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.

Penske: No room for Patrick in Indy 500 lineup. Ganassi? OK

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Roger Penske has no room in his Indianapolis 500 lineup for Danica Patrick.

“The Captain” has a hunch where Patrick’s Indy comeback will take her in May – with Chip Ganassi.

“I sent him a note and said, `Congratulations. Danica better be driving your car at Indy because unfortunately she’s not driving for us,”‘ Penske said, laughing.

The 35-year-old Patrick said this week she will race only in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 next year and then she will walk away from racing. Patrick is the only woman to have led laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Patrick ran the Indy 500 from 2005 through 2011. Her highest finish was third in 2009, and she was the first woman to lead laps in the race when she paced the field for 19 trips around the Brickyard as a rookie.

Penske has a full field for Indy with Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden racing as fulltime entries and three-time winner Helio Castroneves returns on a one-shot deal to try and win a fourth.

Chip Ganassi Racing is the likely ride at Indy. Ganassi has room to field additional cars – he’s scaling down from four full-time cars to two next year – and would give Patrick a car capable of winning. Ganassi said Friday he has met with Patrick and called her “Danica Double” a great idea.

Penske said Patrick and Ganassi, who has Ed Jones and IndyCar great Scott Dixon in his lineup, would be a perfect pair.

“I think that’s a great seat for her,” Penske said Saturday. “That’s a great team. They’re the ones that’s always been competitive there. I take my hat off that she wants to continue to go back to open wheel. That’s going to be terrific for the sport and there’s going to be a lot of interest around the country.”

Patrick was highly marketable early in her career even though wins were rare. She won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013, but finished 24th in the standings the last two seasons. She won her only IndyCar race in 2008, in Japan. Patrick never scored a top-five finish in NASCAR and had only seven top 10s (though she led laps at the Daytona 500) in 189 career starts.

Penske, a 16-time winner as a car owner of the Indy 500, said Patrick would return to IndyCar a better driver.

“I think she’s going to come back to IndyCar a lot tougher having run in NASCAR,” he said. “I think she’s going to be someone that, in a good car, is going to pick it up. She’s got plenty of time to practice.”

Team Penske won the owner championship Saturday in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. Sam Hornish Jr., who won three IndyCar titles and the 2006 Indy 500, said the sport would welcome back Patrick.

“She’s probably going to have a better shot at Indy because of what she’s done the last five years,” Hornish said.

Patrick has not revealed the team she’ll race for but surely a package deal with the same team and same sponsor for the biggest races in motorsports would make her again racing’s most marketable driver.

“I think it’s a great way for her to say, hey, I’m here, I’ve done it, I’m going to go back to the two biggest races and see if I can’t get out on top,” Penske said.

Penske can win a NASCAR championship with Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup race.

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