Vettel wins Indian GP and becomes four-time world champion

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Sebastian Vettel has won his fourth consecutive Formula One world championship in India today after taking a dominant victory at Buddh International Circuit, perfecting his strategy and laying down an impressive pace to maintain his record as the only winner of the Indian Grand Prix.

Whilst championship rival Fernando Alonso endured a luckless race, the German driver dominated to secure the title in style, becoming just the fourth driver in the history of the sport to win four world championships. The strategic ‘threat’ failed to concern Vettel with Mark Webber’s poor luck returning in the form of a gearbox problem that forced him to retire from the race, whilst the battle for second place was eventually won by Nico Rosberg who followed Vettel’s strategy.

The start saw Vettel pull away with his regular confidence and authority, but teammate Mark Webber was less fortunate has he dropped back a couple of places off the line. However, heading through turn two, the Australian driver was forced wide by Kimi Raikkonen, causing Fernando Alonso to run into the back of the Red Bull. However, Felipe Massa led Ferrari’s charge by leapfrogging both Mercedes drivers heading into turn three, and the Brazilian assumed the lead of the race when Vettel pitted on lap two. He was joined in the pits by Alonso who required a new front wing, and the stop dropped him down to P20 and forced Ferrari to change the Spaniard’s strategy, appearing to end his faint hopes of taking the title race to Abu Dhabi. The drivers tried to make their tires last as long as possible, with Vettel’s early stop being juxtaposed by race leader Massa who did not stop until lap nine. When he emerged from the pits, he was just a couple of seconds behind Vettel, putting himself in a position to challenge the German driver.

Webber’s decision to start on the medium tire meant that he took the lead of the race from Massa when the Ferrari driver stopped, and he began to set some impressive times as he looked to beat his teammate who was quickly making his way through the field. On fresh mediums though, Vettel was flying, posting fastest lap after fastest lap to cut the gap to Webber. Massa’s hopes of challenging him took a hit when he got stuck behind Esteban Gutierrez, but the Mexican driver soon dropped down the order thanks to a drive-through penalty due to a jump start. He came out ahead of Alonso and the two drivers became embroiled in a battle for thirteenth, with Alonso struggling to find a way past thanks to the straight line speed of the Sauber. However, he eventually made the move stick heading into turn five.

Due to the lack of degradation on the medium tires, the drivers who started on the white-ringed compound were able to go deep into the race and match the pace of the drivers who had already stopped. When Webber and third-placed Sergio Perez did stop, they took on the soft tire to try and make up time quickly and the Australian’s lap times immediately reflected this as he looked to bridge the gap to new leader Vettel. The German driver pitted for the final time to give Webber the lead, but the Australian came in just one lap later. As a result, Webber fell 12.5 seconds behind Vettel with both drivers having made their final stop, giving the team’s lead driver a huge advantage.

Red Bull’s perfect race came to a shattering end on lap forty though when a loss of hydraulic pressure forced Webber to pull over and retire from the race. As a result, the battle for second became a close-run thing between Raikkonen, Rosberg, Grosjean, Massa and Hamilton with the two Lotus drivers both one alternative strategies. Hamilton began to hound Massa as Rosberg pulled away from the pair in pursuit of second-placed Raikkonen. Lotus ignored Pirelli’s advice and opted to one-stop their drivers, but the Finn found himself defenceless when Rosberg made his move for second place. Despite starting down in seventeenth place, Romain Grosjean was able to one-stop and make his tires last, forcing Raikkonen to eventually yield to both him and Massa. The Finn soon fell into the clutches of Hamilton and Perez, but the Mexican driver managed to pull off an opportunistic move to pass both drivers and move up into fifth place. Lotus opted to pit their ailing driver to salvage some points, but Grosjean continued to plough ahead in third place.

At the head of the field though, there was no doubt about who the star was: Sebastian Vettel crossed the line almost thirty seconds ahead of Rosberg to win his fourth consecutive world championship and secure Red Bull the constructors’ title. Over the radio, team principal Christian Horner summed it up: “You’ve done it in style, you’ve become a four time world champion. You’ve joined the greats.” Having surpassed the likes of Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda for championship victories, there is no doubt that he has earned to right to be called a great, and Vettel celebrated by performing donuts on the start-finish straight in front of a baying crowd before taking to the top step of the podium for the tenth time this year.

Sauber’s Wehrlein rules himself out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan: