AUTO-PRIX-F1-MONZA-ITA

Vettel goes unchallenged en route to Italian GP victory

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza today in emphatic style, extending his championship lead and putting himself in the box seat to win a fourth consecutive drivers’ title ahead of the Asian leg of the 2013 calendar.

The German driver started from pole position after dominating qualifying on Saturday, and he was rarely challenged en route to his fourth win in the last six races as his championship rivals failed to pose a serious threat during the race. In his final race in Europe, Mark Webber secured his first podium at Monza, capping off a good weekend for Red Bull despite failing to pass second-placed Fernando Alonso during his second stint.

Home favorites Alonso and Felipe Massa both made good starts from fourth and fifth, with the Brazilian driver gaining two positions on the first lap to move up to second behind Sebastian Vettel. Alonso quickly disposed of Nico Hulkenberg (who had started third on the grid), and then pulled off a remarkable move around the outside of Mark Webber at the second chicane to move up to third behind his teammate. Further back, Paul di Resta’s race came to an early end after the Force India driver locked up and made contact with Romain Grosjean heading into turn four, whilst Kimi Raikkonen was forced to pit at the end of the first lap for a new front wing, taking on a fresh set of medium tires.

Predictably, Massa put up very little resistance when Alonso made his move for P2 on lap nine, and the Spanish driver quickly set about catching Vettel. Jenson Button took advantage of the DRS zone on the run-up to the Ascari chicane to pass former teammate Lewis Hamilton as the Mercedes driver struggled with his tires as well as a broken radio. He was eventually forced to pit on lap thirteen due to a slow puncture, moving onto a two-stop strategy. Less fortunate was Jean-Eric Vergne, who had to pull over and retire from the race due to a suspected engine failure when running in the points for Toro Rosso. His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, continued to run strongly up in P7, proving to Red Bull why they have chosen him to replace Mark Webber for 2014.

At the first round of pit stops, Button managed to pass teammate Sergio Perez by getting the undercut by one lap, setting his sights on Hamilton once again. Vettel and Webber were able to stop on the same lap thanks to some great work by the Red Bull pit crew, allowing the Australian driver to leapfrog Felipe Massa for P3. New leader Alonso opted to stay out far longer than Vettel, eventually pitting on lap twenty-seven and re-emerging in second place only just ahead of Webber.

Early stoppers Hamilton and Raikkonen both moved up the order well with the Briton easily passing his teammate for P6 before setting his sights on the Sauber of Hulkenberg, eventually making a pass on the inside of Curva Grande. Raikkonen’s second stop allowed him to take on fresh tires and post some very fast lap times, albeit out of the points. At the front, Vettel continued to keep a steady gap to Alonso as the home favorite soaked up the pressure from Webber in P3. Grosjean hoped to salvage some points for Lotus, moving up to P10 with a good move on Sergio Perez into the first chicane.

Webber’s charge in pursuit of Alonso was stunted when he was told to short-shift on the exit of turn two due to a gearbox problem, allowing the Ferrari to pull away. At the back, Caterham continued to enjoy a healthy lead over Marussia, but Giedo van der Garde’s progress was hindered when his team was not ready for his second stop. Both on the soft tire, Raikkonen and Hamilton began to scythe through the field in pursuit of points following their earlier setbacks. However, the Finn was told to stop using DRS as it was flattening the battery, allowing Hamilton to close for P11 before eventually making the move around the outside of Curva Grande with five laps to go. After passing both McLarens, he then tried an ambitious move on Grosjean for P8, but it wasn’t enough come the checkered flag.

Vettel’s dominant performance at Monza today has caused his championship lead to pass the fifty point mark, equivalent to two race wins, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to see any of his rivals stopping him from taking a fourth world championship in a row. Ferrari will be pleased to have performed so well on home turf with Massa recording his best result since the Spanish GP in May. Nico Hulkenberg came home in fifth to bring more joy to the troubled Sauber team, finishing ahead of Rosberg, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Hamilton and Button.

Button taken to hospital for check-up after eye irritation

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button has been taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after reporting an eye irritation during practice for the German Grand Prix that cut his session short.

Button completed 16 laps in FP2 en route to eighth place in the final timesheets, but was taken to the medical centre after complaining of an irritation.

McLaren confirmed on Twitter shortly after the session that Button had been taken to the local hospital in Mannheim for a check-up.

Rosberg doubles up in second Friday practice for German GP

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg made it two-for-two in practice for the German Grand Prix by topping the timesheets at Hockenheim for Mercedes on Friday afternoon.

2014 winner Rosberg topped the opening practice session on Friday morning at Hockenheim before underpinning Mercedes’ impressive pace by leading FP2, beating teammate Lewis Hamilton once again.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:15.614 to beat Hamilton by almost four-tenths of a second on the super-soft tire, sending out a firm warning to his title rival ahead of qualifying on Saturday.

Hamilton had a scare after coming across Daniel Ricciardo while exiting the pits late on, but escaped unscathed, although not without telling his team and FIA race director Charlie Whiting over the radio that he felt the Red Bull driver had got too close for comfort.

Sebastian Vettel finished as the best of the rest once again for Ferrari, reducing the one second gap to Rosberg from P1 down to just six-tenths of a second.

Max Verstappen followed in P4 for Red Bull ahead of Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari. Nico Hulkenberg survived an early run over the curb at Turn 1 that sent him airborne to finish seventh ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button and Force India teammate Sergio Perez. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10 in the second McLaren.

Button’s session came to an early end after he reported an “irritation” while in the car, resulting in a visit to the medical centre for a check-up.

The session also saw a clamp down on track limits at Turn 1 after race control reported 93 incidents of running wide in FP1, prompting a resumption of the three-strike system seen in Hungary.

The on-track action at Hockenheim resumes on Saturday morning with FP3 on the NBC Sports app from 5am ET ahead of qualifying on NBCSN at 8am.

Hamilton expects to start last at either Spa or Monza

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton expects to start last in either Belgium or Italy as a result of exceeding the number of permitted power unit components for the first time in 2016.

Hamilton took the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season in Hungary last weekend, moving six points clear of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

However, Hamilton has long expected to take penalties later in the year after failures in China and Russia earlier this season forced him to use additional power unit components.

Drivers are limited to five usages of six power unit components throughout the season, with a 10-place penalty applied for those using a sixth.

A further five-place grid drop is applied for all the other components used for a sixth time, followed by a 10-place drop for a seventh, and so on.

Hamilton is on the limit for two of his power unit components (turbo charger and MGU-H), but would take a complete new unit to gain additional components for the rest of the season, resulting in a drop to the back of the grid.

Hamilton hopes that he can get through this weekend’s German Grand Prix without any setbacks, and anticipates he will take a new power unit at either the Belgian or Italian Grand Prix after the summer break.

“Hopefully I get through this weekend at least and then it takes hopefully the weight off, and [I’ll] know that either in Spa or Monza we’re going to be starting last,” Hamilton told NBCSN.

“But then after that hopefully I’ll be able to get to the end of the year with whatever I have in the pool.

“I’ve dealt with it, I’ve accepted it, it is what it is and I’m gonna try and do the best job that I can.”

Hamilton enters this weekend’s German Grand Prix on a roll after winning five of the last six races, and put his upturn in fortunes down to a lack of issues on the car that blighted his start to the year.

“I’ve been fighting the whole year, particularly with the failures on the car, and me and my engineers, we’ve been fighting as hard as we can,” Hamilton said.

“It’s just that we’ve had no issues since Monaco with the car. Since qualifying in Monaco we’ve had few issues apart from Baku with me in qualifying and then the car on the Sunday.

“Otherwise the car has really been performing well and I think I’ve utilized that in the last six races.”

Renault won’t rush decision on 2017 F1 line-up

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo makes a pit stop during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Renault Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur says a decision on the French marque’s driver line-up for the 2017 season will not be rushed as ‘silly season’ begins to ramp up.

Renault returned to F1 as a constructor in 2016 after five years away after taking over the financially-ailing Lotus operation at Enstone.

Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were signed as drivers for 2016, but both have struggled for form with the R.S.16 car.

Magnussen’s seventh-place finish in Russia remains Renault’s only points finish of the season so far.

Speculation has been growing about the future of both Magnussen and Palmer at Renault, with a number of drivers out of contract and available for next season.

Renault also has an extensive junior program featuring drivers such as Esteban Ocon, Sergey Sirotkin and Oliver Rowland, all of whom are vying for their F1 debuts next year.

With so many options and many drivers to consider, Vasseur is keen to take some time before making any call on Renault’s line-up for 2017.

“We are at that time of year when we are asked these questions, but the questions and the speculation often happen before any decision is made,” Vasseur said.

“What I can say is we have two good drivers, who are improving weekend after weekend. Let’s not forget that Jolyon is a rookie and that Kevin only had one year driving full-time at McLaren then a year not racing.

“They are both doing a strong, solid job and work very well within the team. I have a strong relationship with them both and they know what is expected of them.

“Within the team we are very happy together. We will make our decisions for 2017 in our own time.”