Dixon on pole for Grand Prix of Baltimore (VIDEO)

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Scott Dixon scored his second Verizon P1 Award of the season and 20th pole position of his IZOD IndyCar Series career Saturday in qualifying for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT.

Dixon only barely made it into the Firestone Fast Six when Graham Rahal, who had been quicker, lost his two fastest laps for causing a red flag in the second qualifying session comprising the top 12 cars from Q1. Once into the Fast Six, the New Zealander lapped the 2.04-mile, 12-turn circuit in 1:18.0838 on his final lap in the Fast Six.

“Q1 went pretty smooth, tried to get quite tricky in Q2 and run the same set of tires but unfortunately we had a censor go on the engine, so I had no straight line speed in 2,” Dixon said. “Luckily we were able to fix the censor come Q3, and the car was pretty decent. I made a mistake, actually, on my quick lap. I lost a couple of tenths on the hairpin, so the car seems to be racked in pretty well here.”

Dixon’s time edged Will Power’s best lap of 1:18.1171; Power had the pole but did not improve on his final attempt to retake the point. Power estimated he lost five tenths of a second on the lap before locking his brakes at the Turn 3 chicane, removing any chance he had to score his third Baltimore pole in as many years.

“Yeah, still pretty happy to be on the front row, it seems like the Honda guys have got it,” Power said. “I’m the only Chevy guy here, so waving the flag for them. Hopefully, we can wave it real high tomorrow.”

Behind them it was a bit of an odd Fast Six with three drivers making their first appearance in the final portion of road or street course qualifying this season.

Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden all have their best starts of the season. For Newgarden, it’s his first ever Firestone Fast Six appearance and his best career qualifying effort (seventh on three different occasions was his prior best). Newgarden started second at Long Beach a year ago, and was promoted to the position thanks to five Chevrolets with engine change grid penalties ahead of him.

Tristan Vautier rounded out the Fast Six but it was an odd qualifying session for the Frenchman from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

In Q2, Vautier hit Graham Rahal’s crashed car at the Turn 8 barriers – Rahal had nosed in moments earlier – but Rahal was docked his two fastest laps for causing a red flag during the session. Vautier’s times held up even though he hit Rahal’s rear. The session was not immediately red flagged when Rahal hit the barriers.

Also knocked out in Q2 were championship contenders Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mid-Ohio winner Charlie Kimball, Long Beach winner Takuma Sato and three-time 2013 winner James Hinchcliffe. Rahal will start 12th.

Rahal’s teammate, James Jakes, led those knocked out in Q1 in 13th but will take a 10-spot grid penalty for switching to his sixth engine of the season, one over the maximum five allotted. It’s an unfortunate situation because Jakes had an engine issue the previous round, which would ordinarily allow for a change without a grid penalty.

Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti were the bigger names that also failed to advance from Q1.

The final three qualifiers were E.J. Viso, who only completed one lap before pancaking the wall on exit to the Pratt Street chicane; series debutante Stefan Wilson, who continued to find time in the second Dale Coyne car; and Sebastien Bourdais, who also crashed over the same chicane and didn’t complete a single lap.

Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT
Unofficial Qualifying Results

BALTIMORE – Qualifying Saturday for the Grand Prix of Baltimore IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.04 mile(s) Baltimore Street Circuit, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.0838 (94.053)
2. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.1171 (94.013)
3. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.4307 (93.637)
4. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.8698 (93.115)
5. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.9022 (93.077)
6. (55) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.0380 (92.917)
7. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.0288 (92.928)
8. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.0367 (92.919)
9. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.0523 (92.901)
10. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.2216 (92.702)
11. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.3182 (92.589)
12. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 01:22.2045 (89.338)
13. (16) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.6398 (93.388)
14. (98) Luca Filippi, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.1242 (92.816)
15. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.6694 (93.353)
16. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.3051 (92.604)
17. (4) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.8075 (93.189)
18. (25) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.4738 (92.408)
19. (78) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.9829 (92.982)
20. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 01:20.5694 (91.151)
21. (6) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.2440 (92.676)
22. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 02:16.3120 (53.876)
23. (18) Stefan Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 01:20.1871 (91.586)
24. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, No Time (No Speed)

F1 Preview: 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.

Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.

The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.

Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.

And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.

Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.

The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.

Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.

And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.

“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”

He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.

“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.

“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.

Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.

Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.

Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.

Misc.

  • McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
  • Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
  • Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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