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So the 2018 Formula 1 grid is complete, and for the romantics among us, it might seem a bit of a disappointment.

Step back to the end of July last year and the hype train was building up a head of steam as Robert Kubica prepared to make his first outing in a current F1 car for more than six years. A race seat at Renault looked a real possibility – even before the end of that season – and the excitement was massive.

Even when the Renault prospects ended, Kubica's tests with Williams came amid growing expectation that the Pole would be racing alongside Lance Stroll in 2018. Then, according to the team, the Abu Dhabi tire test happened.

And this is where we need to cut through the party lines a little bit and look at reality.

Williams made clear that Kubica was not as quick as hoped, while Sergey Sirotkin excelled. Fair enough. Except Williams genuinely was expecting to announce Kubica as its race driver and Sirotkin came onto the scene late, so to base such a turnaround on one test – especially one that even Rob Smedley said would be unfair to judge a driver's pace on – seems a little far-fetched.

Plenty of other factors come into play: finances, potential, readiness. And it's not a negative point to say that's why Sirotkin got the seat.

Let's get the touchy point out of the way first. It seems Sirotkin brings a much more attractive financial package with him than Kubica at this stage. Figures of €20million ($24.4m) compared to €8m ($9.8m) were suggested over the past month, and for a team trying to bridge the gap to the top three teams – plus McLaren and Renault – such an injection can certainly be put to good use.

But looking beyond that, Sirotkin is more ready at this stage of his career. At 22, he has had experience with F1 teams for over four years already – remember, he joined Sauber in 2013 (below) – and his performances in what was then called GP2 were impressive.

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I'll admit my opinion had been somewhat tainted by a 17-year-old bringing a lot of money to get Friday practice outings with a struggling Sauber team, but those with a better knowledge of Sirotkin's past suggested he was quick, just being pushed up the ladder far too soon. For him to then come into GP2 in 2015 and finish third for Rapax – a team not fighting for the title – was impressive, and earned him my vote as rookie of the year.

To put that into perspective, current Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly was eighth in the much-fancied DAMS team that year. You can't judge drivers against each other on one season alone, but Sirotkin clearly has talent.

The following year delivered another third place after a move to the more competitive ART team, with Prema dominating the championship (as it would do again last season with Charles Leclerc). Sirotkin was by then fully embedded in the Renault team throughout 2017, meaning he has pace, an upward career trajectory and plenty of knowledge of what is required to perform within an F1 team. He has money, potential and he's ready.

Perhaps the same can't yet be said for Kubica.

The Pole's performance in Abu Dhabi was described as "no quicker than Stroll" by one source after the test, which I'll admit I found puzzling at the time. For a driver of Kubica's ability, still working his way back towards his full potential, to be at that level already suggested he would be quicker still if given a full-time seat.

But Formula 1 is a harsh business, and Kubica still needed time. It was something Pirelli's motorsport boss Mario Isola told me only last week.

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"You cannot pretend that any driver jumping in a car will be quicker than a driver who was involved in many tests or many races," Isola said. "Give him the time to adapt and to show us the full potential. I believe he is still a very quick driver."

Well, that's exactly what Williams has done. This is a team that has won multiple championships in the past, that took advantage of new regulations to break into the top three for two seasons in 2014 and 2015, and that has the extremely talented and successful Paddy Lowe as its latest chief technical officer. This team is not stupid.

In handing Kubica the reserve and development role – one that will include a lot of track time – it has ensured that it will benefit from Kubica's experience, but also from his progress. His feedback might be as good as ever, so Williams can make full use of that. And while his pace remains a little off where the team hoped, a full season in the reserve role will show if time does indeed produce the improvement that Isola talks about.

From the position it was in last season, Williams was not about to leap forward to the front of the grid. 2018 will all be about steady progress and trying to close that gap step by step. If Sirotkin excels, then the team has made an excellent decision. If he doesn't, it is very unlikely to cost it a top three constructors' championship position, and the extra backing will soften such a blow. And while that plays out, Kubica will be waiting in the wings and getting ever-more prepared for a return.

It would have been a great story to have Kubica racing again this year. In fact, a year ago it would have been scarcely believable, because at that stage he hadn't driven an old F1 car since his accident, let alone a current one. Only seven months ago did he get back behind the wheel of a 2012 Lotus and start on the path towards a return in earnest.

But the real story is just having Kubica racing again in F1, period. The Williams role is another big step towards that dream. The hype train is still rolling.

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Even with a dozen NASCAR Cup Series championships and multiple wins in each of the sport's biggest races, Rick Hendrick still finds ways to keep things interesting.
For 2018, he has achieved that with a fresh lineup of two new drivers and a number change. It's a new era at Hendrick Motorsports; one that has its mastermind bubbling over.

"I'm excited," said Hendrick. "Just like seeing Jeff [Gordon] come along. I've watched William [Byron]. I like to see Alex [Bowman] in the car full-time. So, I'm excited about it. It's going to be fun. I think the word is going to be 'fun'. I'm ready for some fun."

Kasey Kahne's six-year tenure at HMS ended in November, paving the way for 2017 Xfinity Series champion and phenom William Byron (below). Alex Bowman inherited the No. 88 from a retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr., a reward for his work with HMS and having acquitted himself well during a stint in the car in 2016. And in addition to paint schemes changing, Chase Elliott goes into his third season as the driver of the No. 9, a number his father once made famous.

So, plenty to get used to. But this is not entirely uncharted waters for the team.

Past numbers to have come and gone include the 17, 25 and 35. The No. 48 was introduced with Jimmie Johnson in 2002. The No. 88 with Earnhardt in 2008. When the green flag falls on the Daytona 500 next month, it will be the first time since Hendrick Motorsports debuted in 1984 that the No. 5 has not been on track, as the No. 9 takes its place.

And the door has always opened and closed on drivers. NASCAR is a business, after all. Going back over the last few years, it's easy to trace the changes: Elliott replaced Jeff Gordon. Byron replaces Kahne. Kahne replaced Mark Martin. Martin took over the car from Casey Mears – who came in after Brian Vickers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the place once held by Kyle Busch, who had done the same from Terry Labonte. On and on it goes.

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Half the HMS roster be different going into a season is new, though. It's Jimmie and the kids. The seven-time champion is now the leading man, having graduated from student [under Gordon], to the teacher.

"I'm here for those guys," Johnson said. "I know through my experience; just watching Jeff Gordon taught me a lot. It could be as simple as being around and seeing how people carry themselves, to actually sitting down and working through a given topic.

"I am aware that he [Byron] is paying attention, and Alex is. I need to lead by example on a lot of fronts, but at the same time, we might have to sit down and talk through some things, too."

Some might view this year as a rebuilding season, or at least, figure in an adjustment period. But HMS expects results regardless of the variables. Elliott, the perceived leader of the next generation, is also developing into a championship contender even as he still kicks at the door to Victory Lane.

Byron is a superb talent, no doubt. Not only has he fast-tracked through the NASCAR ranks, but along the way, he has proven he deserves every seat he's sat in. Now comes the hard part: doing it on the biggest stage, and in one of the most recognizable car numbers.

And Bowman, well, he's just happy for the opportunity. The 10 races he ran in '16 with the No. 88 team went well (below), and now he's going to look to do it on a weekly basis.

The challenge for Johnson will be to provide the teaching moments for all the above, while also trying to reach history in winning an eighth championship.

Hendrick may be on to something. "Fun" is definitely the watchword around his company this year.

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DTqb6 QW0AAQ79w.jpg largeWilliams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe says the team carried out a "rigorous and exhaustive driver evaluation process" before naming Sergey Sirotkin as Lance Stroll's teammate.

Sirotkin will make his Formula 1 debut in Melbourne this year having only previously carried out testing duties and Friday practice running for Renault and Sauber. With the Russian beating Robert Kubica to the seat, Lowe says there was more to Sirotkin's selection than just an impressive performance during the Abu Dhabi tire test at the end of last year.

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We have conducted a rigorous and exhaustive driver evaluation process," Lowe said. "Ultimately, Sergey impressed the team with his driving pace and talent, technical feedback and work ethic, both at the factory and trackside in Abu Dhabi. I'm delighted he will be joining the team to partner Lance next season.

"Lance will be going into his second season with us, after notable achievements in his rookie year. We have an exciting line-up for 2018 which we believe will help us to maximize the potential of the FW41."

Stroll himself added his thoughts on Sirotkin's arrival while himself preparing for just his second season of racing in Formula 1 at the age of 19.

"First of all I would like to welcome Sergey to Williams and I am looking forward to having him as my teammate," Stroll said. "I know Sergey and I am sure we will very quickly form a close working relationship.

"I really enjoyed my rookie season with the team, and there were a number of memorable highlights, on which I'll look to build on in the coming season. I'm looking forward to Barcelona, and driving the new FW41 for the first time."

Williams will have the youngest driver line-up on the grid in 2018, with Sirotkin and Stroll having a combined age of 41.

Sirotkin maugerWilliams has confirmed Sergey Sirotkin will partner Lance Stroll in 2018, ending Robert Kubica's hopes of a race seat next season.

Kubica, who carried out a number of tests for both Renault and Williams last year, has been handed the reserve and development driver seat, marking his first full-time role in F1 some seven years after his rally accident that left him with severe injuries.

Following the Abu Dhabi tire test in November – where Williams ran both Kubica and Sirotkin – the team has opted for the 22-year-old Russian as Felipe Massa's replacement. 

 

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"To say I'm happy and proud to join such a famous team like Williams is an understatement," Sirotkin said. "It took a huge amount of work to get where I am, and I'm really happy and thankful to everyone involved. The result of our combined efforts has helped me achieve my dream, and rest assured the team can rely on me to deliver my best."

 

Sirotkin finished third in the GP2 (now Formula 2) championship in both 2015 and 2016, while focusing on his role as a Renault test driver last season alongside a Le Mans appearance. Deputy team principal Claire Williams says the final decision on the driver line-up has only been made after a thorough process assessing all the available options.

"After an extensive driver evaluation process, I am thrilled to have our 2018 line-up finalized, and I'm excited to see what next season brings," Williams said. "We have taken our time to evaluate all the available options, and I'm confident Lance and Sergey can deliver the best results for the team.

"The Williams philosophy has always been to promote and develop young talent and Sergey fits right into that ethos. Lance has had a record-breaking debut season, and with a year now under his belt, he will be ready to hit the ground running in 2018. We have a talented driver line-up for 2018, that we are confident will deliver some exciting results for the team."

kubicaRobert Kubica sees his new reserve role with Williams as another step toward a racing return in Formula 1.

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Having been tipped to secure the vacant race seat alongside Lance Stroll for 2018, Kubica ended up losing out to Sergey Sirotkin after the Russian impressed during tire testing at the end of last year. However, Williams still handed Kubica the role of reserve and development driver and he sees the position as an opportunity to move closer to racing again in F1, having been out of the sport since suffering serious injuries in a rally crash in 2011.

"I'm extremely happy to be joining the Williams team as its official reserve and development driver this season," Kubica said. "I feel in the best physical shape that I have ever been, but it has taken a lot of work to get to where I am now, so I'd like to thank Williams for the opportunities they have given me so far, and for putting their faith in me with this appointment.

"I have enjoyed being back in the Formula 1 paddock over these past few months, and I now look forward to working with the Williams technical team, both at the factory and at the track, to really help push forward the development of the FW41 and to make a real difference to their 2018 campaign.

 O3I9984"Having driven both the FW36 and the FW40, I'm looking forward to seeing how the FW41 measures up on track and working with the team to ensure we can maximize the performance of the car.

"My ultimate goal remains to race again in Formula 1 and this is another important step in that direction: I cannot wait to get started."

Williams has confirmed Kubica will take part in pre-season testing, in-season testing and some Friday practice sessions this season, with his Friday appearances set to be his first F1 race weekend outings since 2010.

GadeLe Mans-winning race engineer Leena Gade has been signed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The Briton will oversee the No. 5 Honda driven by James Hinchcliffe, and she replaces Allan McDonald, who went to work for the rival Ed Carpenter Racing outfit.

“I’m really honored that I’ve got a chance to come across and work in IndyCar,” said Gade, who was recruited by SPM general manager Piers Phillips.

“When I was a kid, I used to watch IndyCar, especially when Nigel Mansell first came over, and I followed it quite a lot. During my sports car days, it was a little less so, until I had friends come across to the US to work in it like Piers. I’m quite honored to be given the chance. It is going to be something completely different to anything I’ve ever done before, so it’s a big learning curve, but it’s a challenge that I’m really relishing, so I’m looking forward to it.”

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Gade’s wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Audi were followed by a move to Bentley’s customer racing program after the German brand withdrew from LMP1 competition in 2016. With her contract up at the end of 2017, Gade visited a Phoenix IndyCar test with SPM and toured the team’s shop before settling on a new American venture.

“There was significant interest in Leena amongst the international motorsports community, so we’re really excited that she sees where we’re taking SPM, believes in what we’re doing and that she is now a part of our organization,” Phillips said. “I’ve known Leena for quite some time now, and I’ve worked alongside her, so I knew the credit she’s been given is well deserved. We’re very much looking forward to throwing her into the deep end and seeing her add to the team’s success.”

First trailed by RACER in December, Gade’s appointment at SPM adds to the growing number of women in senior engineering roles within open-wheel and sports car racing. From assistant race engineers to manufacturer engine technicians to the head of race tire development for Firestone, the gender balance in IndyCar is making slow but continual progress in a positive direction.

With SPM, Gade becomes the first woman to hold the title of race engineer in the Verizon IndyCar Series – the organization that originally began under the Indy Racing League banner in 1996.

She follows Diane Holl, also from England, who broke that barrier in 1996 within the CART IndyCar Series. Lauded at the time as the first female race engineer in a male-dominated sport, Holl did more than simply step into the breach; she became a race-winning engineer with the Tasman Racing team. More recently, Holl’s talents have been found within the Hendrick Racing NASCAR program where she serves as the director of vehicle engineering.

Gade and Hinchcliffe will get their first chance to work together at Sebring on Jan. 24.

1969 45 6 Dan GurneyIconic race driver, team owner and constructor Dan Gurney died Sunday at the age of 86. Gurney passed away due to complications from pneumonia.

"With one last smile on his handsome face, Dan drove off into the unknown just before noon today, January 14, 2018," Gurney's wife Evi and family said in a statement. "In deepest sorrow, with gratitude in our hearts for the love and joy you have given us during your time on this earth, we say ‘Godspeed.’"

Born in New York but raised in Southern California, which remained his home for the rest of his life, Gurney was renowned as one of the fastest and most versatile drivers in the sport's history.

The two driving feats for which he is best remembered – the 24 Hours of Le Mans victory that he shared with A.J. Foyt in 1967, followed by a win at the Belgian Grand Prix in an Eagle Formula 1 car of his own construction – were made all the more notable by the fact that they occurred just a week apart. But more remarkable still is that they only begin to scratch the surface of his achievements.

He was the first driver ever to win races in Formula 1, NASCAR and IndyCar: a feat that has only been matched since by Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya. He was a race winner in Can-Am and Trans-Am. He invented the podium champagne spray. He pioneered the use of full-face helmets in F1. He gave three F1 teams their first victories. And he oversaw the creation of one of the most beautiful Formula 1 cars ever built in the Eagle Mk.1.

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A product of the postwar West Coast's vibrant car culture, Gurney's first big break came when he dragged the fast but terrifying Arciero Special – a Mistral powered by a reworked 4.2-liter Maserati engine – to second place in the inaugural Riverside Grand Prix in 1957.

That performance turned the head of famed North American Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti, and the following June Gurney found himself sharing a factory 250 Testa Rossa with Bruce Kessler. The latter crashed, but Gurney's performance behind the wheel helped pave the way for him to make his F1 debut with the Scuderia at Reims in 1959. His three subsequent F1 appearances with Ferrari yielded two podiums and a fourth, but his dislike of the team culture steered him toward a drive with BRM the following year.

A largely frustrating year punctuated by a tragedy at Zaandvort, where a young spectator was killed after Gurney suffered a brake failure, opened the door for a move to Porsche in 1961, and in 1962 he claimed his first F1 victory at Rouen (below).

1962 First F1 win France1

A three-year stint at Brabham yielded another two wins, but by this point, plans that Gurney had been hatching with Carroll Shelby to create an American car that could compete with Europe's best were creeping closer to fruition.

BELGIAN 1967 GPThe product of that dream – the AAR (All-American Racers, or Anglo-American Racers in its F1 guise as a nod to the British Weslake Engine) Eagle Mk.1 made its debut at the beginning of the 1966 F1 season. Reliability was an issue, but when it finished, it tended to finish strong: The win at Spa in '67 was accompanied by a podium in Canada that same year, and a heartbreaking near-miss in 1967 when the car suffered a failure while leading by 42 seconds two laps from the checker at the Nurburgring.

A driver who fully embraced his era's opportunities for diversity, Gurney routinely dovetailed his F1 program with other events. He made eight appearances at the Indy 500 between 1962 and 1970, finishing second twice in Eagle-Fords, and won seven Champ Car races from 28 career starts.

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Indy cars also gave rise to perhaps his most famous engineering breakthrough, the Gurney flap: a small tab projecting from the trailing edge of a wing that generated substantial additional downforce. First introduced on Bobby Unser's car at a test at Phoenix in 1971, after Gurney had retired from driving, the device remains in common usage across motorsport and aviation to this day.

In NASCAR, his name was synonymous with Riverside: He earned five Grand National wins there during the 1960s, four of which were with Wood Brothers Racing, and also made three career appearances at the Daytona 500 with a best finish of fifth with Holman-Moody in 1963.

Following his retirement from F1 after a year with McLaren in 1970, Gurney turned his attention to full-time team ownership, and sat at the helm of AAR until 2011, when the team was taken over by his son Justin. His car were formidable on the track, claiming 78 victories across all categories, including the Indianapolis 500, the 12 Hours of Sebring, and the 24 Hours of Daytona. And Gurney himself remained a formidable figure outside the cockpit, penning the famous 'White Paper' in 1978 that argued for a dramatic overhaul of the structure of American open-wheel racing, and representing a first step towards the formation of CART a year later.

AAR withdrew from CART for the first time in the mid-1980s, but enjoyed huge success in IMSA GTO competition, and later GTP with the ferocious Toyota-powered Eagle MkIII, which claimed 17 consecutive race wins and back-to-back drivers' and manufacturers' championships across 1992 and 1993.

AAR 1988 GTO Teama

Gurney's tremendous achievements have been reflected through inductions into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the Sebring International Raceway Hall of Fame, and the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife Evi, and sons Justin, Alex, Jimmy and Dan Jr. In accordance with his wishes, the funeral will be private.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

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7Winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona on the Cadillac DPi-V.R's race debut, and following that with six more victories in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship didn't happen by chance. Cadillac's philosophy of committing early and committing thoroughly to an all-new racecar built to an all-new set of technical regulations was key.

"Being prepared, and having the best product, is all down to the people," says Cadillac Racing's Director of Motorsports Competition, Mark Kent. "Not only the people within Cadillac, but in our race teams and technical partners, too."

"By the time we got to Daytona, everyone was familiar with the DPi-V.R," adds Wayne Taylor, team owner of Wayne Taylor Racing. "We'd done many miles of testing and even a 24-hour race simulation at that point, so our engineers and drivers really had a handle on the car before the season got off to a proper start."

But preparation can only take you so far if a car doesn't have the raw speed and performance to race at the sharp end of IMSA's ultra-competitive Prototype class. First impressions of the DPi-V.R for 2017 Drivers' champ Jordan Taylor told him he had nothing to worry about on that front.

"The first time you take a racecar out on track, you know if it's got what it takes," he says. "The Cadillac, from the very first lap I drove it, was incredible. The power and drivability, the downforce, the braking, and how nimble it felt – just wow."

For all the most successful racecars, the sum is greater than the parts, and that's certainly the case with the DPi-V.R.

"You can't just put a pile of parts together and expect to win," says Kent. "You need to put in the work to be successful. You have to balance the chassis, engine and aero, and then make the right compromises in each of those areas to ensure the overall package is optimized."

Central to the DPi-V.R package is its naturally-aspirated V8 engine. Given Cadillac's illustrious history with such a configuration – going all the way back to 1914 – it was the obvious choice. But sentiment doesn't win championships, and the V8 landed its role on merit.

"We looked at all the engine options from the Cadillac portfolio, and we felt a V8 would give us optimal performance across the range of tracks we'd race on," says Kent. "One of the key things that made it so successful was its reliability. To win races, you have to finish races..."

WORKING AS ONE

WTR1In 2017, Cadillac was the only Prototype class manufacturer to split its cars between multiple teams: Wayne Taylor Racing with the No. 10 DPi-V.R, and Action Express Racing with its No. 5 and No. 31 entries. For 2018, two teams become three, with the addition of a fourth Cadillac for Spirit of Daytona Racing.

As Mark Kent notes, Cadillac sought out partner teams who could not just hold up their end of the bargain – as in, win races and, ultimately, championships – but would elevate the project as a whole.

"It's what we call a 'key-partner approach,'" says Kent. "The goal is to have our teams work and learn together. For our part, we bring the right resources, such as ECR on the engines and Dallara on the chassis, as well as our own experience, and we share knowledge across all the teams. That spirit of cooperation and sharing and working together raises the bar for everybody."

Ultimate validation of such an approach came on the race track, with all three Cadillac DPi-V.Rs winning at least once in 2017.

"Cadillac's way of doing things means everyone can play to their strengths," says Action Express team manager Gary Nelson. "Thanks to all the testing miles and work Cadillac put in on the DPi-V.R before the season began, we started with a strong base. It was then our task to optimize the cars for the races, which is where our expertise lies."

For more on the Cadillac DPi-V.R's multiple championship-winning 2017 season, check out RACER's 2018 Cadillac Racing Special digital magazine HERE.

Get the latest news on Cadillac's 2018 race programs HERE.

Find out more on Cadillac's road-ready, track-capable V-Series HERE.

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