F1 Grand Prix of Italy - Qualifying

Vettel dominates qualifying to claim pole at Monza

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Sebastian Vettel has continued his searing pace from practice by securing his fourth pole position of 2013 for tomorrow’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

The German driver finished fastest in every session as his dominant spell of form continued on Saturday as he locked out the front row for Red Bull alongside teammate Mark Webber and surprise package Nico Hulkenberg in third. For Ferrari, Saturday was less fruitful as Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso could only finish fourth and fifth respectively despite playing the tactical game in qualifying.

Q1 began in hot and sunny conditions with Nico Rosberg coming out early in order to make up for the time lost in FP3 due to his car overheating. The German driver soon moved to the top of the timesheets ahead of Esteban Gutierrez early on, but Toro Rosso proved that their good practice pace was no one-off, with Vergne enjoying a good spell in P1 on the hard tire. However, he was soon displaced by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with the two former winners at Monza both showing signs of good pace ahead of the race tomorrow. The German driver left it late to put in his first time, but he finished the session a full two-tenths clear of Nico Rosberg in P2. Further down the order, Force India and Williams scrapped to avoid the dropzone, and a last-gasp lap from Pastor Maldonado was enough to secure the Venezuelan driver a place in Q2. Less fortunate was Valtteri Bottas, whose could not improve and was eliminated alongside Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde, Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.

Keen on continuing his fine performance from Q1, Ricciardo was the first driver out in Q2 and he immediately laid down a benchmark that his teammate could not match. It wasn’t until home favorite Alonso posted his first time that the Australian driver was displaced, with the Spaniard moving almost half-a-second clear of his teammate, Felipe Massa, who was in P2. Webber finally emerged from the pits with six minutes remaining, followed by Vettel sixty seconds later. When they finally posted their first times, the Red Bulls looked strong once again with Vettel moving two-tenths clear of Alonso, whilst Webber trailed the Spaniard by just 0.036 seconds. Lewis Hamilton nearly went off on the exit of Parabolica, and the Mercedes driver could only go P9 with his first competitive time. However, it wasn’t enough as the Briton dropped out in Q2 for the first time this season, and he was joined by Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean as Lotus appeared to struggle. Sergio Perez did enough to make it into Q3 with a late lap, whilst Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg performed admirably to finish fourth and fifth.

Keen on making up for his teammate’s failure, Nico Rosberg was the first driver out in Q3 along with Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo. Ferrari were also quick to send their drivers out, lining up once again to try and give Alonso greater straight line speed thanks to Massa’s tow. However, neither driver could match Webber’s benchmark time, a full four-tenths behind the Australian. Vettel resumed normal service by going quickest of all with five minutes remaining, with his teammate for 2014, Ricciardo, going fourth with his first time despite a mistake on the exit of turn five. Webber could not topple his teammate late on, but Massa managed to outqualify his illustrious teammate to line up fourth. Nico Hulkenberg upset the odds to finish an incredible third, but it was his compatriot, Vettel, who went quicker still on his final lap to lock out the front row for Red Bull.

This result marks Vettel’s fortieth pole position in Formula One and fourth pole of the season, and this result is made all the more sweeter by the failings of his championship rivals. Qualifying also marks a return to form for Sauber, with Hulkenberg securing the team’s best result of the season for Sauber, but home favorites Alonso and Massa will be frustrated not to have finished in the top three.

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.