Vettel claims fourth consecutive win with dominant display in Korea

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Korean Grand Prix ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean following an excellent display of control at the front of the field, persevering in the face of two safety car periods that brought the pack closer together.

Vettel held the lead from the start and enjoyed a healthy lead from Romain Grosjean for the first half of the race only for the safety car to make his job far more difficult. As a result, Raikkonen was able to recover from a fight in the midfield to finish second ahead of his teammate whilst Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both spent most of the race staring at Nico Hulkenberg’s rear wing as the Sauber driver put in an incredible display to finish the race in fourth.

Off the start, Vettel made a good getaway to lead the field through the tight and twisty first two corners with Hamilton and Grosjean closely following. Fernando Alonso’s good start proved to be ineffective as he was boxed in by Rosberg and he was one of five drivers going side-by-side into turn three. Felipe Massa looked to re-gain some of the ground lost off the line, but his over-zealous move down the inside of his teammate saw him spin and force many drivers to take evasive action. Both Jenson Button and Adrian Sutil were forced to make an early stop for repairs, yet the incident did play into the hands of Grosjean who moved up to P2 ahead of both Mercedes and Pastor Maldonado also benefited, jumping from eighteenth to ninth. Mark Webber began a charge through the field after starting out of position, pulling off some great overtakes on Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo as he moved up into the points.

At the front, Vettel continued to lay down an impressive pace to enjoy a steady lead over Grosjean in second place. However, championship rival Alonso lost time stuck behind Nico Hulkenberg and was eventually passed by future teammate Kimi Raikkonen for sixth. Button’s times after his stop prompted the rest of the field to follow suit and pit with Hamilton closing on Grosjean, but some fine defensive driving meant that the Briton could not make it through. After pitting, Vettel found that his lead had shrunk to less than three seconds, requiring a fastest lap to re-establish the gap to Grosjean to stabilize the gap at around four seconds. Having passed Raikkonen in the first round of pit stops, Alonso once again found himself stuck behind Hulkenberg with the Finn also closing on the Sauber, whilst Mark Webber’s good pace meant that he was also a part of this train running from fifth to eighth.

Despite Pirelli believing that a two-stop race was possible, many drivers encountered problems with graining and general tire wear. In P3, Hamilton was losing as much as 2.5 seconds per lap to Vettel whilst Alonso and Webber were finally released following Hulkenberg’s pit stop. The Australian driver immediately pounced when he was given some free air, moving up to P5. Rosberg took advantage of his teammate’s tire woes to catch his teammate only to suffer from a front wing failure when passing Hamilton, forcing him to pit for a new nose cone. Having pitted earlier, Raikkonen undercut both Hulkenberg and Alonso and also found himself ahead of Hamilton when the Briton finally pitted.

Despite enjoying a healthy lead, Vettel’s dominance came under threat when the safety car was deployed to pick up debris on the straight between turn two and turn three after a tire failure on Sergio Perez’s McLaren. As a result, the field was bunched up, giving the likes of Raikkonen and Hamilton a second chance to catch Vettel at the front. Having run over some of the debris, Webber was forced to pit for the second time in three laps for fresh tires, dropping him out of the points.

Off the restart, Nico Hulkenberg made a great overtake on Hamilton for fourth but a mistake by Adrian Sutil saw him spin into Webber’s Red Bull, causing the Australian driver to pull over and retire from the race due to an engine fire. However, with the marshals failing to put the blaze out, the fire marshal’s Jeep was sent out ahead of the pack seemingly of its own accord, with the safety car being deployed slightly later and therefore coming out behind the pack. Eventually, the fire was put out but the FIA will undoubtedly be looking into the mix-up after the race in a rather embarrassing situation. Just before the incident, Kimi Raikkonen managed to pass his teammate for second place, setting his sights on Vettel at the front with the second safety car period allowing drivers to save their tires and plan to go to the end of the race.

On the restart, Alonso and Hamilton began to scrap over fifth place with the Mercedes driver defending his position valiantly to hang onto the position. Wary of Raikkonen in P2, Vettel immediately set a new fastest lap of the race and quickly set about creating a new gap. Further back, Maldonado, Gutierrez, Perez and Massa were fighting over P10 with some remarkable changes of position in the space of a few corners, with Massa eventually moving ahead as Maldonado lost four places in as many corners. Hamilton finally passed Hulkenberg for P4, only for the Sauber to take the position back in the second DRS zone as Alonso, Button and Rosberg also joined the battle as they looked to take advantage of any incidents.

In P3, Romain Grosjean was told to keep pushing in pursuit of Raikkonen thanks to his fresher tires with the Finn trailing Vettel by around four seconds with five laps to go. Ultimately, the German driver proved to be untouchable at the front of the field, controlling the race from start to finish. With Alonso down in P6, Vettel can now seal his fourth world championship at the Japanese Grand Prix next weekend should he win and the Spaniard retire.

Despite two safety cars, a Jeep leading the grand prix and concerns about tire wear, Vettel once again proved why he is a three-time world champion with a great display. He has now won four consecutive races in 2013 and looks set to clinch a fourth title within the next three weeks.

Jean Todt: Playing field in F1 should be ‘much closer’

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FIA president Jean Todt has called for a more level playing field between teams in Formula 1, saying that the gaps between the biggest spenders and the smaller operations are too big.

2017 has marked the start of a new technical era for F1, with the design of the new-style cars being a focus for many teams over the past two years.

The opening round of the year in Australia saw Ferrari and Mercedes battle for victory, with Red Bull running a comfortable third-fastest, with the rest of the pack struggling to catch up. Race winner Sebastian Vettel lapped all but five cars.

Speaking to reporters in Australia, Todt expressed his concerns over the gap between F1’s ‘big three’ and the rest of the field, putting it down to the vastly different budgets.

“Ferrari did a good step forward with new regulations, it’s quite impressive. Mercedes is still very strong, there was a lot of speculation about the second driver, but for me there has never been a doubt that he [Bottas] would be very competitive,” Todt said, as quoted by crash.net.

“Red Bull seem to be a bit behind, and honestly I’m a bit concerned that between first and seventh or eighth, it is about two seconds. Still the gap is too big.

“We will really dream of having the 10 first cars within seven or eight tenths, and at the moment it is not yet happening.

“You have a lot of reasons for that, but clearly it is too big a discrepancy between the small budgets and bigger budgets, and the playing field should be much closer.”

F1 drivers relishing Silverstone, Suzuka races in new-style cars

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Formula 1 drivers Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are all relishing the challenge of high-speed tracks such as Silverstone and Suzuka after enjoying their first races in the new-style 2017 cars last weekend.

This season has seen the introduction of revised cars under the new technical regulations that are capable of lapping multiple seconds per lap faster than their predecessors, aided by greater downforce and wider tires.

The new cars raced together for the first time last Sunday in Australia, with the pace difference around the tight confines of the Albert Park street course still notable.

All of the drivers have been impressed by what the new cars are capable of, finding them more fun and rewarding to drive, but it is when F1 hits the classic, high-speed tracks on the calendar that they will really come into their own.

When asked what track they were most looking forward to racing on this year, the top three finishers in Australia gave similar answers.

“Probably Silverstone. I think with that amount of grip and downforce,” Vettel said.

“Probably Suzuka as well later on in the year. Also I guess the cars will be even faster from what they are now.

“So, yeah, I think that would be quite nice. I’m looking forward to that.”

Hamilton added: “Yes, Silverstone, I agree” before Mercedes teammate Bottas echoed his peers’ thoughts.

“I think all the quick ones: Spa; Suzuka; Silverstone will be nice,” Bottas said.

“But I think even street circuits will be a bit more challenging I think – not that it wasn’t challenging before, but with these cars it will be nice.”

One of the biggest changes for 2017 has been the extra physicality of the cars, but Hamilton said he felt no major issues following the race in Australia.

“It was more physical but it was no problem for me and doesn’t look like it was for these guys either,” he said.

Vettel added: “It’s not the most physical circuit in the year. I think later on it will be very interesting. Here is very technical. So, first couple of laps, at least for me, were very intense.

“Obviously it’s easy to have an error, get something wrong under braking, go a bit wide etc. Later on I had a bit of a gap and I could control it, and therefore it was a bit easier.”

Chinese Grand Prix kicks off heavy April F1 stretch on NBCSN

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After an interesting kickoff to the 2017 Formula 1 season on NBCSN with the Australian Grand Prix last week, in just over a week the series will be back in action with the second round of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix from the Shanghai International Circuit. It’s the first of three F1 races in April with the Bahrain and Russian Grands Prix occurring later in the month.

Last year saw Nico Rosberg win in Shanghai over Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat, the last two having had a coming together at the start of the race before Vettel, now of Ferrari, beat his successor at Red Bull, Kvyat. Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, only finished seventh after starting 22nd and last, missing qualifying with a mechanical issue.

Vettel enters China on the heels of his victory in Melbourne, but not having won in Shanghai since 2009, when he won for Red Bull for the first time. Mercedes has won the last three Chinese Grands Prix, Rosberg winning last year while Hamilton won in 2014 and 2015. Ferrari last won here in 2013, with Fernando Alonso.

Will Vettel continue with a second straight win to open the season, or will Mercedes reassume its place up top and continue its win streak in Shanghai? Can Red Bull reassert itself and who in the midfield will emerge?

All sessions will be live streamed on NBC Sports or via the NBC Sports App. FP2, qualifying and the race also will air on NBCSN. Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock. As in Melbourne, qualifying and race run during the late hours of the evening on the East Coast, and a bit earlier for those on the West Coast.

Here’s the schedule with where to watch on TV on digital platforms.

  • Practice 1: Thursday, April 6, 10 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (digital only)
  • Practice 2: Friday, April 7, 2 a.m.-3:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, April 8, 12 a.m.-1 a.m. ET (digital only)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, April 8, 3 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, April 9, 1 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Bahrain Grand Prix, on April 16.

United Fiber & Data back, again, for Marco Andretti’s car

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The continued relationship between United Fiber & Data and Andretti Autosport rolls into 2017, although not in the way that was probably planned for either party.

UFD, which served as a major associate sponsor in 2013, primary sponsor for James Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 car in 2014 and a co-primary sponsor for Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz last year, has now been confirmed for “select races” taking over as primary sponsor of Andretti’s No. 27 Honda this year, starting with next week’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This decision comes in the wake of hhgregg’s ongoing business situation, where per media reports (one from USA Today here as a recent example) the electronics retailer plans to close a number of stores and was close to filing for bankruptcy.

“We are strategically exiting markets and stores that are not financially profitable for us,” hhgregg CEO Robert Riesbeck said in a statement in early March, via USA Today. “This is a proactive decision to streamline our store footprint in the markets where we have been, and will continue to be, important to our customers, vendor partners and communities.”

The sponsor had been announced as a multi-year, co-primary sponsor in August. A release from the Andretti Autosport team today didn’t confirm hhgregg’s exit from the team, nor did it state how many races UFD plans to be the primary sponsor. However, it would probably be a surprise to see hhgregg return later this year.

In the release, the team stated: “The rebranding comes as a result of the current issues being faced by hhgregg, leading Andretti Autosport to the decision of transitioning the branding on the No. 27 Indy car piloted by Marco Andretti.”

“We’d like to wish Bob (Riesbeck) and the entire hhgregg family luck as they work through the current situation,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “We are blessed to have such loyal and dedicated partners; and while this is an unfortunate situation for hhgregg, we are pleased to have such a strong relationship remaining with United Fiber & Data.”

“We are proud of our longstanding partnership with Andretti Autosport, and we are equally pleased to continue this partnership by serving as a primary sponsor for select IndyCar races this season,” added Bill Hynes, Founder & CEO of United Fiber & Data (UFD). “We look forward to once again bringing the signature colors of the UFD livery to IndyCar tracks across the country.”