Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Inexhaustible Smile of Driver Justin Wilson

Photo Credit: IndyCar

Monday night, sadness fell over the entire motorsport world as a competition embraced for its excitement and action claimed a great athlete. 37-year-old British driver Justin Wilson succumbed to a head injury suffered in a late-race incident at the Verizon IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway.

A penultimate round in the open wheel racing series for 2015, optimism for seeing a great battle for championship and race position was overshadowed quickly after a series of crashes proved evermore worrisome. On lap 180, a crash by leader Sage Karam into the turn 1 wall showered the track with debris. A nose cone compartment of Karam's #8 car is believed to be the piece that flew up and hit the #25 Andretti Autosport car's driver Justin Wilson in the helmet. Despite receiving swift attention from IndyCar's safety crew, the unconscious Wilson could not be revived at the scene and needed to be airlifted to an offsite hospital. Announced to be in a coma Sunday night, Justin Wilson's passing was announced at 9 pm Eastern time Monday night.

The 37-year-old British racer spent 28 years demonstrating incredible versatility behind the wheel of a vehicle. Moving from karting and eventually transitioning through the ranks of European open wheel racing, he reached the ceiling of the sport at the age of 24. He spent one full season in Formula 1 competing with two teams. Afterwards Wilson found success in American open wheel racing winning on the Champ Car World Series as well as in IndyCar. Justin Wilson will forever be remembered as a driver who battled hard simply to be part of big-time auto racing. Through every challenge he faced, a vibrant, warm personality was beamed outwards.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy via Screenshot from Low-Res Video

At the age of 13, the future racing star was diagnosed with the learning block dyslexia after long-running scholastic struggles. In the process of overcoming the hurdle that challenged him in school, Wilson was gained notoriety on the race track. As his career grew, the driver committed himself to share lessons of fighting dyslexia publicly.

As Justin Wilson grew up, his physical stature also became a tricky hindrance. Growing to be a 6-foot, 4-inch man, a jockey-like size sought by major Formula 1 teams kept him out of consideration. Fortunately, Wilson's talent and determination towered over his own size enough to open the door with the European Minardi team for the 2003 Formula 1 season.

Like is often the case for Formula 1 drivers, money was needed to race on major grand prix tracks weighed on Justin Wilson. In order to raise funding for the 2003 season in Formula 1, his name was added to the London Stock Exchange in order to attract investors. Practically a Kickstarter campaign before it existed, Wilson and his management team succeeded in their goal of securing the funding needed to for the 2003 season in Formula 1. Running for the European Minardi team for the first 11 races, Jaguar Racing picked him up for the remaining five events where he scored a championship point in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Following the 2003 season, Wilson ultimately left Formula 1 due to losing the fight for sponsorship dollars against other funded drivers.

Taking the trip over the Atlantic Ocean, Justin Wilson's new career in the Champ Car World Series started in 2004 with Conquest Racing. Picked up by RuSPORT for the 2005 season in the series, he captured his maiden victory in major American open wheel racing on the streets of Toronto. While the Champ Car World Series was prominently competed on circuits in the United States, all four career victories on the tour occurred on tracks outside of the country (twice in Canada as well as in Mexico and the Netherlands). Wilson's first win in the United States in major open wheel racing occurred in 2008 in Detroit as part of the reunified IndyCar Series driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.

Photo Credit: Michael Levitt via IndyCar

In 2009, Justin Wilson once again challenged astronomical odds partnered with Dale Coyne Racing. A single-car operation against the superteams of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, Wilson pulled-off a popular victory at Watkins Glen in the #18 car. The win was Dale Coyne's first in major open wheel competition since entering team ownership in the 1980s. Running with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for 2010 and 2011, Wilson returned to Dale Coyne Racing where they won the 2012 Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway (the driver's one and only oval victory).

Also part of the 2012 calendar year was Wilson's participation in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series' crown jewel round, the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Part of the #60 Michael Shank Racing, Justin Wilson paired with A.J. Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri and John Pew in a Ford-powered Riley. A race that ended with a tight battle for the lead in the Daytona Prototype class, the #60 car pulled-off a popular win at the prestigious event. In 2013, the Grand Prix of Baltimore event presented Justin Wilson with the opportunity to race alongside his brother Stefan.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Parting with Dale Coyne Racing after a disappointing 2014 IndyCar season, Justin Wilson ran a partial schedule with Andretti Autosport for 2015. Originally only with Indianapolis races in mind, Wilson was brought back into competition for July. At Mid-Ohio Sports car course (one race prior to the Pocono event), Justin Wilson and team took the runner-up position. Racing against eventual winner Graham Rahal, Wilson maintained a selfless tone in a post-race interview. "I had one more push-to-pass left but Graham was too quick (haha) - all the credit to him today because he was on fire. We pushed as hard as we could. I have to thank everyone at Andretti Autosport and Honda for all the work they’ve done. I’m pleased to get Honda a 1-2 finish at their home track." said Wilson. Earlier this year, Justin Wilson also ran a race in the revolutionary new all-electric Formula E tour finishing 10th in the Moscow round.

Photo Credit: IndyCar

As is so often the case in auto racing, the spirit of community has united all parties involved in motorsports to honour a life. Andretti Autosport posted the following condolence on their Facebook page.

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Justin Wilson. He was a tremendous racer, a valuable member of the team and...
Posted by Andretti Autosport on Monday, August 24, 2015

Justin Wilson's car owner for four years in IndyCar competition Dale Coyne said, "Justin was the kindest, gentlest racer that we have ever known. His wife Julia and their adorable girls, Jane and Jessica, are shining lights of Justin's spirit." as part of a statement on the team's website.

Off the track, Justin Wilson was also a husband and father of two daughters. Wilson's family posted a statement following the announcement of their close, heartfelt loss. "The family would like to thank the staff at the Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital,  Pocono Raceway, Andretti Autosport, and the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the entire racing community for the amazing outpouring of support from fans around the world". The family of Justin Wilson requests that in lieu of flowers, people wishing to bid tribute to the driver send donations to the Wilson Children's Fund.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sixth Grand Prix Win of 2015 for Hamilton in Belgium

Photo Credit: Foto Studio Colombo Per Pirelli Media

Taking almost a month off since a late July race in Hungary, the 2015 Formula 1 season restarts with a little less than half of the events left to be run. Competing on the longest circuit on the active Formula 1 tour at 7.004 kilometers in length, the Belgian Grand Prix welcomes back some of the world's best open wheel drivers with a blend of high-speed sections as well as technical corners.

The winner of all-but 2 of the first 10 grand prix races on the 2015 Formula 1 tour, Mercedes AMG would appear to have a storybook season. However, after the British Grand Prix and the most recent Hungarian Grand Prix, the Silver Arrows appeared to firing more crookedly than usual. Almost losing the first race on a poor start by two cars and a series of miscues costing victory at the Hungoraring has been rare team-wide mistakes from the factory-backed German outfit. In fact, the Hungarian Grand Prix was the first race since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix where a Mercedes AMG team car did not obtain a podium spot. Receiving almost a month to put the lackluster effort in Hungary behind them, Mercedes AMG returned to competition by dominating practice. In qualifying, Lewis Hamilton topped teammate Nico Rosberg netting a 1-2 start for the team.

Restarting the 2015 Formula 1 season, it was again a moment for Mercedes AMG to either command a race right from the start or to surprise the grand prix audience with a struggle. When the lights went out for the start of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix, both incidents occurred. While Lewis Hamilton had a sterling start, Nico Rosberg immediately fell three places dropping to fifth.

Early in the race, some under-appreciated effort in the 2015 season were presented with a moment to shine behind Hamilton. Sergio Perez was running second in the Force India-powered Mercedes-Benz as part of very stunning weekend at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Hovering around the top-5 in practice and qualifying Perez was enjoying a massive confidence boost. While the one Force India driver shined, the second vehicle driven by Nico Hulkenberg's Belgian Grand Prix didn't even start. From the warm-up lap, the German encountered a power unit problem leaving Sergio Perez as the team's one and only chance at greatness. Behind the Force India was the Red Bull-Renault of Daniel Ricciardo.

Photo Credit: Force India F1 Team

After the first round of pit stops for the leaders, Nico Rosberg was able to climb his way back into the runner-up spot behind his teammate Lewis Hamilton. While neither Mercedes AMG parted from each other over the course of the event, Hamilton retained a comfortable gap of several seconds over his fellow team car.

Seeking to follow-up on success in Hungary, Daniel Ricciardo's race went south after 19 laps. Minutes after almost loosing his car in the Eau Rouge section of Spa-Francorchamps, the Red Bull-Renault dropped out of the event for what was accounted as an electrical fault. The Australian's retirement from was from a race he won in 2014. Overall official retirements in the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix was limited to four cars. In addition to the already-mentioned Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo, Pastor Maldonado slid out of the grand prix after just two laps while Carlos Sainz Jr. suffered a loss of power to the Renault-propelled Toro Rosso.

While the Mercedes AMG cars held the first and second place spots without harassment in the late laps, a daring plan was undertaken by Ferrari to score a podium finish. Attempting a one-stop strategy in a 44-lap race in Belgium, Ferrari launched their lead pilot Sebastian Vettel into third place. With two laps remaining, the right rear Pirelli tire failed on the Ferrari resulting in Vettel needing to surrender his podium spot late. With Vettel upset with the failure costing him third in the race, Pirelli released a statement implying the reason for the tire failure was excessive distance. The tire provider for Formula 1 claimed they wanted to institute a maximum distance for Pirelli racing slicks.

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

Winning his 39th career Formula 1 event, Lewis Hamilton won the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix by 2.058 seconds over teammate Nico Rosberg. The sixth win for Hamilton this season, the reigning drivers' champion holds a 28-point lead in the championship. While Mercedes-Benz has won at Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps track six times with McLaren (including a 2010 win by Hamilton), the last factory Silver Arrow machine to take the checkered flag was accomplished in 1955.

Behind the Mercedes AMG squad's most recent 1-2 performance this season at Spa-Francorchamps, there was a member of season-topping runs mounted by some competitors including the man who claimed the remaining podium spot. In third-place Romain Grosjean brought his Lotus-Mercedes across the finish line in a dazzling performance aided by Sebastian Vettel's late problems. The third place run was the first for Grosjean since the 2013 United States Grand Prix. The effort by the Frenchman and the team could also be much-needed medicine after recent legal issues for the Lotus F1 Team organization. The dispute relates with former 2014 test driver Charles Pic and has bailiffs threatening to seize race cars and equipment. The financial state of the Lotus F1 Team has been a measure of stipulation for years and this latest legal chapter has involved a certain that a seizure of the team's cars could have taken place following the Belgian Grand Prix.

Photo Credit: Foto Studio Colombo Per Pirelli Media

Backing up a first-ever podium finish accomplished by Daniil Kvyat overcame an early race misadventure to place just outside of the top-three. Kvyat's fourth-place finish came in a race where he briefly slid his Red Bull-Renault into a run-off area. The Russian driver carved his way up from a 12th place starting position to be the high-placed Renault powered machine at the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.

After a hard-fought effort throughout the weekend, Mexican Sergio Perez rewarded himself as well as his Force India teams with a fifth place finish. The run was Perez and Force India's best result of the season as well as pairing the pair's first top-five grand prix finish since Bahrain of 2014. Closely behind the Force India-Mercedes was the Williams-Mercedes driven by Felipe Massa. The effort for the Williams Martini Racing team was a double-point finish that occurred despite an unusual error in the race. During a pit stop, Valtteri Bottas' car received two different tire compounds. Required to serve a drive-through penalty for the mistake, Bottas still managed a ninth-place run.

Rounding out the top-10 for the Belgian Grand Prix is Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson.

The next Formula 1 race is the Italian Grand Prix at the very fast Monza circuit.

2015 Formula 1

Belgian Grand Prix

Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
3 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Mercedes-Benz
4 26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Renault
5 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
7 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
8 33 Max Verstappen Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
10 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
11 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
12 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
13 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
14 22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
15 98 Roberto Merhi Manor Marussia Ferrari
16 28 Will Stevens Manor Marussia Ferrari
17 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
18 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
19 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Mercedes-Benz
20 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hamilton's Pole Leads Magnificent Mercedes-Benz Showing in Belgian Grand Prix Qualifying

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

With almost a month passing between late July's Hungarian Grand Prix and this weekend's event on the famed Spa-Francorchamps course, a summer break must have certainly given drivers as well as whole teams time to consider their progress in the 2015 Formula 1 season. After 10 races down, the Belgian Grand Prix provides the ideal opportunity to advance on success found in the season so far or to establish a better course through the nine remaining events on the tour.

Back in the saddle again, 20 drivers belted into their highly-tuned, hybrid-powered race machines were unleashed for Belgian Grand Prix qualifying on the quick, challenging 7.004-kilometer track. Transitioning from a slower, tight circuit they last competed on in July, pilots of Formula 1 drivers once again familiarized themselves with blazing fast speeds. For drivers seated inside vehicles propelled by Mercedes-Benz, the time trial was an exceptional return to 2015 competition.

As if nothing his changed over the static period of August, the Mercedes AMG added to their undefeated streak in qualifying for 2015. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg decided not to play any games by sweeping 1-2 in all sessions of the Saturday time trials at Spa-Francorchamps. Trading the top spot in Q1 and Q2, the Mercedes AMG teammates fought in a contentious Q3 session. With a 1-minute, 47.197-second lap time, the pole went to Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton`s top time was 0.458 seconds faster than teammate Nico Rosberg`s best run and more than 1.3 seconds quicker than third place in qualifying. The front row start for Mercedes AMG in Belgium is also the team`s 22nd consecutive pole. The current Formula 1 record of pole positions claimed by the vehicles of a single constructor is Williams with 24 scored from 1992 through to 1993.

A season-best effort, Williams Martini Racing driver Valtteri Bottas will be starting in third place. The result for Bottas equals the team's best qualifying spot of the year obtained by Felipe Massa in Australia. Massa starts in sixth place on Sunday. Once again, the efforts of Mercedes-Benz power units proved to be the go-to method for going fast in the 2015 Formula 1 season. The top-five vehicles in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying are powered by gasoline/electric propulsion from the German automaker. Unfortunately, a gearbox charge for the Lotus-Mercedes race car of Romain Grosjean will demote the entry to the ninth-place spot on Sunday's starting grid. Taking the fourth place position Grosjean occupied, Force India and driver Sergio Perez have backed-up on a stunning performance in practice at Spa-Francorchamps. The Mercedes-powered Force India's best finish this season is a sixth-place effort accomplished by Nico Hulkenberg. 

First to break the Mercedes-Benz brigade in qualifying for the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo and his Red Bull-Renault's lap time was narrowly placed between Perez and Massa. With Ricciardo's Red Bull Racing car starting 5th on the grid Sunday, the second team car driven by Daniil Kvyat will start the race in the 12th place spot.

Starting on the fourth row of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix grid beside the Lotus-Mercedes of Pastor Maldonado is the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. The most recent Formula 1 race winner, Vettel's car will be the only Ferrari-powered vehicle within the top-10 for the main event. Ferrari factory teammate Kimi Raikkonen is starting in 14th spot after not making a lap in Q2. The reason for Raikkonen's inaction after Q1 was an oil pressure issue.

This weekend, the McLaren Honda team has been utilizing revised power unit for the Belgian Grand Prix. Despite the cars driven by Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso being assessed a collective 105-grid position penalty for changes made by the team, the result is only a back of the grid starting spot for both McLaren-Honda vehicles. Thanks to a recently amended rule in Formula 1, there will be no further penalties in future races for this weekend's changes. On-track, it appears the Honda power unit with the McLaren chassis is still struggling to find speed to outrun all-but the Manor Maruassia cars in Belgium.

Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix is scheduled for 44 laps for a 2:00pm local time start (8:00am Eastern time).


2015 Formula 1

Belgian Grand Prix

Starting Grid

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
4 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
5 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
7 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Mercedes-Benz
8 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
9 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Mercedes-Benz
10 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
11 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
12 26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Renault
13 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
14 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
15 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
16 28 Will Stevens Manor Marussia Ferrari
17 98 Roberto Merhi Manor Marussia Ferrari
18 33 Max Verstappen Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
19 22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
20 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda