Vettel dominates Belgian GP to claim 5th win of 2013

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Belgian Grand Prix in emphatic style after jumping pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton at the start of the race and rarely being challenged from there on in.

The German driver’s pace was on another level to that of the Mercedes, and it was actually Fernando Alonso who – despite starting P9 – posed the greatest challenge to the defending world champion. However, the pace of the Ferrari F138 meant that the Spanish driver was never really in contention for the victory, although it was a sparkling performance from the two-time world champion to finish second.

Off the grid, Hamilton made a clean getaway whilst Mark Webber endured another disastrous start to fall down to sixth from third. His teammate, Vettel, managed to hold onto second place through La Source before passing Hamilton at the end of the Kemmel straight and proceeded to open up the gap. In the other Mercedes, Nico Rosberg, was a steady third ahead of Jenson Button for McLaren and a fast-starting Fernando Alonso who had started down in ninth. Alonso soon made use of his DRS and KERS to pass Button into Les Combes, moving up to P4, before making the same move on Rosberg just two laps later. The hero of qualifying, Giedo van der Garde, managed to stay in position to begin with but, along with the Marussias, soon dropped towards the back of the pack. Five-time winner in Belgium Kimi Raikkonen was made to work by Nico Hulkenberg for P8, but the Finn eventually passed the Sauber despite suffering from high brake wear. The team subsequently elected to pit the German driver early, aiming for a two-stop strategy.

Hulkenberg’s example was soon followed as Lewis Hamilton became the first of the front runners to bail and take on fresh tires. At McLaren, Sergio Perez was forced into pitting after making an aggressive move on Grosjean and receiving a drive-through penalty. Alonso had been cutting the gap to Hamilton, and he quickly set about catching the Briton after his first stop by quickly disposing of Grosjean. The Ferrari soon made it past at La Source, and Alonso pulled off a brilliant defensive move to hold onto the position despite Hamilton using DRS. After his stop, the Vettel’s lead had been cut but he still looked comfortable out in front, and he soon re-opened the gap to over seven seconds.

As Vettel streamed away at the front, there was some great racing in the midfield as Adrian Sutil made a brave pass on Esteban Gutierrez on the run up to Eau Rouge, while Grosjean managed to go far enough into the race that he could consider stopping just once. Suffering from brake problems, Raikkonen attempted a pass on Massa into the Bus Stop chicane and went straight on, giving Lotus no option but to retire the car thus ending his remarkable run of twenty-seven consecutive point scoring finishes.

Among the leaders, Hamilton was once again the first to stop and he was followed by Alonso two laps later. Vettel managed to go deeper into the race and emerged from his final stop still leading from the Ferrari. In the midfield, Pastor Maldonado and Paul di Resta made contact at the chicane, sending the Force India into the wall and out of the race.  However, with no safety car required, Alonso’s only hope was outpacing Vettel on track. However, The German driver was given the hurry-up by his engineer in case rain hit in the closing stages of the race, whilst Button was enjoying a good race in P6 as he went deep into the race on the prime tire. Just ahead of him, Webber and Rosberg were duelling for fourth place, but the Australian driver was forced to bide his time during his final appearance as an F1 driver at Spa-Francorchamps.

Gutierrez and Maldonado both received drive-through penalties late on for their misdemeanours, whilst last year’s Spa bad boy Romain Grosjean made his one-stop strategy work well, but he could not hold off a late-charging Felipe Massa in the battle for seventh. Just to underline his supremacy at Spa, Vettel posted the fastest lap of the race late on only to be told to ease off by his engineer, Rocky. Eventually though, nothing could stop the German driver as he romped home ahead of Alonso by 16.8 seconds.

Mercedes will be pleased to have finished high in the order with Hamilton third and Rosberg fourth, with the German driver holding off a stiff challenge from Webber late on. Jenson Button also put in an impressive performance to finish sixth ahead of Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean, whilst Adrian Sutil was the sole surviving Force India in ninth. Daniel Ricciardo recovered from a disastrous qualifying to finish 10th for Toro Rosso.

The result sees Vettel claim his fifth win of the season and extend his championship lead to 46 points. With eight races to go, the championship is far from over, but Red Bull appear to be going from strength-to-strength.

Williams’ Massa, Stroll prep for new phases of their careers (VIDEO)

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In the video linked above, Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll look ahead to what should be an intriguing 2017 Formula 1 season given their respective stages of their careers.

Massa, 35, returns to the Mercedes-powered team after what was meant to be a retirement following last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the subsequent retirement of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas opened the door for Massa to come back once Valtteri Bottas left to replace Rosberg there, and has given Massa a second ‘farewell tour.’

Stroll, meanwhile, is just 18 – born a year and three days (October 29, 1998) after Williams won its last World Championship in 1997 with Stroll’s Canadian countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Having blitzed the junior categories, particularly the FIA European F3 Championship last year, Stroll’s arrival to F1 comes with some fanfare and some question marks as he’s been fortunate to have significant family support.

The two of them make up Williams’ team this season and along with deputy team principal Claire Williams, they look ahead to what is to come in 2017.

You can see this pair and the rest of the F1 grid as part of NBCSN’s coverage from Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. All times are linked here.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.