Vettel cuts it fine in securing pole position for Singapore GP

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Sebastian Vettel has continued his good form at the Singapore Grand Prix by securing pole position for tomorrow’s race, but he was very nearly pipped to the post by fellow countryman Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes.

Vettel had dominated practice earlier today, but the advantage he enjoyed in qualifying was just 0.091 seconds come the checkered flag in Q3. However, it was enough to hand him his fifth pole position of the season at a track where he has won twice before.

Title rivals Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton could not match the pace of the defending champion, with teammate Mark Webber also falling three-tenths short of Vettel’s pace. Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both enjoyed good days as they both made the top ten, but Paul di Resta will undoubtedly be disappointed to have dropped out in Q1 once again.

Despite the gap between the prime and option tires being over 1.5 seconds per lap, the majority of the field ventured out on the slower medium compound at the beginning of Q1. Pastor Maldonado was the first to post a time, but he was soon overthrown by both Mercedes drivers with Nico Rosberg establishing his dominance by going eight-tenths faster than his teammate early on. Fernando Alonso’s struggles continued with a big lock-up at turn one before going P2, whilst Kimi Raikkonen looked to do as well as possible despite suffering from back pain. Lower down the grid, Sauber, Caterham and Marussia all went straight onto the super-soft tire in an attempt to secure a place in Q2, with Nico Hulkenberg immediately going fastest by almost a whole second. Red Bull bided their time, eventually sending Webber and Vettel out with just eight minutes remaining in the session, but they proved their pace to go P1 and P3 respectively. Hamilton was having none of it though, responding to go fastest of all on the option tire, followed by Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez at the head of the field. Felipe Massa was the big name in the dropzone as the checkered flag fell, but he improved late on to secure a place in Q2 and dump Paul di Resta out of qualifying along with Maldonado, both Caterhams and both Marussias.

Fighting through the pain, Raikkonen was the first to set a time in Q2, but he was soon edged out by both Mercedes drivers, Alonso and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, with the latter hoping to repeat his run to P3 at Monza. Once again, Red Bull played the waiting game, eventually sending Vettel and Webber out on the super-soft tire for the first time in qualifying. The defending world champion immediately stamped his authority on proceedings, going almost a second quicker than previous leader Rosberg. Webber joined him at the front, albeit eight-tenths down on his teammate. In the final flurry of times following the checkered flag, Esteban Gutierrez was the surprise name in the top ten, finishing an excellent seventh for Sauber. His teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, was less fortunate, dropping out in Q2 along with the injured Raikkonen. McLaren’s decision to go for just one timed run worked for Jenson Button as he made it through in P10, but Perez could only finish fourteenth. Jean-Eric Vergne, Adrian Sutil and Valtteri Bottas filled out the dropzone.

Red Bull bucked their own trend in Q3 by sending their drivers out early. Vettel laid down the first marker, a full six-tenths quicker than closest-rival Rosberg whilst Button completed an outlap and two sectors before returning to the pits. With two minutes remaining, nine of the ten runners came out to set a lap with Vettel getting out of his car, believing that he had done enough. However, his confidence nearly proved costly, with Rosberg coming within just 0.091 seconds of his compatriot. Romain Grosjean put in an impressive lap to finish P3 ahead of Webber and Hamilton. Felipe Massa will undoubtedly have a chip on his shoulder, having outqualified teammate Fernando Alonso with the Ferrari’s lining up P6 and P7 ahead of Button, Ricciardo and Gutierrez, with the Sauber driver failing to set a time.

Vettel has given himself the best possible chance of securing his third consecutive win in Singapore, and following dominant performances in Belgium and Italy, picking up a seventh win of the season under the lights at Marina Bay would surely put him out of reaching distance in the drivers’ championship.

Giovinazzi impresses as Sauber sub, finishes 12th on F1 debut

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Antonio Giovinazzi continued his impressive last-minute showing in the Australian Grand Prix weekend by finishing 12th for Sauber on his Formula 1 debut.

Ferrari junior and 2015 GP2 runner-up Giovinazzi was drafted in by Sauber on Saturday to replace Pascal Wehrlein, who withdrew from the race weekend due to an ongoing back injury.

Giovinazzi qualified 16th on Saturday, narrowly missing out on a place in Q2, and then enjoyed a trouble-free race en route to 12th at the checkered flag, two laps down on race winner Sebastian Vettel.

“It was a good race, and I am happy with my performance today,” Giovinazzi said.

“My objective was to gain more experience and collect mileage in the car. I will sit together with my engineers to analyze areas where I can improve.

“I want to thank the Sauber F1 Team and Scuderia Ferrari again for this opportunity. It was an amazing race weekend for me.”

Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn was full of praise for Giovinazzi: “A very impressive performance from Antonio during his first Formula 1 race. He showed his potential as well as what the car is capable of.”

Giovinazzi is now set to return to his reserve driver duties at Ferrari, with Wehrlein expected to be back at full-fitness for the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

Maverick Vinales wins MotoGP opener in Qatar after rain delays start

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Maverick Viñales made a flying start to life with Yamaha in MotoGP by winning on his debut with the factory team in Qatar on Sunday night.

Rain throughout the weekend had already forced qualifying to be cancelled on Saturday, with Viñales claiming pole by virtue of setting the fastest time in practice.

Officials decided early on Sunday that they would not be amending its schedule for races, with the Moto2 and Moto3 events going ahead as planned.

Just minutes before the MotoGP race was set to get underway at 11pm local time, rain started to fall once again over the Losail International Circuit, prompting the stewards to delay the race start after a number of riders went off during an installation lap.

A 45-minute delay followed as a number of officials from both MotoGP and the teams remonstrated on the grid before being asked to take their discussions inside, away from the cameras and the watching world.

With the rain easing to a light drizzle, the stewards confirmed the race would start as planned, albeit reduced to 20 laps.

On a moist track, Viñales made a tentative start from pole, dropping to fifth as Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone made the best getaway to lead into the first corner.

Iannone was quickly passed by Tech3’s Johann Zarco, who completed his first lap in MotoGP as the race leader, and soon began to forge a lead over the chasing pack.

Zarco’s hopes of a debut win were dashed when he slid off the track in the tricky conditions, allowing Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso to assume the lead ahead of Iannone.

When Iannone fell and third-placed Marc Marquez began to drop off the pace as his tires faded, Viñales and Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi began to close on Dovizioso, setting up a grandstand finish.

Viñales found a way past Dovizioso, only to lose the lead a couple of laps later, before then taking it back with two laps to go, curbing the Ducati’s straight-line speed advantage as they headed into Turn 1 for the final time.

From there, Viñales was able to keep his cool and cross the line half a second clear of Dovizioso to record his second MotoGP victory, his first coming with Suzuki last year at Silverstone.

Rossi crossed the line a close third, much to his surprise after a torrid pre-season, while Marquez was left to settle for fourth place to begin his riders’ title defence.

Dani Pedrosa finished one place behind his Honda teammate in fifth, while Aleix Espargaro was one of the unsung heroes of the race, crossing the line sixth for Aprilia.

Scott Redding wound up seventh ahead of Jack Miller and Alex Rins, while Tech3 debutant Jonas Folger rounded out the top 10.

Three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo had a forgettable debut with Ducati, finishing a lowly 11th after an off-track excursion on the opening lap.

The MotoGP season continues with round two of the season in Argentina on April 9.

Ocon picks up maiden F1 point in Australia, finishes as top rookie

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Esteban Ocon picked up his first point in Formula 1 during his maiden outing for Force India in Australia on Sunday, finishing the race 10th and as the top rookie.

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with the backmarker Manor team, completing the final nine rounds of the season before moving into a seat with Force India for 2017.

Embarking on his first full season of F1 (and therefore still a rookie) in 2017, Ocon qualified 14th in Australia on Saturday before spending much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, the trio going three-wide down the main straight at one point.

Ocon was able to come out on top, clinching the final point on offer in Melbourne by finishing P10 to complete a double-points finish for Force India after Sergio Perez ended up seventh.

“Very happy with today. It’s been a tough weekend but a great reward at the end,” Ocon told NBCSN after the race.

“Fighting with Alonso made things difficult. It was side by side. Then I had the better pace with him. It’s so much harder to overtake, but I made the pass and got the point.

“I’m learning all the time. It’s good what we’ve done here. This is good for the team. We hope we can score many more for the championship.”

Ocon emerged as the top rookie in Melbourne, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th and 13th respectively. Williams’ Lance Stroll – making his first start in F1 – retired due to a brake disc issue.

F1 Paddock Pass: Australian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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And so, the 2017 Formula 1 season is officially underway with the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on top, having beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both on strategy and on pace to kick off this new era in the sport’s history.

A recap of the day from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne occurs below in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, as F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales go into the paddock to run down the stories of the day.

MORE: Full Australian Grand Prix event replay; Mosaic replay

The podium saw Vettel ahead of Hamilton, with Mercedes’ new driver Valtteri Bottas coming third on debut for the team.

Other interviews that occurred during NBCSN’s post-race coverage on F1 Extra included with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who came fourth and fifth respectively, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon who scored his first career point, and with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who doggedly dragged his McLaren Honda into a potential points-paying finish before a late-race retirement.

Paddock Pass is in three parts and can be viewed below.