F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi - Race

Vettel produces champion’s drive to claim seventh straight win

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Sebastian Vettel has secured his seventh straight victory after winning today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a scintillating performance that saw him finish over thirty seconds ahead of teammate Mark Webber.

Webber had started on pole position but made a poor start to allow his teammate into a lead that he never relinquished. Nico Rosberg had been running in second place before losing out to the Australian driver, but he managed to bring his Mercedes home in third ahead of Romain Grosjean as the battle for the runner-up spot in the constructors’ championship hots up.

Off the start, Webber failed to make the most of pole position once again as Vettel moved up the inside at turn one to move into the lead. Nico Rosberg followed his compatriot past Webber who soon found himself fending off a fast-starting Romain Grosjean. Lewis Hamilton dropped behind Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg before recovering the position, but Kimi Raikkonen’s race lasted just one corner. The Finn, starting from last place after being excluded from qualifying, made contact with one of the Caterham drivers and was forced him to pull over and retire. Fernando Alonso made up two positions off the line to lie behind his teammate whilst Pastor Maldonado found himself on the outskirts of the top ten before an early pit stop on lap five.

Chasing a seventh straight win, Vettel soon set about doing what he does best: fastest laps. By lap seven, the German driver was already six seconds ahead of second-placed Rosberg, and the outlook was bleak for his challengers. Pole-sitter Mark Webber found himself being hounded by Romain Grosjean for third place, and this was taken to the pits where Red Bull proved why they hold the record time for a pit stop to keep the Australian driver ahead. He made light work of Esteban Gutierrez, but Grosjean could not follow suit and had lost three seconds to Webber by the time he passed the Sauber. At the front, Vettel made his soft tires last longer than his rivals, and his fellow long-runners – notably the two Ferraris – managed to sustain a pace on par with the fresh medium runners. The German driver eventually stopped on lap fourteen for fresh tires, coming back out in the lead.

Romain Grosjean’s pursuit of Webber was hindered when he got stuck behind Adrian Sutil, needing two attempts to make a move on the Force India stick. Lewis Hamilton had a similar problem with Esteban Gutierrez. The superior straight line speed of the Sauber meant that Hamilton could not find a way past, allowing Hulkenberg to close on the Briton. However, Hamilton was given some respite when Felipe Massa came out ahead of the German driver after his first pit stop. Paul di Resta was the last of the soft runners to stop, and the Scot rose to as high as P2 ahead of Rosberg as a result. The Mercedes driver could not find a way past, allowing Webber to close and eventually pass to move up into second place when di Resta pitted on the same lap.

Hamilton was given the call to push in order to create a gap to the Massa as Ferrari looked to bring themselves into play. He soon found himself stuck behind Sutil in fifth place, allowing the Brazilian to close along with Hulkenberg and Alonso. Hamilton managed to edge ahead of the Force India heading down to turn nine, but Sutil responded and found himself side-by-side with the Mercedes. This allowed Felipe Massa to pull off a brilliant overtake on Hamilton and easily pass Sutil one lap later. By the time Hamilton eventually passed him, the Brazilian driver was almost three seconds down the road and looking set for a good haul of points. The Briton soon made his second stop in an attempt to exercise the undercut on his rivals, but Hulkenberg was no longer a concern after the German driver received a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release in the pits.

Despite enjoying a three second lead over his teammate at one point, Felipe Massa soon found himself under pressure from Fernando Alonso for fifth place. However, a slow stop for the Brazilian allowed Hamilton to come back out ahead of the Ferrari as Alonso went deeper in the race to try and also pass his teammate, and he managed to do so when he came out with nine laps remaining. However, with Jean-Eric Vergne ahead, the Spaniard had to take a very bumpy route across the kerbing to get ahead of the Toro Rosso, warranting an investigation from the stewards after the race.

Meanwhile, Vettel’s lead grew to over forty seconds ahead of his second stop, prompting his engineer to keep reminding him to save his tires for fear of a mechanical failure. However, he remained a class apart at the head of the field as Webber, Rosberg and Grosjean settled into their positions behind the four-time world champion.

Paul di Resta was one of the few drivers to eventually risk a one-stop strategy, but it worked well for him as he found himself in fifth place with five laps remaining. However, he soon came under pressure from Hamilton and Alonso. The Spaniard made light work of the Mercedes before passing di Resta one lap later. However, Hamilton could not follow suit, and was forced to settle for seventh place in the end.

At the front though, there was no stopping Sebastian Vettel. He crossed the line over thirty seconds ahead of the rest of the field, and even had the nerve to perform some more donuts for the fans after taking the checkered flag.

Exclusive: Austin Coil returns to ‘help’ John Force in 2016

Austin Coil is coming back to 'help out' at John Force Racing in 2016.
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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The man most responsible for John Force’s career success – other than Force himself – is coming back to John Force Racing.

Force exclusively confirmed to NBCSports.com that former crew chief Austin Coil is coming out of retirement and returning to the JFR fold for 2016.

“Coil said to me, ‘You’ve managed to screw this up, but I can help you’,” Force said with a laugh during a phone interview from NHRA preseason testing in Phoenix. “He’s helping me, to help the people with me, to look at the things we need to get this thing right.”

First joining forces in 1986, Force and Coil went on to become the winningest driver-crew chief combination in NHRA history, earning 15 Funny Car championships and 132 national event wins together.

Coil abruptly retired one day after leading Force to his 15th NHRA Funny Car championship in 2010.

Since the breakup, Force has won just one additional Funny Car championship (2013) and 11 national event victories. The veteran driver is coming off an especially tough 2015 season, one he calls “my worst season in 25 years,” finishing seventh in the standings and recording just two wins (Las Vegas 1 and Epping, New Hampshire).

And even though Force is now 66 and Coil is 70, they believe they can regain some of their old magic together. Force has also brought back former tech whiz Ron Armstrong into the JFR fold.

“We’re putting the old band back together,” Force said with a laugh.

As for what Coil’s role will be exactly, Force was quick to point out Coil will not return to his old crew chief role, nor will he be considered a “consultant” or “advisor.”

Rather, Coil simply wants to be “help out,” Force said.

“Coil, I want to be clear, is not going to come out here on the road, he doesn’t want to do that,” Force said. “But he’s helping us with stuff.”

Coil will not have an office at JFR and will work at his own pace, Force said. But given that Coil called the shots for 24 years before, Force is more than happy to let his old buddy “help out” in any way he sees fit.

“I’m really excited to have him on board,” Force said. “Just talking to Coil, for me, we’ve only had three or four lunches together, but just talking helps get my heart back right. He made me who I am and I’m never going to forget that.

“I asked Coil what did I do wrong? He said, ‘You’ve been on overload. You had good people and you lost some. What you have to do is get back on track.

“He told me to split the team in half, start building the dragster side (with 11-time Top Fuel champion Alan Johnson overseeing the team with Force’s daughter, Brittany, behind the wheel), and on the other side, build the Funny Car side, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Coil had resisted prior efforts to return to the JFR fold. But when Force came calling over the winter, Coil apparently had a change of heart.

“Over the winter, Robert (JFR president and Force’s son-in-law Robert Hight) and I got together (with Coil) and said, ‘Let’s talk about things,’” Force said. “We knew there were issues. He quit, he walked away, he said he just didn’t want to do this anymore. I thought he might be going to Schumacher (arch-rival Don Schumacher Racing), but that’s not where he went.

“He said, ‘I’ve done my thing, I’ve won’ and we really were best of friends. He said to my face, ‘I love you, Force, I always have. But I’m in a different mode in my life of what I want to do. I’m in retirement, I can’t run to the airports like I used to.’

“He’s the one that put me here 25 years ago. Thirty years ago, we started building it. People give me the credit for it, but no, it’s the people I put around me like Coil, Armstrong, Mike Neff (crew chief for Hight and director of operations for JFR) and with AJ (Alan Johnson) coming in here and Brian Husen (as Brittany Force’s crew chief).”

With Johnson now running the Top Fuel side of JFR, and with Coil’s return, Force is very optimistic about his four-car organization’s chances in 2016.

“I always listen to Austin Coil,” Force said. “He says let Alan Johnson run that dragster, he’ll put your kid in the winner’s circle, and let Mike Neff run that Funny Car. He’s won championships for you and he’s going to build those Funny Car teams to where they need to be.

“So, I’m excited about it. We’re going to be okay. We’re going racing now.”

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Bird: Buenos Aires Formula E win ranks among career best

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 06:  Sam Bird of DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team celebrates at the podium after winning the Buenos Aires ePrix as part of 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship at Puerto Madero Street Race Track on February 06, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird believes that his victory in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix ranks among the very best in his racing career after he fended off championship leader Sebastien Buemi in the final stages of the race.

Bird led the majority of the race from pole position, but came under intense pressure late on from Buemi who was bidding to complete a last-to-first comeback.

A mistake in qualifying had resigned the Swiss driver to the back of the grid, yet he was crawling all over the back of Bird’s DS Virgin Racing car with a few laps to go.

However, Bird managed to produce a superb defensive display to keep Buemi back and secure his third win in Formula E, which he believes ranks among the best in his career.

“I think it’s up there, I think it’s really good,” Bird told MotorSportsTalk. “I enjoy all the victories. I look back on all of them with fondness but considering we were fighting with two cars that are really good at the moment, to come out and beat them hands down feels very nice.

“We’ve learned a lot from Punta del Este, like I’ve told everbody and we put that into good practice and we did the best we could. We maximized everything and we’ve come away with 28 points so really happy.”

Despite sitting third in the championship standings, Bird does not believe that he is in a position to mount a challenge for the title this year.

“Hare and the tortoise and all that, that’s what I’ve said, hare and the tortoise,” Bird said. “It’s way too early. There are two guys out there that are just so fast. If I can take it to the end, great. I’m not even thinking about it to be honest.

“There are so many decent drivers in this championship that one minute you might win, the next minute you might be P10. So we need to wait and see. Consistency is the key. The two guys ahead of me, they’re relentless, so beating them will be tough.”

Sam Bird takes memorable Formula E victory in Buenos Aires

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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird emerged victorious from one of the most thrilling Formula E races in the short history of the series after fending off a charging Sebastien Buemi in the closing stages to bag his third win.

Championship leader Buemi started the race from the back of the grid after making a mistake in qualifying, leaving him with a mountain to climb to even score points, let alone win the race.

However, the Swiss driver produced a driving masterclass and was aided by a safety car period to come into contention late on, only for Bird to produce an equally-excellent display and keep his cool to win in Buenos Aires.

Bird led all but one lap of the race, dropping down to second when Nelson Piquet Jr. went one lap longer during the pit window, and managed to see off challenges from Nicolas Prost and Antonio Felix da Costa in the first half of the race.

Da Costa’s hopes of repeating his victory in Buenos Aires from 2015 were ended just before pitting when his car came to a halt, prompting the stewards to send out the safety car which bunched the field.

Buemi had fought his way up into the points from 18th on the grid by the time he came in to swap cars, and made light work of Stephane Sarrazin before setting his sights on perennial title rival Lucas di Grassi in second place.

An exquisite move into the hairpin saw Buemi move into P2, and despite appearing to have a pace advantage over Bird in the closing stages, the Briton put up an impenetrable defence to keep the Renault e.dams driver back on the final two laps.

Low on power, Buemi had to drop back at the final few corners, giving Bird the breathing room to take his third Formula E win and the first since the start of the DS Virgin partnership.

Di Grassi was unable to join the leading pair at the front for the last fight, dropping back to save power, but managed to finish third. Sarrazin finished fourth for Venturi ahead of Prost and Loic Duval, while Nick Heidfeld’s return from injury went well as he finished seventh.

Robin Frijns enjoyed a good start in the Andretti, running as high as fourth early on, but ultimately dropped back to finish seventh. Oliver Turvey and Bruno Senna rounded out the points in P9 and P10 respectively.

Jean-Eric Vergne bounced back from food poisoning overnight to finish 11th, narrowly missing out on points, while Nelson Piquet Jr. ended the race P13. Daniel Abt and Simona de Silvestro enjoyed quiet races en route to 13th and 14th, while Mike Conway blew his chance of points on debut with a late spin, dropping him to P15 at the end. Jerome d’Ambrosio was the last classified finisher in 16th place.

Manor WEC program launched

Photo: Manor
Photo: Manor
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One of the intriguing elements to come out of yesterday’s entry list reveal for the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans was the confirmation of Manor in LMP2.

Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth hinted something new was up not long after the final Grand Prix of the season, when the pair took their bows from what had been the Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

That “something” was revealed on Friday as an Oreca 05 Nissan in the stacked LMP2 class – a 10-car class – with Tor Graves, a past Manor driver, confirmed as the first new driver for the effort.

“We are delighted to be joining the World Endurance Championship. It is a fantastic series that visits iconic tracks all over the world. The level of competition is very high and we are really looking forward to racing again,” Booth said.

“The LMP2 class is specifically designed for teams independent of manufacturers and/or engine suppliers which places the focus firmly on how the team performs.

“I can’t wait to see the car running now. We have lots to do but we have a great team of people to get it all done.”

The team might be out before the Prologue test at Paul Ricard end of March, but it’s likely that test will mark the team’s first significant running. It should have its driver lineup settled by then, as well.

Lowdon, who’s been bit by the sports car racing bug, expanded on the announcement.

“It’s really great to be racing again and the FIA World Endurance Championship provides a fantastic challenge for us,” he said

“Preseason testing starts soon and there is a lot to do but we have never been afraid of a bit of hard work.

“There is a real buzz within the team at the moment, we have enjoyed great support from the fans over the last few months and we are very keen for them to get fully involved in what we are doing. We all have a great passion for motorsport and we are keen to share that passion.”