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Vettel able to clinch world championship in Japan


After winning the Korean Grand Prix today, Sebastian Vettel has given himself the chance to clinch his fourth world title at next weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

Vettel dominated proceedings in Korea despite two safety car periods bunching the field and giving Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean a chance of catching the Red Bull. Crucially for Vettel, his success coincided with Fernando Alonso’s worst result since the Monaco Grand Prix back in May as the Ferrari driver could only finish sixth.

As a result, Vettel’s lead in the drivers’ championship has been extended to 77 points with just 125 left to play for. Therefore, for the championship to be decided at Suzuka:

  • Vettel must win the Japanese Grand Prix to stand any chance of clinching his fourth title at Suzuka.
  • Alonso must finish no higher than ninth.

This would see Vettel’s lead break the 100 point mark and give him a fourth championship, joining an exclusive club of drivers with four or more titles that currently has just three members: Alain Prost (4), Juan Manuel Fangio (5) and Michael Schumacher (7).

Should Alonso finish higher than ninth, the championship race will continue to India (the race that we have predicted Vettel will be crowned champion). However, it is becoming more and more of an inevitability that the German driver will once again be celebrating come the end of the season and he will proudly wear the number ‘1’ on his car as Formula One enters a new era in 2014 with the introduction of new engines and new regulations.

WATCH LIVE: USGP FP1 at 11 a.m., FP2 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 20:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks into the paddock with his dog, Coco, during previews ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – Free practice kicks off today for the United States Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas in Austin, and you can see both sessions LIVE on NBCSN and streamed via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App (for participating providers).

First practice runs from 11 a.m. ET to 12:30 p.m. ET, leading into the premiere of Off the Grid: Austria at 12:30 p.m.

Then second practice runs from 3 to 4:30 p.m. ET.

Austin is on CT, so local times are 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 3:30 p.m., respectively.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are in the commentary booth with Will Buxton patrolling the pits and paddock for today’s coverage.

Again, that’s 11 a.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN for LIVE coverage of free practice from Austin.

Full times and details for the weekend are linked here.

Hulkenberg: Renault move ‘the right step in my career’

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 20: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India walks in the Paddock during previews ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Hulkenberg believes that his move to Renault for the 2017 Formula 1 season is the “right step” for his career after deciding to leave Force India.

Hulkenberg had been set to remain with Force India next season, but Renault announced last week that it had signed the German driver for 2017 after agreeing a deal to release him from his contract.

Speaking in Thursday’s FIA press conference ahead of the United States Grand Prix, 2015 Le Mans winner Hulkenberg said he is looking forward to taking on a new challenge.

“I believe that it’s the right step in my career at this point,” Hulkenberg said.

“I feel I have come a long way with Force India – it’s my fifth year with them. We’ve had some good success together. But I felt that it’s time for a new challenge.

“Since I’m in F1 I’ve always wanted to race for a manufacturer team and this is a really good opportunity. The timing was pretty good too. So I think it was a good decision I think from my side.”

Renault has struggled during its first season back in F1 as a constructor after six years away, scoring just eight points to sit third-from-bottom of the teams’ standings.

However, Hulkenberg is confident that, given time, Renault’s might as a manufacturer can help him score his first podium finish in F1 and his first victory.

“I think them being a manufacturer, they are under some expectations to eventually be successful and be at the front and compete for wins and that’s obviously what I’m looking for,” Hulkenberg said.

“We know at the moment there is still a long journey ahead of them, to climb back to the top because it’s been a difficult year and where they’ve come from.

“When they bought Lotus last year was not the easiest situation.so it will take time to rebuild the team and to get back to the top but obviously what I see there is a good future, definitely a big challenge, a massive challenge.

“But I’m very much up for that – and why not build a new success story with them?”

Perez: Open Force India seat is ‘best available out there’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India and Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India celebrate participating in 100 Grand Prix during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN – Sergio Perez holds one of two seats at Sahara Force India for 2017, which seemed unfathomable to write about a month ago, but is now the actuality after Nico Hulkenberg – instead – has departed for the Renault Sport F1 Team.

Perez addressed his own Renault rumors before explaining why he has re-signed with Force India.

“It was more to do with the fact that I believe in my team, I see the best future for me here,” he told assembled reporters on Thursday. “That’s why I took the decision to stay for another year.”

The Mexican driver now said that the vacant seat alongside him at the Mercedes-powered team is the “best available” one left for 2017, as the grid comes together for next season.

“I think many drivers wanted the seat at Force India because at the moment I think it is the best available seat out there,” Perez said.

“So there should be a lot of interest in that seat. I just hope that the team – and it’s down to the team totally to take the best possible decision.”

Perez, who’s been matched alongside Kamui Kobayashi at Sauber, Jenson Button at McLaren and Nico Hulkenberg at Force India, now could well assume team leader role in 2017 for what would be the first time in his career.

It seems a good possibility that a young gun such as one of the two Manor drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon, couldscore the Force India second seat.

Perez was quick to hail Hulkenberg as the best teammate he’s had, and downplayed suggestions he was overly keen to become the team leader.

“I think definitely Nico was the strongest teammate I’ve had up to date in F1,” Perez said.

“I think the relationship between myself and Nico was good, but not only that, I think our level on track was really closely-matched. Every single practice,” he said.

“And that meant a lot to the team because we pushed the team forward and that’s to the benefit of the team, to have two teammates that are so closely matched together. I always knew that if I didn’t get the perfect lap in quali, he would beat me, and vice-versa, and also in the race, race after race. That just helps the team because through our seasons we had bad cars and good cars, but it was always important to make sure that we took the maximum out of each car.

“I think whoever comes, it’s up to the team. I am sure that the team will take the best decision. We’re obviously looking for the best possible teammate that I can have.

“I just hope that whoever comes comes here with the right attitude and obviously a quick driver, a good attitude to work together for the team and work together to improve the car. That will be important. That makes a huge difference.

“If you have a driver that is too far off the pace and you see it sometimes in a couple of teams, you just don’t take the most out of the car because you know that if you don’t have a good lap you can still beat your teammate. I think for me it’s important to have the fastest possible teammate.”

From Capgate to champion-in-waiting: Back at COTA, what’s changed for Nico Rosberg?

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09:  (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP gets ready on the grid before the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Last year’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas offered one of the weirder weekends in Formula 1’s recent history.

After torrential rain washed out much of Friday and Saturday, the race that followed on Sunday was a classic, with Lewis Hamilton emerging victorious ahead of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg had been leading the race with 10 laps to go, only for a mistake in the final sector – allegedly the result of a gust of wind – to send him wide and allow Hamilton past.

It proved a decisive change of position. With victory, Hamilton was able to move into an unassailable lead in the drivers’ championship, sparking jubilant celebrations from the Briton in the pit lane having clinched a third world title.

Before heading out on the podium, Hamilton and Rosberg found themselves together in the cool-down room where they prepared for the ceremony. Rosberg sat in a white armchair, contemplating his title defeat, when Hamilton tossed him his second place finisher cap that had to be worn on the podium. Rosberg threw it straight back.

And so ‘Capgate’ was born.

The race and resulting ‘incident’ acted as an apt microcosm of the 2015 season and the championship battle between Hamilton and Rosberg. Hamilton had simply been one step ahead throughout the season, while Rosberg had been error-prone when the pressure mounted. COTA was the strongest example of that.

Twelve months later, things are very, very different. Rosberg arrives in Austin not as a championship outsider, but as the favorite: 33 points ahead of Hamilton, nine wins under his belt – this is not the same Nico Rosberg that wilted in the wind in Austin last year.

The foundations for Rosberg’s title bid were laid towards the back-end of last year. After seeing Hamilton wrap up the title at COTA, Rosberg went on a neat run of three straight victories in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi to close out the season. While they were meaningless in terms of the championship, they acted as a prelude to 2016.

Hamilton was off the boil in the final races, certainly. He was enjoying his championship success and celebrity profile, which – while not wrecking his on-track form – meant he didn’t quite have the edge to match Rosberg.

Questions concerning Hamilton’s focus have been rife throughout his career, given his off-track interests. For the most part, they are misplaced. He has repeatedly proven he can prevail over his rivals while still enjoying his life away from F1.

But the debacle surrounding his Snapchat shenanigans over the Japanese Grand Prix and the hype surrounding it had the feeling of something slightly different. It was a fire that Hamilton didn’t need to be fighting or concerning himself with; yet he did. It was the big talking point of the weekend. Rosberg just kept his head down and took a clinical, classy victory at Suzuka.

Suzuka, Singapore, Monza and Baku are the races that Hamilton will look back on and say ‘that’s where the championship was lost’. He has suffered more than his fair share of misfortune this year, but the swing to Rosberg has not been wholly the result of those setbacks. Rosberg would be a deserving champion.

Perhaps the biggest change for Rosberg in 2016 is that he no longer appears to dwell on issues or battles that may have been ‘slow burners’ last year. The collapse of his title bid in 2014 stemmed from Hamilton’s antics in Hungary that year, while even as early as China in 2015, he looked to be bowing to the pressure of his teammate.

This year, Rosberg has remained cool, calculated, and icy – his Finnish heritage shining through. Even after his clash with Hamilton in Austria and his miserable displays in Monaco and Germany, Rosberg brushed it off and moved on. His focus has always been on a race-by-race basis, preventing him from stewing over poor performances or on-track incidents.

It has, however, resulted in a somewhat repetitive rhetoric. At each race, Rosberg has re-affirmed that he is not thinking about the championship; that he is taking things one race at a time; that he’s 100% focused on winning (what else would he be doing!?).

Rosberg was asked on Thursday in Austin what he was thinking about, if not the championship.

“An awesome race weekend in Austin GP… all I’m thinking about is Austin GP weekend,” he asserted.

It’s a mundane answer. Observers want to see Rosberg showing more heart, particularly at a point when the championship is well and truly in his hands. Four second-place finishes will be enough to win a maiden F1 crown. As Marc Marquez has proven this year in MotoGP, sometimes settling for second is a very effective tactic – it is one that Rosberg may want to be thinking about.

Alas, when your teammate is Lewis Hamilton, perhaps the blinkered, race-by-race approach is the best way to do things. Shut out negativity. Don’t dwell on the past. Only look forward.

Rosberg might be world champion in just nine days’ time in Mexico. He can wrap up the title with two races to spare if he pulls out another 17 points on Hamilton in the meantime. Should he win the championship, it would not be a ‘skin of his teeth’ success such as that of his father, Keke, who took the 1982 title with just one victory to his name. It would be a convincing title win.

Rosberg’s approach may lack the spark or heart of Hamilton’s title bids, and it may not be very Hollywood – but it is effective. Entrenching himself in this mindset has proven very useful indeed over the past 12 months. Time will tell whether he is rewarded with a world title in 2016.

And maybe then we’ll see the release of emotion from Rosberg that is craved of our champions.