Hamilton fights off Vettel to secure second pole in a row

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for Mercedes at the German Grand Prix in today’s qualifying session at the Nurburgring.

The British driver will start from pole position for the second consecutive race following a fine performance, beating Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber as Red Bull were forced to settle for P2 and P3. However, it was not all good news for Mercedes as Nico Rosberg failed to make it into Q3, provisionally starting tomorrow’s race from 11th position.

Q1 got underway amidst soaring track temperatures, giving many of the teams a headache over which tire to use in the session. Eventually, every team except Mercedes and Red Bull opted for the soft tire in an attempt to secure a place in Q2. The Marussias were quick out of the blocks and moved into P1 and P2, but this soon changed as Williams hoped that an early run would pay dividends, with Pastor Maldonado leading from Valtteri Bottas at the top of the timesheets. The rest of the field soon came out to post a lap time and Daniel Ricciardo certainly impressed by going quickest; a feat made all the more impressive by Nico Rosberg’s failure to match his pace, although the Mercedes was on the medium compound. Similarly, Sebastian Vettel could only go 4th as Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen exchanged blows at the top of the leaderboard before Felipe Massa secured P1 towards the end of the session. In the dropzone, all eyes were on Sergio Perez as the Mexican driver left it late to hoist himself into safety, eventually finishing 14th. This left the two Williams in a familiar position, and their failure to beat Gutierrez’s time on the final lap saw both Maldonado and Bottas eliminated alongside Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi, Giedo van der Garde and Max Chilton.

Jean-Eric Vergne was quick to emerge from the pits in Q2 in an attempt to make up for his disappointment at Silverstone by getting into Q3. He set the first time of the session which was soon beaten by Paul di Resta, with the Force India driver remaining P1 until Kimi Raikkonen set his first timed lap. Mercedes soon emerged but Nico Rosberg’s mistake at turn one cost him a shot at top spot as Lewis Hamilton succeeded where his teammate failed and went fastest. Red Bull left it late once again, but this paid off as Vettel went P1 with Webber 3rd, allowing them to pit after just one run whilst the rest of the field went out for another lap. This worked wonders for Ferrari as Massa and Alonso went 1st and 2nd, followed closely by Vettel and Grosjean. With the times so close, it was a case of setting the final lap time in order to get through. By being the final driver to see the flag, Raikkonen managed to get through and finish P2, and Jenson Button also scraped into the top ten at the expense of his teammate. Paul di Resta could not improve late on but his former Force India teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, did exactly that and won a place in the final shootout. Incredibly, Nico Rosberg dropped down the timesheets and eventually finished P11, dashing all hopes of securing pole position on home soil for the German driver.

Ferrari were quick out of the blocks in Q3 as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa looked to secure the Italian team its first pole position of the season. Surprisingly, after completing an outlap, the two drivers returned to the pits, allowing Kimi Raikkonen to set the first time of 1:29.970. Sebastian Vettel was quick to edge out the Lotus driver, going three-tenths quicker and remaining P1 until Lewis Hamilton went just 0.082 seconds faster than the Red Bull, claiming top spot at the end of the first runs. With two minutes to go, all ten drivers left the pits to have one final shot at pole position. Alonso opted to run on the medium compound tires, costing him a chance at pole and forcing him to settle for P8 behind his teammate, also on the harder compound. This left the fight between Hamilton, Vettel and Webber. The German driver took provisional pole by one-tenth as Webber could not do any better than P3, but Hamilton soon gave the Mercedes’ faithful something to shout about by securing his second consecutive pole position.

Mercedes have once again shown that the W04 car has fantastic one-lap pace, yet Rosberg’s placement in P11 means that the team will have to prove its ability to fight through the field as well as controlling the race from the front. Red Bull will be challenging Hamilton fiercely in the race tomorrow, but for now the British driver can enjoy his 29th career pole position, drawing level with Juan Manuel Fangio in the all-time list.

Red Bull’s high hopes come down to earth in F1 qualifying

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Red Bull’s high hopes for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix came crashing down in qualifying on Saturday.

Max Verstappen qualified in fifth and teammate Daniel Ricciardo only 10th after clipping a barrier near the end coming out of Turn 6 on a hazardous Baku street circuit that has been causing problems all week.

“I’m not blaming the car. The rear went away a bit,” Ricciardo said. “Just the consequence of trying to get a bit more out of the car. I guess I was just chasing that little bit too much.”

It was disappointing for the team, considering that Red Bull had been showing promising speed, with Verstappen fastest in both practice sessions on Friday.

“The 10th (place) today doesn’t reflect it, but it’s definitely been a positive weekend in terms of the car feel and the progress we’re making,” Ricciardo said. “Relative to Ferrari it looks like we’ve closed the gap (in terms of speed).”

Red Bull was not the only team struggling on the sinewy, hard-braking track, which made its F1 debut last year.

“We’re all still experimenting,” Ricciardo said. “Still trying to find the sweet spot.”

Verstappen thought he found it on Friday, driving with his customary confidence to lead P1 and P2, then got a reality check on Saturday when his car packed up near the end of the third practice due to a hydraulics issue.

“We had to wind the engine down, which cost me quite a bit of lap time,” the Dutchman said. “It’s a bit unfortunate that we couldn’t extract more out of the car.”

Verstappen was second fastest behind Lewis Hamilton in the first part of qualifying, before fading in Q2 and Q3.

“We should be ahead (of Ferrari) without all those things that happened,” said Verstappen, who believes Red Bull can match Ferrari. “It’s looking a lot better. Mercedes is a bit too quick but with the Ferraris, for sure, we can fight.”

Verstappen could do with a good result in Baku on Sunday.

Last year, he became the youngest F1 driver to win a race and to qualify on the front row. But this season he has only one podium and failed to finish three races including the last, the Canadian GP two weeks ago.

Honda working on IndyCar engine fix following parts issue

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The blessing and curse of Honda Performance Development (HPD)’s improved performance and horsepower this year has been a tradeoff in the reliability department.

With now double digit failures over the last month or so, in Indianapolis and elsewhere, it’s been a season where reliability has become more of a story line than normal.

This has arisen though Honda’s on-track performance this year has seen the manufacturer deliver five wins (three more than in all of 2016) including the Indianapolis 500, with four of its five teams winning races thus far in nine races.

HPD President Art St. Cyr addressed both the failures and the recent successes Honda has achieved in the last month during a media availability Saturday at Road America, noting it was a parts processing issue that has contributed to some, if not all, failures.

“We had a couple engine failures over the last month or so,” St. Cyr said. “We have done a lot of analysis. It was actually pretty deep in our engine and the part that failed is one that we’ve been using for quite a while. Ultimately, it came down to a parts processing issue for that. So we have been able to identify the part that is failing.

“We have some fixes in place for the rest of this year. As it stands right now, we’re getting those parts into HPD at this point and we’re starting to build new engines with those parts in it. Unfortunately, the durability plan that we always had, going 2,500 miles, it’s going to take a while to cycle those engines into our pool.

“We hope to have those engines into our spares pool, optimistically by Iowa, but more realistically by Toronto.”

HPD does not plan to do a wholesale changeout of engines, St. Cyr intimated.

“There is no plan right now to a wholesale change out engines,” he said. “It happens in about one out of every eight engines, and if it does fail, it fails early. So when that problem arises, it shows up pretty quick.

“So, our expectations are that, once we get the engines in the spares pool, we will continue the engines that are in the cars throughout the remainder of their lives. And then those will be replaced with new engines.

“Knock on wood, hopefully we can get some of them in at Iowa, but more realistically, probably Toronto is when they’ll really start to show up.”

St. Cyr confirmed HPD has made a horsepower increase this year though would not be pressed on how much that increase has been.

“When you make more horsepower, you do expose parts to more stresses. That’s the fundamental thing about it,” he said.

“In this particular case, what it did was reduced our safety factor on that particular part. It still should have been fine, but the problem is that part of the process in the engine is the stress riser. It’s not in every engine, but it on a handful of engines.

“Yes, the increase in power is a contributing factor to that, because obviously there’s more stress on the engines, but the way the part if designed it should have been able to sustain that stress.”

He also said the company was happy with the tradeoff that has come with Takuma Sato’s win in the Indianapolis 500. That win made him a “popular winner” both in America and Japan as a result of his victory, helping both Honda arms.

“In general, our main goal is to win the Indy 500. We knew that, even if we ran the engines at full power, that the majority of our engines were going to make it,” St. Cyr explained.

“So, in that case, we were willing to make that tradeoff on that. If it was going to fail every engine, then maybe not, but ever circumstance is different. But, in this particular case, we were willing to make that.

“You risk that every year. Typically, both manufacturers have about two mechanical failure. That’s about what had this year anyway. We’ll make those judgments on a case-by-case basis.”

Heading into Road America this weekend for the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Honda leads Chevrolet, 737 to 698, in the Manufacturer’s Championship. Chevrolet has won all five in a row from 2012 through 2016 since the reintroduction of manufacturer competition.

Pagenaud leads Penske 1-2-3-4 in Practice 3 at Road America

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Team Penske continued its domination this weekend at Road America, with Simon Pagenaud leading third practice for the Kohler Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Pagenaud pipped teammate Will Power in the final seconds to take fast lap honors in third practice, with Pagenaud’s 1:42.0439 edging Power’s 1:42.0698.

Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden ended third and fourth, making it a Penske 1-2-3-4 for the second consecutive session this weekend (they did the same in second practice on Friday). Scott Dixon ended the session fifth, the best of the Honda runners.

Several drivers had off-course excursions during practice as they pushed the limits ahead of qualifying this afternoon. Most notably, Newgarden brought out a brief red flag when he spun into the gravel in Turn 14, the third spin in turn 14 this weekend. Newgarden did not have any contact with the tire barriers, but the No. 2 Devilbiss Chevrolet was beached in the gravel and needed a tow. He suffered no damage, however, and rejoined the session after it resumed.

Of note, Marco Andretti and Spencer Pigot enjoyed strong sessions to end up sixth and seventh, while Mikhail Aleshin was 20th after arriving at the track earlier in the morning, with immigration issues delaying his travel.

Times are below. Qualifying begins at 4:00 p.m. ET (3:00 p.m. local time), and airs on NBCSN at 5:00 p.m. ET.

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Leclerc takes emotional Baku F2 victory, extends points lead

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Charles Leclerc extended his points lead at the top of the FIA Formula 2 championship on Saturday by taking an emotional victory in the feature race at the Baku City Circuit.

Racing just days after the death of his father and with tributes on both his car and helmet, Leclerc went unchallenged en route to his third victory of the F2 season, leading home Nyck de Vries and Nicholas Latifi.

Leclerc made a clean start from pole to retain his advantage through the opening stint, only losing the lead for a handful of laps after pitting when a handful of drivers tried to make an alternate strategy work.

Despite multiple safety car periods and the race finishing under a red flag, Ferrari youngster Leclerc was able to finish 3.4 seconds clear of de Vries in second place, with Latifi a further 2.9 seconds back.

Leclerc’s title rival, Oliver Rowland, was classified fourth, with the results of the race being counted back to Lap 24 after it was red flagged late on.

A spin for Sean Gelael at the tight Turn 8 section by the castle caused a blockage, preventing cars from getting through, meaning that the race had to be called off.

Leclerc’s championship lead now stands at 22 points ahead of Sunday’s reverse grid sprint race in Baku.