 2011.

 

[Featured image – ROKiT Williams Racing]

Chris’ thoughts ahead of F1 2019

Following on from my colleague Dimitris’ thoughts last week, I thought would share my own.

 

Pierre Gasly will win a race this season

I feel that the Frenchman will take his first victory this season – he is an under-rated driver, and he had some outstanding performances last year, especially in Bahrain. Winning isn’t something that is new to him, as he won the final GP2 championship before it became F2. In 2019, Pierre will have the machinery to win like he did then.

 

Williams will be much closer to the midfield

Williams have been in F1 since 1977, and suffered one of their worst showings last year considering they scored the least points out of the ten teams in the sport. I have a feeling that with the lovely return story of Robert Kubica, and with George Russell being dubbed the next big British thing in F1, they will be in the mix a lot more. The cars are heading to a more simpler format which will also help designers at the squad in Oxfordshire. 

Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1
ref: Digital Image _31I9371

 

Bottas will finish sixth in the championship

Valtteri Bottas has been taking up a spot of rallying in the off-season, trying his hand at a new driving challenge. The Finn will once more be second best not only at the Silver Arrows squad in Brackley but across the top three teams. This could be his last season not only in the team but in the sport, especially with Russell and Ocon both around. That would lead to the question that would be on everyone’s lips in the off-season – who will Mercedes replace Bottas with?

 

Leclerc will be on the podium in Monaco 

The Monegasque driver has a woeful record in his home country, the principality of Monaco. In the three races across F2 and F1 he hasn’t seen the chequered flag, being involved in incidents both his and not his fault. It will change for Charles this year. Not only he will finish the race, but we will see him on the rostrum. On the back of this this we will see him find an extra few tenths in future races. Will he be a champion in the sport one day?

Ferrari Media

 

Ferrari will win Constructors Championship

I am unsure at this stage who will win the drivers’ championship of 2019 but feel Ferrari will be top of the pile when it comes to the constructors’. Mercedes are saying that they are building a whole new engine from scratch, and they might feel some teething problems. Their reliability in the hybrid era has been brilliant but things do change. Mercedes are very much behind Hamilton but Ferrari now have Vettel and Leclerc on board. I just think their partnership is stronger.

 

There are my thoughts on the 2019 season – only time will tell if I’m correct. 

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]