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USGP Notes: Three-Car F1 Teams Being Pondered

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 1 2014

Three Ferraris on the same track at the same time? Could happen. (File photo courtesy of the Circuit of the Americas)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas – A common fixture in NASCAR and INDYCAR-sanctioned racing, the idea of three-car Formula One teams is gaining limited traction as the governing FIA looks to fill vacant grid spots created by a pair of teams sidelined via budget woes.

The financially strapped Marussia and Caterham F1 teams are sitting out this weekend’s third annual United States Grand Prix, reducing the starting grid at Circuit of The Americas from 22 to 18 cars. FIA Stewards of the Meeting issued a pair of bulletins Friday morning stating that while the teams’ failure to compete here clearly is in breach of the Sporting Regulations, no penalties will be imposed because of their respective financial problems. The matter, however, has been referred to the attention of FIA President Jean Todt.

The 18-car grid will be the smallest in F1 since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix, when the BAR team was parked for two races because of a technical infringement.

FIA Stewards opted Thursday to adopt a revised qualifying format because of the no-shows.
 Instead of the slowest six cars being eliminated from Q1 on Saturday afternoon with six more following in Q2, the Stewards have decided that the slowest four cars will exit in Q1, followed by another four in Q2. The top-10 Q3 shootout will remain unchanged. Qualifying is scheduled for 1 p.m., CDT.

“There are some problems in the sport that I hope we can find a solution (to) because it’s not normal that every year there are two or three teams that are on the economical problems,” said two-time World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso of Scuderia Ferrari, the sport’s oldest and most glamorous team. “So if new teams are coming, we just need to find a way to help them and to have a sport that is attractive for everybody.”

The newest organization on the horizon is Haas F1 Team, led by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team co-owner and California businessman Gene Haas. The first American-owned organization in the sport in 30 years, Haas F1 Team is not scheduled to take the starting grid until 2016.

The FIA reportedly will not request Formula One’s top teams _ Ferrari, Mercedes AMG Petronas, McLaren/Mercedes and Infiniti Red Bull Racing _ to add a third car in order to fill fields this season to the required 22. Sunday’s 56-lap race around COTA’s 20-turn/3.427-mile road-course is No. 17 on a 19-event calendar that will move onto Brazil and then Abu Dhabi with no assurances either Marussia/Ferrari or Caterham/Renault will resurface.

“I really haven’t thought about it,” championship point-leader Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes said of a third car, “but I think we would have to expand the team to make sure the efforts aren’t diluted. But yeah, if it’s a position for a younger driver, it could be quite good. Especially bringing them on, giving them the best experience and putting them alongside top drivers who have the experience. Perhaps they will come along a lot more than they ever have in the past.

“When I think about the two teams that have dropped out, my biggest concern really is just for all the employees in those teams that have to provide for their families and that perhaps don’t have a job now. If we do this, perhaps they still have space in other teams.”

Marussia (formerly Virgin) and Caterham (formerly Lotus Racing) both joined the FIA Formula One World Championship in 2010. Based in Bradbury, United Kingdom, the Russian-owned team led by John Booth scored its first world championship points via Jules Bianchi’s ninth-place finish at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix on May 25.

But Frenchman Bianchi, 25, suffered life-threatening head injuries in a crash with a recovery crane during the Japanese Grand Prix on Oct. 5. The driver roster currently includes Englishman Max Chilton and reserve Alexander Rossi of the USA, who has yet to make an F1 start.

Caterham, based in Leafield, United Kingdom, has not posted a championship point in 91 starts. In July, founder Tony Fernandes sold the team to a group of investors and a major reorganization has been underway since. Manfredi Ravetto, team principal, is working with drivers Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Kamui Kobayashi of Japan.

“From our position it’s something if we’re requested to have a third car, I think we’ll definitely look into it and try to make it happen,” said Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull. “From my side, let’s say having another teammate, I wouldn’t see any negatives. I remember 2008, I think I had six teammates in Formula Renault, so it was like being in a school classroom. I wouldn’t see any downside from a driver’s point of view.”

Ricciardo, of Australia, trails only Hamilton and Nico Rosberg of Mercedes in driver points. Mercedes clinched its first Constructors’ Championship at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix on Oct. 12.

Valtteri Bottas of Williams Martini Racing said the topic certainly is intriguing. “Everyone wants to see more cars on the grid and the more is better,” said Bottas, of Finland. “So we just need to find out how soon that would be possible for the teams to make it happen. I don’t see, as a driver, any downside in it really.”

Sebastian Vettel’s defense of his 2013 victory at COTA is off to a worst-case start. FIA Stewards ruled Friday that Vettel, the four-time/reigning World Champion, will start Sunday’s 56-lap/191.947-mile race from pit lane after confirming that the German will use his sixth power unit of the season here.

Vettel’s Red Bull RB10 will be fitted with a new engine, a new turbo, a new MGU-K (motor generator unit-kinetic) and MGU-H (motor generator unit-heart) and new energy store and control electronics systems. Drivers are only allowed to use five of each element before incurring a penalty. In accordance with Article 28.4 of the Sporting Regulations, Vettel is required to start Sunday’s race from pit lane.

Vettel claimed pole in the first two F1 races at COTA and has not finished outside the top two. Vettel placed second to Lewis Hamilton, then racing for McLaren, in the inaugural 2012 event.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg placed 1-2 during both 90-minute free practice sessions Friday. Englishman Hamilton, who has a 17-point lead over the second generation German star with three races remaining, toured COTA’s 20-turn/3.427-mile layout in 1 minute, 39.085-seconds _ three-thousandths of a second quicker than Rosberg.

However, Hamilton later encountered a hydraulic issue that cut his session short after 18 laps. Hamilton also complained of gear shift irregularities. In comparison, Hamilton logged 28 laps during the morning practice.

Scuderia Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was the Silver Arrows’ closest challenger at 1:40.189-seconds, just over one second down on Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel set the official track lap record at 1:39.347-seconds in 2012.

“I’m not sure exactly what the problem was and we had to stop as a precaution, but I’m sure they will identify and fix it overnight,” said Hamilton, winner of nine races this season and four in a row. “These small glitches happen and I’m confident that we won’t have problems moving forward. It’s better that it happened today rather than later in the weekend, of course.”

Rosberg said it was “worrying” that Hamilton’s car had a problem. “It shows that our car is still not 100 percent robust at the moment,” said Rosberg, who completed 32 laps in the morning session and 34 in the afternoon.

“We spotted something in the data and decided to call Lewis in to play it safe,” said Paddy Lowe, Mercedes team executive director, technical. “That aside, we ran to our scheduled program throughout the day.”

Hamilton rode Pirelli’s P Zero White medium tire to his best morning time of 1:39.941-seconds; he switched to the P Zero Yellow soft compound for the afternoon session.

“The (Pirelli) tire compounds nominated for this race_ medium and soft _ are a step softer overall than those seen last year,” Lowe said. “As such, they are coming into their window quite quickly and we are seeing a reasonable amount of degradation on the long runs _ both on the prime and option. This should lead to a notably different race from a strategic perspective to that in previous visits to this circuit, or indeed, at the last race in Sochi (Russia).”

The weekend’s third and final practice is set for one-hour beginning at 10 a.m., CDT.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 1 2014
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