AUTO-PRIX-IND-F1

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.

Verstappen leads Red Bull one-two in second Belgian GP practice

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen headed up a Red Bull one-two in the second Formula 1 practice session for the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday afternoon at Spa-Francorchamps.

After seeing Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton lead for Mercedes in FP1, Red Bull bounced back in the second session with Verstappen setting a fastest lap of 1:48.085.

Verstappen finished three-tenths of a second clear of teammate Daniel Ricciardo at the top of the timesheets, giving the army of Dutch fans that had made the trip to Spa plenty to smile about.

Mercedes opted to alter its usual FP2 running plan by getting both Rosberg and Hamilton to focus on their long-run pace ahead of Sunday’s race instead of chasing optimum lap time.

Rosberg finished the session sixth-fastest as the leading W07 Hybrid driver, with Hamilton down in P13. The Briton also has a 30-place grid penalty hanging over him for the race.

Nico Hulkenberg continued Force India’s impressive start to the weekend by finishing third-fastest for Force India, with teammate Sergio Perez following half a second behind in P5. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel split the pair in fourth, while Kimi Raikkonen was seventh in the second SF16-H.

Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both finished inside the top 10 in FP2, ending up P8 and P10 respectively at the checkered flag. Jenson Button was ninth for McLaren.

The session was without major incident bar one short Virtual Safety Car period following a stoppage for Renault’s Jolyon Palmer. Palmer was able to get his car back going again while sat in the run-off area and returned to the pits.

The on-track action at Spa resumes on Saturday with FP3, live on the NBC Sports app and on desktop from 5am ET.

Hamilton gets another fresh power unit, up to 30-place grid penalty for Spa

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton has taken another fresh power unit ahead of the second Formula 1 practice session in Belgium on Friday, causing his grid penalty to rise to 30 places.

Hamilton confirmed on Thursday that he would be taking a grid penalty at Spa for exceeding the number of permitted engine components for the season.

The F1 drivers’ championship leader was forced to make unplanned changes earlier in the year due to issues on his power unit, making a grid drop inevitable later in the season.

Mercedes confirmed on Friday morning that Hamilton had taken a fresh power unit for first practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, before taking the decision to take another new one for FP2 in the afternoon.

Hamilton has now taken seven MGU-Hs and seven turbochargers on his power unit, as well as five MGU-Ks and internal combustion engines (ICE). Drivers are allowed to use five of each component across the course of the season.

Hamilton will receive a 10-place grid penalty for the first ‘seventh’ component and five for the second, meaning the fresh power unit costs him 15 places on the grid. Combined with the penalty taken this morning, his grid drop for the Belgian Grand Prix is now up to 30 positions.

Hamilton takes initial 15-place grid drop at Spa

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton has taken an initial 15-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Formula 1 race in Belgium after exceeding the number of permitted power unit components for the season.

Issues in the early races of 2016 meant a grid drop was inevitable for Hamilton later in the year, given that drivers are limited to using five of each power unit component across the course of the season.

Hamilton confirmed on Thursday that he would be taking his grid drop in Spa in the hope that further penalties could be avoided later in the season.

Mercedes announced during first practice on Friday that both Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg had taken fresh power units for the race weekend.

“Fresh power units this morning for both Lewis and Nico,” a team spokesperson confirmed. “For Lewis this comprises ICE 4, MGU-K 4, MGU-H 6 and TC 6. This incurs a 15-place grid penalty.

“For Nico, it is his fourth of all those items.”

It is feasible that Mercedes will take additional new components for Hamilton before the race on Sunday, meaning his 15-place grid drop may grow.

However, both Marcus Ericsson (10 places) and Fernando Alonso (35) are also set to take grid drops after also exceeding the five component limit, meaning Hamilton may not start last.

Nevertheless, the advantage does lie firmly with title rival Rosberg heading into the race weekend as the German looks to cut the 19-point gap to his teammate.

Rosberg quickest in Belgium FP1 as Halo gets further tests

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo fitted with the halo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg marked Formula 1’s return from its summer break by topping the opening practice session for the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday morning.

Rosberg spent the first part of the session testing the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection device, which is going through further evaluation ahead of a possible introduction for 2018.

The Halo has previously been used only on one-lap runs, but Rosberg completed an extended stretch to aid in giving feedback. Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo also lapped using the Halo in the early part of the session.

With the Halo fitted and super-soft tires on the car, Rosberg recorded a fastest lap time of 1:48.348 during the 90-minute session to finish three-quarters of a second clear at the top of the timesheets, heading up a Mercedes one-two.

Lewis Hamilton finished second in the sister W07 Hybrid, but is already on the back foot after Mercedes confirmed that he will take a 15-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Kimi Raikkonen was the best of the rest for Ferrari, finishing third ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez. Sebastian Vettel was fifth in the second Ferrari ahead of the Red Bull duo of Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who is set to enjoy a sizeable amount of support this weekend thanks to the large number of fans making the trip from his native Netherlands to Belgium.

Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth in the second Force India ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, while Esteban Gutierrez made a strong start to the weekend to finish P10.