Webber springs surprise on Vettel to snatch pole position

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Mark Webber has taken pole position for tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after denying teammate Sebastian Vettel in the dying stages of qualifying at Yas Marina Circuit.

Webber’s fastest time of 1:39.957 was enough to see him finish one-tenth of a second ahead of Vettel as Mercedes failed to mount a serious challenge to Red Bull’s dominance in Abu Dhabi. However, the big shock of qualifying was Fernando Alonso’s failure to make it through to Q3 for the first time since the 2012 European Grand Prix as the Spaniard was forced to settle for eleventh place.

The start of Q1 saw the majority of the field immediately head out on the medium compound tire, but Red Bull chose to remain in the pits in favor of a single run on the quicker soft tire towards the end of the session. Jean-Eric Vergne posted the first serious time but he was soon beaten by both Mercedes drivers as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg looked to prove that they could challenge Red Bull on the medium tire. However, the world champions soon claimed the top two positions when they came out on the option tire, believing that only using the mediums was too great a risk. The rest of the field soon followed suit, and with the track at Abu Dhabi rapidly increasing in grip, it soon became a question of timing. Pastor Maldonado timed his final lap perfectly to finish fourth, whilst Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso both required late laps to get out of the dropzone and secure a place in Q2. Hamilton’s late effort saw him finish fastest of all, but Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil were less fortunate and were eliminated at the end of Q1. Giedo van der Garde proved himself to be the best of the backmarkers once again, whilst Jules Bianchi bounced back from his off in FP3 to qualify P20, but a gearbox change means that he will start from last place.

For Q2, the drivers opted to use the same tires that they had in the first session to begin with. Mercedes soon proved that they were capable of matching Red Bull by going first and second after the first set of runs ahead of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Felipe Massa also produced a good first lap to lie seventh, but his teammate could only sit P12 heading into the second runs where most fitted a fresh set of option tires. Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg all produced fine laps on their final runs to secure a place in Q3 whilst Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel all opted not to run again, having done enough. Mark Webber finished third ahead of his teammate whilst both Lotus drivers made it through. However, the big shock was Fernando Alonso’s elimination after the Spaniard could only finish the session in eleventh place, one-tenth behind teammate Felipe Massa who finished tenth, and was the only Ferrari driver in Q3 as a result.

Heading into the final session, it appeared to be a straight fight between Red Bull and Mercedes, but Sebastian Vettel quickly established his dominance by setting the fastest time in the first set of runs. He lapped the circuit three-tenths quicker than Nico Rosberg initially to give him provisional pole, but with a few minutes remaining there was still time for the German driver to be denied. Mark Webber produced a stunning lap to edge out his teammate as the checkered flag fell, and Vettel simply could not respond and was forced to settle for second place. Lewis Hamilton spun off at turn twelve on his final run, ending his faint hopes of pole position. Kimi Raikkonen could only finish fifth ahead of Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg and the Finn’s teammate, Romain Grosjean. Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten as all three drivers were forced to ease off following Hamilton’s spin.

Given that all of the signs had suggested that pole position was Vettel’s for the taking, Webber’s triumph on Saturday in qualifying will come as a pleasant surprise to many. Now the Australian driver will be focused on claiming his first win of the season as he enters the third to last race of his Formula One career before his retirement at the end of the year.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/