Untouchable Vettel cruises to Canadian GP victory

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Canadian Grand Prix in emphatic style, only losing the lead during the first round of pit stops as he eased home to claim his first victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve by 13 seconds.

The defending world champion cruised home ahead of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, with the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes being the main source of action in the race. Mark Webber could not maintain his early pace and only finished 4th, whilst Nico Rosberg came home 5th ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne and Paul di Resta, both of whom will be delighted with their results. Kimi Raikkonen’s championship charge continued to falter as he could only finish P9 behind Felipe Massa.

The start saw Vettel hold onto his lead without coming under pressure from Hamilton, but Bottas was the big loser, falling behind Rosberg and Webber with Alonso following at the end of the lap. Kimi Raikkonen also struggled off the start, whilst Giedo van der Garde made up four positions on the first lap. The majority of the field elected to start on the supersoft tire, with di Resta, Grosjean, Bianchi and Chilton opting for mediums. Jean-Eric Vergne became the next driver to pass Bottas, but Adrian Sutil could not follow after making a mistake that saw him spin. Vettel continued to extend his lead at the front until the first round of stops with Hamilton and Rosberg unable to match the pace of the Red Bull. Further back, Pastor Maldonado received a drive-through penalty for an incident involving Sutil, dropping him out of the points.

Some of the drivers tried to make a one-stop strategy work, squeezing the life out of their tires and creating some action in the midfield. Jenson Button lost out to Sutil and Massa whilst Raikkonen was informed that he had to save fuel, pitting to release Vergne into 6th place. Webber continued to pressurize Rosberg, but he could not make it through and was soon fending off Alonso for 4th place. Eventually, with the aid of DRS, Webber and Alonso both passed Rosberg to sit 3rd and 4th respectively, with the Mercedes pitting for fresh tires soon after. Bottas continued to fall backwards, losing out to Perez but he did manage to keep 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen at bay for a few more laps until the Lotus passed under DRS. When lapping van der Garde, Webber made contact with the Caterham which had ignored blue flags, losing part of his front wing endplate in a clumsy incident for which van der Garde received a stop/go penalty. Alonso closed on Webber after the Red Bull made a mistake and passed him for P3 heading into turn one, maintaining his lead over the Red Bull into the second rounds of stops.

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There was no change of position at the front during the pit stops, with Vettel rejoining the race in the lead on the harder compound. Paul di Resta and Romain Grosjean ran deep into the race, optimizing their one stop strategies – something Mercedes failed to do with Hamilton, and he was soon losing time to Alonso in 3rd. After many laps of DRS and some great defence from Hamilton, the Ferrari finally made it through into second place. Hamilton was quick to get back on Alonso’s tail though, but the Mercedes just couldn’t quite find a way past. di Resta finally pitted on lap 57, with Rosberg and Vergne making a third stop to cover the Force India. For Sutil though, his weekend took another turn for the worse after receiving a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags, leaving him with a late battle with the McLarens, eventually finishing 10th. DRS was disabled late on which hindered Hamilton’s charge on Alonso, but Massa was able to make a late move on Raikkonen for 8th.

The win sees Vettel extend his championship lead over Fernando Alonso, and it hands Red Bull their first win in North America since they entered the sport in 2005. Alonso will be pleased to have finished 2nd after starting in 6th, but for Valtteri Bottas, 14th place will be a very disappointing result.

Vettel rapid, Toro Rosso surprises in second Monaco F1 practice

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Sebastian Vettel led Ferrari to the head of the Formula 1 field in second practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday, posting an unofficial lap record in the process.

Vettel trailed F1 title rival Lewis Hamilton through first practice on Thursday, but responded with a rapid lap of 1:12.720 to clinch top spot in FP2 by almost half a second.

Ferrari looked more comfortable that the rival Mercedes team throughout the session, with tire warm-up problems leaving Hamilton a lowly P8, 1.1 seconds off Vettel’s time. Teammate Valtteri Bottas was 10th-fastest.

2016 Monaco runner-up Daniel Ricciardo posed the closest challenge to Vettel at the top, finishing second, while Kimi Raikkonen was third in the second Ferrari.

Toro Rosso emerged as the surprise package of FP2 as Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished fourth and fifth respectively, having been the early pace-setters before Vettel and co. went faster. Currently fifth in the constructors’ championship, Monaco could present an opportunity for the Red Bull B-team to gain ground on Force India and even its parent outfit further up the table.

Max Verstappen was sixth for Red Bull ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, while Kevin Magnussen split the Mercedes drivers in P9.

Jenson Button’s impressive return to F1 on Thursday continued as he finished 12th, lapping just 0.035 seconds off teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in P11.

Two of F1 2017’s early strugglers saw their plight deepen in FP2 as both Jolyon Palmer and Lance Stroll hit trouble. Palmer suffered an engine failure early in the session, limiting him to just eight laps, while Stroll crashed out at Massenet with 35 minutes remaining.

As Friday is an ‘off’ day in Monaco, running will resume on Saturday with FP3 and qualifying.

Hamilton: Monaco ‘the unicorn of races’ in F1 career

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Lewis Hamilton has called the Monaco Grand Prix the “unicorn” of races through his Formula 1 career, having claimed only two wins in 10 attempts around the streets of the principality.

Three-time F1 champion Hamilton is a resident of Monaco and has regularly been in contention for victory, but only reached the top step of the podium in 2008 and 2016.

Both wins were hard-fought, with his 2008 victory coming after an early pit stop due to a puncture. Last year, Hamilton pounced on a mistake by Red Bull to jump ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and take his second Monaco victory.

“I’ve not won here many times. With the pace I’ve had over the years, it’s always proven to be, not the Achilles heel, but the unicorn of races,” Hamilton said.

“That one that just always gets away from you. There’s definitely been, I would say, at least two – maybe three – that I should have had but other things came into play.

“But I’m grateful for the ones I’ve had. Not many people can say they have a Monaco Grand Prix win under their belt. And especially the way those two wins came about in 2008 and 2016.

“Sometimes quantity isn’t everything. Those were real quality races that I really earned, so I’m proud of those ones.”

Hamilton made a strong start to this weekend’s running in Monaco, leading first practice on Thursday morning.

Ganassi heads into Memorial Day weekend with three points leads

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INDIANAPOLIS – Three entirely different types of cars, series and racing formats have produced similar results for one team going into Memorial Day weekend, easily the biggest racing weekend of the world on the racing calendar.

Chip Ganassi Racing heads into the 101st Indianapolis 500 (Verizon IndyCar Series) and Coca-Cola 600 (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) with the points lead in these two championships with Scott Dixon and Kyle Larson. That marks the first time in the team’s 20-plus year history it has held each championship lead simultaneously.

And for good measure, the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team leads in the FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-Pro class going into that series’ marquee race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which takes place June 17-18.

It’s only in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where the team sits second in the GT Le Mans class, that a Ganassi car and driver (or drivers) don’t have the points lead.

In IndyCar, Dixon moved into the points lead – albeit unofficially, as IndyCar doesn’t release updated points until after the Indianapolis 500 – following his pole position secured Sunday for next week’s race. He gained 31 more points than Simon Pagenaud and went from 10 down (191-181) to 21 ahead (223-202) going into the race. Oddly though, despite five top-fives in as many races since Ganassi switched to the Honda aero kit and engine package, Dixon is yet to win!

In NASCAR, Larson’s storming start on the strength of one overall win plus two additional stage wins sees him 44 points clear of Martin Truex Jr. (475-431), with Brad Keselowski the only other driver within 100 points. Larson has not finished worse than 17th in 11 races this year in his Chevrolet. Jamie McMurray sits fifth in the points, as well.

And in the WEC, after two races, the trio of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Pipo Derani won the 6 Hours of Silverstone to kick off the year in their No. 67 Ford GT. They hold a two-point lead over the pair of AF Corse Ferrari drivers, heading to the double points Le Mans race.

In IMSA, the pair of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand sit six points (124-118) behind Corvette’s Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen after four races. Mueller and Hand co-drove with Sebastien Bourdais to win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona; Mueller and Hand will have a new teammate at Le Mans while Bourdais recovers from his injuries sustained in an accident in qualifying at Indianapolis.

Although Ganassi is split between three bases – its IndyCar and IMSA arms are stationed in Indianapolis off Woodland Drive, its NASCAR hub is in Charlotte and its WEC hub in partnership with Multimatic is in the U.K. – the one team spirit is fully present as all three teams, and three manufacturers, are off to the strong start.

AVONDALE, AZ – APRIL 29: Scott Dixon of New Zealand, driver of the #9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda greets fans as he is introduced to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 29, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“It’s important to win… and it’s important to lead a championship,” Ganassi managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports about the strong start.

“That’s an enormous motivating factor for everyone that works on our product, no matter if it’s IndyCar, NASCAR, WEC or IMSA. It validates the volume of work that people do for your race team. That includes the people who are visible and work really really hard, under the three locations, in order to achieve success.

“It represents what teams of people can accomplish when they work together.”

Ganassi, who celebrated his 59th birthday on Wednesday, is yet to win a NASCAR championship at the Cup level but Larson is presenting his best chance. It’s been in IndyCar where the team has had its greatest success, with 11 championships between 1996 and 2015. Ganassi has won multiple sports car championships in IMSA’s past iteration as the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, and won Le Mans last year but are yet to win a WEC title.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The Ford Chip Ganassi GT of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Pipo Derani drives during practice for the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on April 14, 2017 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

As Hull deadpanned, leading now is nice, but it’s at the end of the year when it actually matters.

“What has contributed to all that, is challenge,” Hull said. “When passionate people are challenged, what they come to realize quickly is achieve any amount of success on a daily basis on Sunday. We enjoy challenge; we love challenge, change and we love working together. That’s a perfect combination.

“We’re really excited when you’re leading the championship, but let’s be honest… you want it on the last lap of the last race.

“It’s positive and an optimistic start. We just need to keep to working at it, for the end of the year.”

Hamilton leads first Monaco F1 practice, Button makes solid return

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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s ongoing battle for supremacy in Formula 1 continued during first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday morning as the duo locked out the top two positions.

Hamilton and Vettel have won four of the opening five rounds of the 2017 season and look set to enjoy a season-long fight for the championship, representing Mercedes and Ferrari respectively.

Hamilton drew first blood in Monaco, turning in a best lap of 1:13.425 around the tight streets of the principality to finish two-tenths clear of Vettel at the top of the timesheets.

The session saw Mercedes and Ferrari run close once again, yet Red Bull was also able to get into the mix at the head of the field with Max Verstappen finishing third-fastest, three-tenths of a second off the pace. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was fifth-fastest.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth in the second Mercedes, but Kimi Raikkonen was less able to match his teammate’s pace, coming home seventh for Ferrari, half a second down on Vettel’s time in the same car.

Toro Rosso and Force India both had impressive sessions as both teams got their drivers into the top 10. Daniil Kvyat was sixth for Toro Rosso as teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. was ninth, sandwiched by Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon for Force India.

Jenson Button’s first running in a 2017-spec F1 car was impressive as he finished 14th for McLaren ahead of his one-off grand prix return. The Briton turned in 31 laps in total and lapped less than two-tenths of a second slower than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, proving he has lost little of his touch over the winter.

Running in Monaco continues with second practice live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Thursday.