McLaren’s O’Ward starts IndyCar season on pole as Grosjean stars

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In the round-up: Qualifying for the first IndyCar race of 2021 was almost curtailed by power blackouts at Barber Motorsports Park, but it went ahead in thrilling style.

In brief

O’Ward claims second pole, Grosjean starts seventh on debut

The 2021 IndyCar season got underway at Barber Motorsports Park on Saturday with the day split by a major power outage between the two practice sessions and qualifying.

Qualifying in IndyCar is split into two groups of drivers at first, and Ganassi’s Alex Palou set a new track record in group one while team mate and seven-times NASCAR Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson avoided starting last for his IndyCar debut by outpacing Dalton Kellett.

The second group was interrupted by a crash for Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe, who skated through the gravel and caused the session to be red flagged when he got stuck in the barriers, and only a few minutes remained when the session restarted. The lap times tumbled once the drivers were back on track, and McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward went fastest despite almost flying off track at the end of his fastest lap. In second place was Coyne/Rick Ware debutant Romain Grosjean who was celebrating his 35th birthday and racing comeback.

A spin for O’Ward’s team mate Felix Rosenqvist at the end meant his best lap was removed, and promoted Andretti’s Colton Herta into sixth place and enabled him to progress to the next stage of qualifying.

Romain Grosjean, Coyne, IndyCar, Barber Motorsport Park, 2021
Grosjean impressed in his first IndyCar qualifying session
The 12 drivers in that segment were closely matched in the next qualifying session, bar Penske rookie Scott McLaughlin who was using a different tyre compound, and Herta topped O’Ward on the first runs.

Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson and fellow ex-F1 driver Grosjean both briefly went fastest in the final two minutes, with Grosjean then returning to the top with one minute to go. His decision to pit after that meant he couldn’t respond to the drivers improving around him, and he was shuffled out of the progression spots to the Fast Six session as O’Ward went fastest again.

O’Ward carried that confidence into the pole-deciding Fast Six, setting a 1’05.848 that couldn’t be matched and meaning he starts the opening race of the season from the first place grid spot. Practice pacesetter Alexander Rossi got within two tenths for Andretti, while Palou and Penske’s Will Power will fill the second row of the grid.

Scott Dixon and Ericsson fill an all-Ganassi third row, with Grosjean lining up in seventh for his first IndyCar race later today.

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Comment of the day

The lap times from practice didn’t make it clear who would be favourite for pole in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, and each segment of qualifying offered a different respective as Mercedes and Red Bull used different strategies. In the end Lewis Hamilton came out on top, just ahead of Red Bull duo Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen, while Hamilton’s Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas was only sixth. David BR summarised how there is a lot to think about the result in the top positions alone.

A load of takeaways from this qualifying session, Perez beating Verstappen being the primary one. That must be a real wakeup call for Max, it pushes Perez into Ricciardo territory in terms of team mate threat for him. Undoubtedly Max showed more pace overall, but this is what a real championship battle looks like. He should have nailed pole on a track where overtaking is tricky. He needs a good start tomorrow, though Hamilton is exposed by the woeful performance of Bottas.
David BR

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On this day in F1

  • 50 years ago today Tyrrell scored their first victory with their own car, Jackie Stewart triumphing at Montjuich Park ahead of Jacky Ickx, who he passed on lap six

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Elliot Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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23 comments on “McLaren’s O’Ward starts IndyCar season on pole as Grosjean stars”

  1. I don’t know why everyone is romanticising Norris’s lap or being upset it got deleted. He didn’t set that time, if they could have gravel surrounding the track he wouldn’t have set that time. They can’t for safety reasons so it is what it is. The commentators and everyone acting like he got robbed some how, well no, he wasn’t as quick and went off. Simple, if there was a wall or gravel there it would have been a lot worse.

    1. The thing is norris was very competitive even in his q2 lap and he didn’t go wide then!

    2. @skipgamer @esploratore
      I’m glad to see so many bemoan the deletion of Norris’ time. It gives me hope that many F1 fans still consider track limits denoted by white lines—which so many have advocated as the easy, simple solution—to be, at a fundamental level, deeply unsatisfying. There is no joy for me in watching the world’s best drivers in the world’s fastest cars compete to see who can most precisely keep their tyre in contact with a white line—not when other open-wheeled series shows that similar cars can indeed safely race on tracks whose limits police themselves, right up against gravel and grass that punish but do not unduly endanger. I find the comparison to Barber especially intriguing, since that circuit was never designed for cars at all, but rather for motorcycles—and we are told so often that tarmac runoff is there for motorcycle racing.

      Yes, this weekend at Imola, it is what it is, and there’s no getting around it. But perhaps in the future, it will not be. Maybe in the future, F1 cars and tracks will be built so that white lines are not necessary. At least, I certainly hope so.

    3. I never got the impression they were advocating for his lap to be kept despite the rule. Norris himself said the rules are the rules. My understanding of this was that they felt it was a shame he made the mistake. Had he kept it within the lines it still probably would have been good enough for third. No one was angry at the rules being inforced. They were just sad that he made the mistake. Because who doesn’t want a mclaren on the 2nd row?

      Reply moderated
    4. @skipgamer @markzastrow @esploratore
      Full gravel traps are unneeded. Only a piece of gravel, grass, or something else, like 2 m wide besides curbing, is enough to guarantee that going off is slower than staying on track.

      1. @jerejj Only if all you want is to make it slower to go off track. Watching IndyCar qualifying today reminded me that how much more satisfying it is to watch drivers on the limit when a mistake can end their session (safely in gravel), not simply run onto tarmac and rejoin.

        1. @jerejj But I should say, I fully agree with your point, that a strip of grass would at least make white lines unnecessary and would certainly be a vast improvement at most corners without the more extensive modification of a full gravel trap.

        2. reminded me that how much more satisfying it is to watch drivers on the limit when a mistake can end their session

          Wouldn’t that be a bit harsh on Norris to disqualify him from this session just because he left the track? :P

    5. @skipgamer
      I couldn’t agree more. Norris wasn’t even close of being on the white line in turn 9. Norris himself admitted it was a mistake which cost him three places on the grid and he was very downbeat.
      Had he given it a little bit more margin there, he would’ve easily put his car on the 2nd row. Now it makes life much harder for him in the race.

    6. Running a tiny bit wide gained him hardly anything. They are romanticising the lap because *had he* nailed that corner a McLaren would have been almost as fast as a Mercedes, I don’t know why that wouldn’t be big news to be honest @skipgamer.

      Kudos to Danny RIC though, he picked up his game in Q3 for sure.

      1. @john-h Yes, such an obvious point that I don’t really understand the original argument.

        This showing by McLaren is one of the most exciting things to happen in F1 for a long time IMO. Together with Red Bull’s form it could be a great future ahead, but as is typical F1, there will soon be a rules upheaval to annul all that..

  2. Tomorrow could be a good day for Mexico, Pato O´Ward starting from pole and Checo starting from P2, both are great drivers, hopefully everything goes well for them in the race, success for them.

  3. Good job grosjean, he wasn’t a terrible f1 driver, he had some speed and ended up being frustrated due to almost never having a competitive car, on paper indycar is easier and a driver like him can certainly win races, again, sato did.

    1. Romain did a fantastic job in a very exciting qualifying! He’s always been fast, just been stuck in poor equipment at Haas.

      1. Agreed, this is an impressive debut, and at a brutal track as well.

      2. Grosjean wasn’t just stuck at Haas, he had years in the midfield getting mixed results (some great drives and some really poor ones, often being a safety hazard).

    2. @esploratore You clearly didn’t watch the 2013 or 2016 seasons if you think Grosjean was a terrible driver.

      1. I would say 2013 and 2015 were his best seasons. In 2016, he was excellent in the first two races but was often outpaced by Gutierrez after that. In 2015, he was consistently good, almost always beating Maldonado (who was a very quick driver, even if he was incident-prone), and even took that brilliant podium in Spa.

    3. @geemac try reading his comment again…

  4. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
    18th April 2021, 4:05

    O’Ward is going to be very hard to beat this year. Car and driver look the total package.

  5. short field spread overall but the lap time is very short as well. Considering testing last year and winter testing this year it looks like the new tyres are the main factor for the tighter field. Hopefully nobody gets on top of this tyre or finds any reason to get it replaced.

  6. The last link takes to the Forum.

  7. Keith’s point about Indycar laissez-faire track limits is what I believe Wolff also is for, but that’s too much IMO.

    But something has to be done as last race was a joke, and this time to say some chicanes was white line and others was the painted kerb, with endless deletion of laps is almost a farce.

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