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Dominant Vettel goes wire-to-wire under the lights in Singapore

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Singapore Grand Prix in emphatic style after dominating the entire weekend and bouncing back from a safety car period to win the race by over thirty seconds.

Having stormed into an early lead, Vettel was forced to regroup after a safety car period eradicated the gap he had created. However, the defending world champion lived up to his credentials by setting down a remarkable pace to win the race with ease. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen managed to take advantage of the safety car’s appearance to finish second and third respectively as Mercedes and Mark Webber struggled to recover their pre-safety car positions, missing out on the podium.

The start saw Nico Rosberg make a fantastic getaway, going side-by-side with Vettel heading into turn one and outbraking his compatriot to move into the lead. However, it lasted a matter of seconds as the Mercedes ran wide heading into turn two to hand the position back to Vettel, with Alonso tailing the pair having made a superb start from P7. Lewis Hamilton could not match the pace of his teammate early on, dropping to seventh and wrangling with Felipe Massa for position. Sergio Perez also enjoyed a good start, making up four places on the first lap including a fine pass on compatriot Esteban Gutierrez. However, Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas both dropped back, with the latter falling behind Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde.

At the front, Vettel was told to look after his tires in anticipation of a safety car, given that there has been one at every single Singapore Grand Prix held. Teammate Mark Webber was hounded for P4 by Romain Grosjean as the front runners began to spread out. Having suffered from back pain during qualifying, Kimi Raikkonen required a valiant drive to fight his way back into the points, but he opted to stop early along with Gutierrez. The rest of the field chose to bide its time, coming in a few laps later with varying choices of tire. A few chose to run on the faster super-softs, with the majority on the longer-lasting mediums. Having jumped him at the start, Alonso remained ahead of Webber after the first round of stops, whilst Grosjean elected to buck the trend and took on a fresh set of super-softs in an attempt to pass the battle ahead. Vettel went deeper into the race than his rivals, re-emerging in the lead ahead of Rosberg and a long-running Paul di Resta who had battled brilliantly to work his way up to P3 before stopping on lap twenty.

Having been stuck behind di Resta, Alonso lost the chance to undercut Rosberg for P2 and soon found himself being caught by Webber and Grosjean behind. However, their charge was soon halted by a safety car after Daniel Ricciardo put his Toro Rosso into the wall at turn seventeen. Not only did this bunch the field, but it also sparked a flurry of pit stops as drivers looked to take on fresh rubber. This left Vettel leading from Rosberg, Webber and Hamilton, but Alonso in P5 had far fresher tires and looked to rectify his race following the stoppage.

Off the restart, Vettel quickly set about re-opening the gap to Nico Rosberg in P2, for once being told by his engineer to push as much as possible. He duly responded, lapping between one and two seconds per lap quicker than the rest of the field. A problem with Grosjean’s car forced the Frenchman to pit for a third time from sixth, dropping to last when he eventually came back out again, but he could only complete a further four laps before retiring from the race. van der Garde’s fine drive continued at the expense of Bottas once again, passing him for P16 not long after the safety car had come back in. At the front, Vettel’s charge continued as his lead swelled to over twenty seconds while Rosberg suffered from a lack of grip due to some rubber lodged in his front wing.

As his teammate steamed ahead in P1, Webber pitted for a second time on lap forty-one, taking on a fresh set of mediums that would see him through to the end of the race. With Rosberg pitting one lap later, Webber was able to undercut his rival perfectly, leapfrogging the Mercedes driver to give Red Bull a chance of a one-two finish. Hamilton could not do anything to intervene, with a slow stop seeing him fall behind Webber and his teammate. A poor stop from Ferrari allowed di Resta to get the jump on Massa, whilst it was plain sailing for Vettel in the pits, with the German driver taking on super-soft tires just in case of a late safety car.

This round of stops played into the hands of those who pitted under the safety car. Alonso, Button, Raikkonen, Perez, Hulkenberg and Gutierrez all looked to go to the end of the race. The young Mexican found himself being hounded by Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton, with all three drivers finding a way through before being followed by di Resta and Massa to drop the Sauber out of the points. Button and Raikkonen became embroiled in a battle for the final podium position, with the Finn’s back problems subsiding in time for the race, and he pulled off a remarkable overtake around the outside of turn four to move onto the podium. The Webber-Rosberg-Hamilton train continued to power through the field, picking off Hulkenberg and then Perez. Their charge was nearly halted when Paul di Resta ended his race in the wall with five laps remaining, but Webber rallied to find a way past Button for fourth, subsequently setting his sights on Raikkonen. However, he was given the call to short-shift, ending all hopes of having two Red Bulls on the podium. He then lost out to Rosberg and Hamilton because of the issue late on, before eventually pulling over and retiring from the race.

At the front, Vettel refused to back off, setting a relentless pace even in the dying stages of the grand prix to take the checkered flag by over thirty seconds, having led every lap and set the fastest lap of the race. Alonso and Raikkonen completed the podium thanks to some good strategic work, but with Vettel clinching a third successive win and extending his championship lead to sixty points, the German driver looks to be en route to a fourth straight title.

Ricciardo: Rosberg has given someone an amazing Christmas present

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Daniel Ricciardo says that Nico Rosberg has given someone “an amazing Christmas present” by announcing his shock retirement from Formula 1 and opening up a seat at Mercedes for the 2017 season.

Ahead of Friday’s FIA prize giving in Vienna, Rosberg announced his retirement from F1 with immediate effect less than a week after winning his first World Championship.

The news sent shockwaves through F1, as well as sparking speculation as to who will replace him at Mercedes, the team that has won every championship in the past three seasons.

Following the FIA gala where he received his trophy for finishing third in the drivers’ championship, Ricciardo spoke about the news in a video posted to his Instagram account.

“We had the FIA gala last night, the end of year awards. It was good, it was really beautiful, but I think the big news was Nico announcing his retirement,” Ricciardo said.

“That was pretty unexpected I guess. He’s given someone an amazing Christmas present, whoever gets that seat, I hope they appreciate what they’re getting.

“But good on him for having the nuts to say that’s enough, he achieved what he wanted. Fair play.”

👋🏼🇦🇹

A video posted by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on

Ecclestone shocked by Rosberg exit, thinks Alonso could move to Mercedes

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - JUNE 16:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone talk in the Paddock during previews ahead of the European Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 16, 2016 in Baku, Azerbaijan.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images,)
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Bernie Ecclestone was shocked to learn of Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire with immediate effect, announced on Friday.

Rosberg clinched his first drivers’ title in Abu Dhabi last Sunday, ending Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton’s reign as World Champion.

Ahead of the FIA prize giving in Vienna on Friday, Rosberg announced that he would not be defending his title in 2017, retiring from racing with immediate effect.

The racing world has been shellshocked by the news, with F1 CEO Ecclestone revealing that he had no idea that the sport would be without its champion for next season.

“It was just as big a shock to me as you,” Ecclestone told Reuters.

“I had dinner with Toto [Wolff, Mercedes team boss] last night and he obviously couldn’t say anything to me.

“[Rosberg] needs more time to spend his money, that’s all.”

Following Rosberg’s announcement, speculation has been rife regarding a possible replacement at Mercedes for 2017, with names such as Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Pascal Wehrlein being linked with the seat.

Ecclestone was open to the idea of Alonso leaving McLaren with one year to spare on his contract, suggesting that the recent management changes could allow the Spaniard to walk away.

“It’s possible I suppose, let’s see,” Ecclestone said.

“They’ve got new management now at McLaren. Maybe he’s fed up being there and they’re fed up having him.”

When asked if Vettel might be an option for Mercedes, Ecclestone said: “I think not. I don’t think Seb would want to be with Lewis.”

2017 will be the first year since 1994 that the defending World Champion has not raced in F1, with Alain Prost retiring at the end of his championship year in 1993.

Strategist shuffle set to take place in Andretti’s 2017 lineup

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 29:  Alexander Rossi of the United States, driver of the #98 Andretti Herta Autosport Honda Dallara, poses with team owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta during a photoshoot after winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 30, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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With the four-car lineup confirmed for Andretti Autosport’s Verizon IndyCar Series program following Takuma Sato’s official announcement, attention turns to the personnel fielding those cars.

With the signings of Eric Bretzman and Jeremy Milless to bolster the overall engineering side of the team, and with Milless replacing the departed Tom German as Alexander Rossi’s race engineer, there’s also a strategist shuffle that appears set to take part.

Although team principal Michael Andretti stopped short of formally confirming he’ll step off the box for son Marco in his No. 27 hhgregg Honda next year, he said barring any unexpected changes that’s what’s going to happen.

Since Andretti Autosport has multiple race programs in other series – the team has won the last two Red Bull Global Rallycross titles with Volkswagen, then has a two-car FIA Formula E and at least three, possibly four-car Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires effort – Andretti said he needs to be available to miss IndyCar weekends occasionally if there’s conflicts.

“It hasn’t been 100 percent confirmed, but it looks like it’s going that way,” Andretti told NBC Sports.

“It’s been a real challenge being a strategist and team owner; not only being a team owner in other series, but it never gave me the flexibility to miss an IndyCar race. There were a couple times where I couldn’t get to other events. It’s important for the overall team.”

As a case in point even though this isn’t directly IndyCar-related, the FIA Formula E new season opener was in Hong Kong the weekend of October 8-9, while the Red Bull GRC season finale was in Los Angeles the same weekend.

Andretti opted to be in LA there to watch Scott Speed edge Tanner Foust for his second straight Red Bull GRC program, while JF Thormann was Andretti’s lead team representative in Hong Kong at FE. Andretti expects to attend the next FE round in Buenos Aires, which isn’t until February 18, 2017.

With FE’s season shifting into the spring and summer of 2017, there are several IndyCar/FE conflicts. Red Bull GRC is yet to release its 2017 calendar.

Anyway, with Andretti set to step off the strategist box, he all but indicated Bryan Herta will move over to Marco Andretti’s car, and that Rob Edwards (director of race operations and engineering) would move to Rossi’s No. 98 car. Edwards was on the No. 26 car for Carlos Munoz this year, and his departure there, if it’s confirmed, would leave a vacancy on the No. 26 box for Takuma Sato.

“I love having Bryan on board,” Michael Andretti said. “Having him there, if it works out that way, is that he and Marco are very close. It’d be really positive. I know Bryan would be up for the challenge in trying to improve that side.

“If that happens… then where we’re leaning is that it could be Rob on Rossi. That’d be good. Rossi would seem to be happy.”

Andretti said one of the challenges in being a strategist is that it’s one of the most important positions on a race weekend, and being split between strategist and team owner roles causes something of a loss of focus.

The rise of Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing the last two years can be attributed to multiple things, including the fact Rahal’s dad Bobby Rahal stepped off the box in 2015 and let Ricardo Nault take over in that role.

“What would I miss about it? Not a lot, quite honestly!” Andretti admitted.

“It wasn’t my favorite thing to do. But I think, because of my experience, you can feel and see a race. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of guys out there that do that. We’re grooming guys to be in that place.”

Andretti did hail the immediate input Milless and Bretzman are having on the overall program. The team’s best road course performance of the year came at the Sonoma season finale in September, and it appears strides are following from there.

“It’s been great. I’m so excited and bullish on next year,” Andretti said. “In our first test with them, we’ve seen big results. There’s a lot more to come. I truly feel we’ll be a lot more competitive.

“We think we’re onto some things. We were onto some things going into Sonoma… and that wasn’t by mistake. We had found some things. We had the sense of where we needed to go. Getting these two in there, backed up where we were going, so that was a positive. I feel good about it.”

Takuma Sato formally confirmed with Andretti Autosport

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 27: Takuma Sato of Japan, driver of the #14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara Honda sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix Of Houston at NRG Park on June 27, 2014 in Houston, Texas (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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Takuma Sato will join Andretti Autosport for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, and complete the team’s four-car full-season lineup.

The 39-year-old Japanese driver will begin his eighth season in IndyCar next year, in arguably his deepest opportunity yet driving the team’s No. 26 Honda.

“I am extremely excited that we were able to work out a deal with Michael and Andretti Autosport,” Sato said in a release. “With Honda an integral part of Andretti Autosport, it seemed like a great fit. The team has proven year after year that they are ultracompetitive on all types of circuits.

“Particularly the speed that team has shown in recent years at the Indy 500 were just incredible. I am also very impressed on how aggressively they have addressed their needs for 2017, and am really looking forward to working with my new environment and can’t wait to get started.”

Sato spent his first two seasons with the KVSH Racing team (then called KV Racing Technology), a year at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and the last four at A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Sato delivered Foyt its first win in more than a decade when he won at Long Beach, 2013, and also has scored five poles in his career. While he’s yet to finish better than 13th in points, Sato has long been one of the more enjoyable drivers to watch in the series for his aggressive, “no attack, no chance” style.

Sato joins the returning trio of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi within the team.

Team principal Michael Andretti said Sato’s results over his IndyCar career to date really haven’t done his talent, ability or development work justice.

“We’re excited to have Takuma; we think he’ll surprise and turn some heads,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “I think he’ll be in a situation that should help him a lot.

“With three good teammates, I think he is personally excited. This will be his best chance to get results since being in IndyCar.

“To me I really believe he’s one of the fastest guys in the paddock. When it comes to qualifying… it’ll help us in that area. It’ll be good in that feedback. I’m real happy with having him on board. He’s such a great kid, he won’t upset the chemistry. It’s a positive all the way around.”

Andretti also noted how key it was to have all four full-time entries confirmed this early in the offseason. The Rossi car with Andretti-Herta Autosport was only finalized in late February last year.

“I don’t think it’s ever been done since I’ve owned the team,” Andretti admitted. “Where we have all four cars this early, it helps us in terms of putting it together. It’s not a last-minute thing. That makes it a better effort.”

Garrett Mothershead, who worked with the departed Carlos Munoz at Andretti last year, will be Sato’s race engineer. Munoz now replaces Sato at Foyt next season.

Andretti said he expects to see commercial partnerships for Rossi and Sato’s cars announced in mid-January.