Honda Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg - Day 3

Hinchcliffe wins his first IndyCar race in St. Petersburg

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Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe scored his, and sponsor GoDaddy’s, first victory in the IZOD IndyCar Series Sunday at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

On the final restart of the race at Lap 85, Hinchcliffe slid past leader Helio Castroneves on the inside of Turn 1, and held off Castroneves the remainder of the extended 110-lap race. The Canadian ran his last stint on Firestone’s black primary tires, Castroneves on the red alternates that tend to go off a little quicker.

“I was really excited for this race,” Hinchcliffe told NBC Sports Network in victory lane. “My engineer Craig Hampson asked for better restarts, be more aggressive, and save fuel when we need to. GoDaddy is in victory lane. Grabbed the first win in St. Pete. I am throwing out to Dan (Wheldon), with his face, this car, and my name to go on that memorial is so special.”

Hinchcliffe is the first Canadian to win in IndyCar since Paul Tracy won the Champ Car race in Cleveland in June, 2007.

Marco Andretti rallied to score a podium in third place, ahead of Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon in the top five. It’s Andretti’s first top-three effort on a road/street circuit since finishing third on the Twin Ring Motegi road course in 2011.

Dixon led a three-way photo finish across the line ahead of Simona de Silvestro and EJ Viso. De Silvestro drove an excellent race for KV Racing Technology in her first race with Chevrolet power, and ran third until the final two laps, but her Firestone reds went off in the final laps that caused her to lose positions.

Polesitter Will Power had poor luck when he got hit by JR Hildebrand under a caution; the American flew over Power’s rear wheel guard into the wall at Turn 9. Power finished 16th, while Ryan Hunter-Reay (18th), Simon Pagenaud (24th) and Dario Franchitti (25th) were also big name retirements.

Rookie Tristan Vautier also starred for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, but retired with an exhaust issue after running in the top five most of his debut race.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Results Sunday of the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.8-mile St Petersburg Street Circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (4) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevrolet, 110, Running
2. (5) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevrolet, 110, Running
3. (7) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevrolet, 110, Running
4. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevrolet, 110, Running
5. (20) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
6. (3) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Chevrolet, 110, Running
7. (22) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevrolet, 110, Running
8. (2) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
9. (13) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
10. (17) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
11. (21) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevrolet, 110, Running
12. (14) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
13. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
14. (23) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevrolet, 110, Running
15. (18) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
16. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Chevrolet, 107, Running
17. (12) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevrolet, 104, Running
18. (8) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevrolet, 79, Mechanical
19. (24) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevrolet, 78, Contact
20. (9) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevrolet, 72, Contact
21. (6) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 69, Mechanical
22. (25) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 55, Mechanical
23. (16) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 50, Mechanical
24. (19) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 26, Mechanical
25. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 18, Contact

Nico Rosberg’s F1 retirement came as no surprise to Lewis Hamilton

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP shakes hands with second place finisher and F1 World Drivers Champion Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP on the podium  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says he was not surprised by Mercedes teammate and Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg’s retirement announcement on Friday.

Hamilton lost out to Rosberg in the battle for the 2016 drivers’ championship, finishing five points shy of a fourth title in Abu Dhabi last weekend.

Rosberg announced on Friday ahead of the FIA prize giving in Vienna that he would be retiring from F1 with immediate effect, sending shockwaves through the sport.

However, Hamilton said that the news came as little surprise to him, given he has worked with Rosberg throughout his career and knows the German well.

“The sport will miss him but I wish him all the best,” Hamilton said at the press conference in Vienna, as quoted by F1i.

“I’m sure it was a surprise to many people. I’m probably one of the many people that it was not a surprise for but that’s because I’ve known him for a long, long time. But this is motor racing.

“This is the first time he’s won in 18 years, hence why it was not a surprise that he decided to stop. But also he’s got a family to focus on and probably wants to have more children. Formula 1 takes so much of your time.”

Rosberg’s decision brings an end to his fierce rivalry with Hamilton during their four years together as Mercedes teammates.

The two enjoyed a number of clashes both on- and off-track, but Hamilton said that he would miss not having Rosberg to go up against.

“We started karting when we were 13 and we would always talk about being champions,” Hamilton said.

“When I joined this team Nico was there which was something we spoke about when we were kids.

“It’s going to be very, very strange and for sure it will be sad to not have him in the team next year.”

Verstappen, Mercedes joke about vacant seat after Rosberg’s retirement

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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In the wake of Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement announcement on Friday in Vienna, nearly every Formula 1 driver has been named as a possible replacement for the World Champion at Mercedes in 2017.

Fernando Alonso? Sebastian Vettel? Pascal Wehrlein? Esteban Ocon? Or how about Max Verstappen?

Ah, Verstappen. The young upstart who has turned the F1 world on its head since making his debut as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in 2015. Fast-forward to the present day, and he is the youngest ever grand prix winner (and still very fresh-faced).

While a move to Mercedes is, in reality, out of the question for 2017 given the nature of his Red Bull contract and status as one of F1’s hottest prospects, Verstappen was more than happy to engage in some banter on Twitter with the German manufacturer.

Verstappen notably had the chance to join Mercedes’ junior program back in 2014, but decided on a move to Red Bull instead after it promised him an F1 drive with Toro Rosso for 2015.

Stunned racing world reacts to Rosberg’s retirement on social media

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates with his wife Vivian Sibold and his team after finishing second and securing the F1 World Drivers Championship at the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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It is fair to say that nobody saw this coming.

Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from Formula 1 just six days after clinching his maiden world championship has already sent shockwaves through the racing world.

To see a professional athlete bow out in such fashion is rare, particularly when they’re nowhere near retirement age. Alas, it seems that one world title was enough for Nico.

Here’s a round-up of how the racing world has reacted to Rosberg’s retirement on Twitter.

Smith: After his bombshell, who will replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes?

Nico Rosberg 2016 World Championship Victory Behind-the-Scenes Imagery
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
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The driver market for the 2017 Formula 1 season has been a regular talking point on MotorSportsTalk for the past few months.

‘Silly season’, as it is affectionally known, was expected to be particularly crazy ahead of the 2017 season given the number of drivers who were going to be out of contract. Daniel Ricciardo told me in pre-season it was going to be “badass.”

But things went quiet: Max Verstappen got an early promotion to Red Bull; Kimi Raikkonen got another year at Ferrari; Sergio Perez decided to stay at Force India. By the end of the racing season, just three seats remained at Sauber and Manor.

And then Nico Rosberg dropped his bombshell.

Ahead of the FIA prizegiving in Vienna on Friday night, Rosberg announced to the world that, less than six days after being crowned World Champion, he would be ending his racing career with immediate effect.

This is an enormous shock to the F1 paddock and the sporting world as a whole. While it is hardly rare for athletes to quit while on top, it is for them to do so when they’ve still got a number of years left in them. Rosberg is 31. Michael Schumacher didn’t retire until he was 43.

I wrote on Monday in the wake of Rosberg’s title success that one world title might be enough for him. He’s not wired the same way as the Lewis Hamiltons or Fernando Alonsos of this world, to whom three and two World Championships respectively seem an injustice. Rosberg is World Champion forever now; that won’t change no matter how many more times he wins it.

Now Nico gets the chance to be a father and a husband full-time. To him, family is everything. His wife, Vivian, was in all of his post-race shots, celebrating the world title success, while little Alaia is just one year old; it’s a precious time for fathers.

In F1 though, the question now surrounds who will step into Rosberg’s shoes.

It’s time for Silly Season 2: Electric Boogaloo.

The two men who were perceived as being the natural successors to Hamilton and Rosberg at Mercedes were junior drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon. Both raced for Manor this year, making their F1 debuts, with Ocon impressing enough to get a seat with Force India for 2017. Wehrlein is still yet to be signed to a seat for next year.

If Mercedes wants a quick fix, then Wehrlein is a viable option. He is known to the team and has shown signs of pace, scoring just the second point in Manor’s seven-season history this season. However, Force India’s decision to pass on him and take Ocon surely raises doubt as to his suitability to the Mercedes seat.

Because what is now on offer for next season is the chance of a lifetime for the F1 grid. New regulations may be on the horizon for 2017, but Mercedes is expected to still be fighting at the front of the grid. It has enjoyed one of the most dominant spells in the long history of F1. Driver contracts may be in place, but they can be bought out if the price is right.

As one Twitter follower put it: “The hottest girl in school is without a prom date at the moment.”

So who might be the Prom King to this Prom Queen?

The immediate aftermath of the announcement has seen all of F1’s biggest names linked with the drive, including Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, both of whom enter the final year of their contracts in 2017 with McLaren and Ferrari respectively.

Both moved to their new teams at the end of 2014 as part of a long-term project to take them back to the front of the grid; both were left to endure trying 2016 campaigns that yielded not a single victory.

So could either make the move up? Frankly, the money would have to be staggering from Mercedes to get either out of their contract, particularly in Vettel’s case. And things haven’t exactly reached ‘Alonso level’ of frustrating and anger for the German at Maranello just yet.

The Red Bull boys are locked in for 2017 – although you’ve got to think that Mercedes is surely now feeling even more frustrated that it missed out on Verstappen three years ago – and should be in a position to mount a title challenge next year given the progress the team has made through this season. So again, a no-go really.

So instead, it would have to be a driver who is up-and-coming but currently mired in the midfield. Two drivers come to mind.

Firstly, there is Valtteri Bottas. The Finn was the breakout star of F1 in 2014 with Williams, taking a number of podium finishes, but has failed to reach such dizzying heights over the past two campaigns, scoring just one top-three result through 2016.

However, Bottas is still widely regarded as being a top talent, and is managed by Toto Wolff, who also happens to be Mercedes’ F1 chief. If the money is right to prize him away from Williams, Bottas could be a good fit.

Another possibility is Carlos Sainz Jr. Sainz had a hugely impressive campaign in 2016 with Toro Rosso, but there is no room for him to move up to Red Bull’s senior F1 operation for the foreseeable future with Verstappen and Ricciardo in place.

Sainz is currently slated for another year at Toro Rosso, but Red Bull must know deep down that keeping him at STR in the long-term will be an impossible task. So why not ask Mercedes to cough up the cash, while also freeing up a seat for GP2 champion Pierre Gasly in 2017?

You could also make a case for the likes of Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean, both of whom seem to be waiting for their ‘big shot’ in F1.

For Mercedes, it all boils down to its long-term plan. If it thinks Wehrlein is ready, he would be a sensible choice, although it would act as an enormous leap as he literally goes from the back of the grid to the front. Ocon would be in a similar boat, and Mercedes would need to pull him out of the Force India deal.

If Mercedes wants the best driver available, then surely Alonso and Vettel will be on its radar. But it would be more troublesome to hire them – plus the team has Lewis Hamilton to appease, who will be hungrier than ever for a fourth world title in 2017.

If Mercedes wants to take a shot on one of the midfield up-and-comers, then Bottas and Sainz are perhaps the best bets.

But it must be stressed that these are all ‘ifs.’

2016 has been a year packed with shocks and surprise. Rosberg’s retirement is really just the icing on the cake.