Rosberg storms to pole position in Bahrain


Nico Rosberg has claimed pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix after finishing quickest in qualifying today.

The Mercedes driver surprised many to go quickest in the final session, with the team expected to struggle in Bahrain. Rosberg’s time of 1:32.330 was two-tenths quicker than Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who will join his compatriot on the front row.

Fernando Alonso qualified 3rd, with a mistake in Q3 meaning that he could not challenge for pole position, despite finishing quickest in Q1. Lewis Hamilton qualified 4th, but he will drop five places on the grid due to a gearbox penalty. Mark Webber, who also has a penalty, finished 5th, meaning that Felipe Massa will start in 4th for Ferrari on the harder tire.

Force India impressed once again to finish 7th and 8th, with Paul di Resta outqualifying Adrian Sutil, whilst Kimi Raikkonen could only line up 9th. Jenson Button failed to set a time, and he will start in 10th tomorrow.

The first qualifying session saw Alonso finish five-tenths clear of the rest of the field, with Red Bull leaving Vettel and Webber’s laps until very late on the softer tire. Further back, Marussia’s struggles continued as Max Chilton qualified last behind Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde, whilst Jules Bianchi finished a full nine-tenths behind Charles Pic. Esteban Gutierrez qualified P18, with a five-place grid penalty dropping him to last, whilst Pastor Maldonado was highly unlucky to make it into Q2. The Venezuelan driver set a lap time identical to that of his teammate Valtteri Bottas, but the Finn made it through having posted his time before Maldonado.

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Q2 failed to yield too many surprises as all of the big names made it through. However, Romain Grosjean could not match teammate Kimi Raikkonen for pace, finishing 11th, whilst Sergio Perez’s poor form continued as he ended up in P12. Daniel Ricciardo, who qualified 6th for last year’s race in Bahrain, could only line up 13th, albeit just 0.2 seconds off Button’s P10 time. Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas and Jean-Eric Vergne completed the classification in Q2, lining up 14th, 15th and 16th respectively.

The flurry of activity towards the end of Q3 meant that it was crucial to get good track position, and Rosberg appeared to perfect his lap to seal his second career pole position. Mercedes will be wary of Red Bull and Ferrari tomorrow, especially with Alonso running strongly in practice, and Massa’s alternative strategy suggests we are in for a thrilling race in Bahrain tomorrow.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”