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2021 Formula One Portuguese Grand Prix preview: A return to Portimao

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Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (Portimao Circuit)

Round three of the 2021 Formula One World Champion takes us this weekend to Portugal’s beautiful Algarve region where the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, commonly known as Portimao Circuit, is located.

Although Portugal has been a regular on the F1 calendar from the sport’s earliest years, it was only added last year after a 24-year hiatus as a special round to make up for one of the races missed due to Covid-19 disruptions. It’s back again this year due to the absence of a previously planned Vietnamese Grand Prix.

The Portimao Circuit was only completed in 2008 and thus only held its first F1 race last year. However, it feels a bit like an old-school track, with plenty of elevation changes and an unforgiving layout. The track is quite wide though, which makes several different lines possible and also helps overtaking.

It stretches 2.9 miles and features two very long straights in the first sector, where good top speed is vital, while the second sector is very different, being more twisty. The final part features medium-high speed corners, especially the last one which leads on to the start-finish straight.

Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (Portimao Circuit)

Weather conditions are a bit warmer and dryer this time of year compared to when the race was run last year, with the top temperature during Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race expected to be 70 degrees F (21 degrees C). Last year the race was run in cool conditions and with occasional light rain.

Pirelli has nominated its harder compounds, the C1, C2 and C3, the same as last year.

After some initial practice on Friday, Mercedes-Benz AMG’s Valtteri Bottas posted the fastest times, with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez close behind him.

Going into the weekend, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton leads the 2021 Drivers’ Championship with 44 points. Verstappen is a close second with 43 points and McLaren’s Lando Norris is third with 27 points. In the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes leads with 60 points versus the 53 of Red Bull and 41 of McLaren. Last year’s winner in Portugal was Hamilton driving for Mercedes.

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2021 Chevrolet Corvette convertible is the 2021 Indianapolis 500 pace car

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2021 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible Indianapolis 500 pace car

A 2021 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible will serve as pace car for the 2021 Indianapolis 500, to be held May 30, Chevy announced this week in a press release.

This is the first time a convertible has paced the 33-car Indy 500 field since 2008, Chevy noted. That car was also a Corvette, a testament to the sports car’s ubiquity at Indy.

No other brand and vehicle have handled pace-car duties more often than Chevy and the Corvette, respectively. This will be the 18th time a Corvette has served as the pace car, and the 32nd time for a Chevy. A Corvette first paced the Indy 500 field in 1978, but Chevy has been providing pace cars since 1948, when a Fleetmaster Six convertible did the honors.

2021 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible Indianapolis 500 pace car

This will already be the second time a mid-engine C8 Corvette has handled pace-car duties. A 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray coupe was used for last year’s Indy 500, with General Motors president Mark Reuss at the wheel.

The 2021 pace car sports Arctic White paint with yellow accents and a large rear spoiler. The livery is a bit more complex than the 2020 pace car’s all-red exterior, but it’s still not as elaborate as some past Corvette Indy 500 pace cars.

The Indy 500 returns to its traditional Memorial Day weekend date this year, following a move to August last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fans will also return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grandstands this year, but at only 40% capacity, and with mandatory masks and temperature checks. The track has been used as a coronavirus vaccination site, which is scheduled to continue through at least part of May despite the traditional pre-race activities.

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2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL Roadster spy shots: Redesigning an icon

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2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL Roadster spy shots - Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

Mercedes-Benz’s iconic SL is currently into its sixth generation, with the car’s last redesign introduced for the 2013 model year.

A new SL is coming up shortly, only this time it is being developed by the Mercedes-Benz AMG performance skunkworks and not Mercedes-Benz. A prototype has been spotted and is wearing the least camouflage gear yet.

We currently expect the new SL to start sales in early 2022 as a 2022 model. However the reveal should take place later this year.

There will likely be two variants at launch, both with mild-hybrid powertrains. One is likely to be badged an SL53 or SL55, and have about 430 hp. The other should be badged an SL63 and pack more than 600 hp.

Further down the track we can look forward to an SL73 range-topper powered by an 800-plus-hp plug-in hybrid setup. This setup replaces AMG’s V-12 and makes a debut shortly in a range-topping GT73 4-Door Coupe variant.

All-wheel drive will also be available on the SL for the first time.

2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL Roadster spy shots – Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

As for the look of the new SL, Mercedes design chief Gordon Wagener has previously said the car will take the line closer to the original 300SL, but not in a retro way. The latest tester, while still heavily camouflaged, reveals some of the lines of the car.

Under the sheet metal, the new SL will utilize a new rear-wheel-drive platform for sports cars dubbed MSA (Modular Sports Architecture), which AMG will also use for its next GT sports car, meaning we can expect a much more performance-focused SL this time around. Interestingly, we’ve heard that the SL will replace the current GT Roadster. The SL will also fill in for the former S-Class Convertible, and as a result will likely feature 2+2 seating instead of being a strict two-seater like the GT Roadster.

Less weight will be key. Expect the use of lighter, more exotic materials in the construction, and we can already see that a soft-top roof will replace the retractable hard-top of the past two generations.

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Self-driving VW ID.Buzz electric vans hit the road this summer ahead of commercial service in 2025

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Volkswagen MOIA electric ride-pooling van

Volkswagen Group plans to launch a commercial self-driving taxi and delivery service in Hamburg, Germany, via its Moia ride-sharing business, starting in 2025.

The service will use self-driving vans based on Volkswagen’s upcoming electric van previewed by 2017’s ID.Buzz concept, and rely on a SAE-scale Level 4 self-driving system developed by Argo AI, which VW Group owns together with Ford.

Level 4 cars can operate fully on their own, though only in set conditions, the main one typically being a geofenced area. The highest rating on the SAE scale is a Level 5 car. Such a car would be able to function on its own in all of the same conditions expected of a human.

Volkswagen MOIA electric ride-pooling van

While VW Group’s commercial service is still a few years out, the automaker will start testing prototype versions of the self-driving vans as early as this summer. The prototypes will initially test on roads near the main airport of Munich, Germany, but expand to more areas as development progresses.

Ford is expected to offer its first commercial service using Argo AI’s self-driving system as early as 2022.

Argo AI has already been testing its self-driving system in Germany. It also has prototypes testing in six cities in the United States. Its main test site is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the company is headquartered.

Argo AI’s self-driving system uses a combination of sensors for guidance, with the primary ones being cameras and lidar. The company only last week announced a revolutionary Argo Lidar system that is able to accurately spot and identify objects more than 1,300 feet away, or about 300 feet more than current lidar sensors.

Separately, VW Group is developing its own self-driving system via its new Cariad software business for privately owned cars. It will be available to all VW Group brands but timing is uncertain.

As for when the regular electric van based on the ID.Buzz is due to reach showrooms, VW has confirmed a European launch in 2022. Unfortunately the new van will only reach the United States in 2023 as a 2024 model.

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