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.

Spectator dies after accident on opening stage of Monte Carlo rally

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Officials have confirmed that a spectator has died following an accident on the first stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon slid off the route towards the end of the 21.25 km stage between Entrevaux and Ubraye, with his car blocking the course.

Emergency services were quickly called when it emerged that a spectator had been hurt in the accident, with rally officials confirming later in the evening that the fan had died as a result of injuries sustained.

“The Automobile Club de Monaco regrets to advise further details following incident of the car #4 (Paddon/Kennard) in SS 1,” a statement from the rally organizers read.

“The spectator was transported by helicopter from the stage to hospital in Nice. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, the spectator has sadly died.

“An investigation has commenced into the incident and all involved parties will provide assistance to the authorities.

“Everyone associated with the event extends their deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, friends and individuals affected.”

Hyundai issued its own statement soon after: “Hyundai Motorsport is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of a spectator during the opening stage of Rallye Monte-Carlo on Thursday evening.

“The incident occurred at the same time as the #4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard crashed into the mountainside, after the car hit a patch of black ice at the entry to a left-hand turn.

“The team and crew have pledged their full support to the event organisers and authorities to understand the full details.

“Hyundai Motorsport extends its condolences to the family, friends and individuals affected.”

The stage was cancelled following the incident, with the rally resuming on stage two later in the evening. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville currently leads by 7.8 seconds from defending world champion Sebastien Ogier.

Paddon’s car has been withdrawn from the remainder of the rally as a result of the incident on Friday.

Gateway secures deal with Bommarito Auto for IndyCar race sponsorship

MADISON, IL - AUGUST 9:  Bryan Herta drives his #27 Andretti Green Racing Honda Dallara during practice for the IRL (Indy Racing League) IndyCar Series Emerson 250 at the Gateway International Raceway on August 9, 2003 in Madison, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Gateway Motorsports Park’s return to the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule will feature a two-year title sponsorship from Bommarito Automotive Group, it was confirmed on Thursday. The St. Louis Business Journal was first to report the news.

The largest auto dealer in St. Louis will see its name on the race, now titled the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. Gateway’s return comes on August 26 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), for its first IndyCar race since 2003.

“We are pleased to announce that Bommarito Automotive Group will join Gateway Motorsports Park in the production of our inaugural INDYCAR event as the title sponsor,” Curtis Francois, Owner and CEO of Gateway Motorsports Park, said in a release.

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“This is a tremendous event for the St. Louis region and no one knows our town better than the folks at Bommarito. They are a progressive group, known for a high standard of quality and excellence. It’s the same standard of on-track action and family-friendly experience that we look forward to delivering with our landmark event.”

“We are excited to partner with Gateway Motorsports Park and the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said John Bommarito, President of the Bommarito Automotive Group. “When approached by Gateway about the return of INDYCAR to St. Louis, we felt it was important to have a major St. Louis company step forward and support the return of open wheel racing to the region.  We are extremely proud to be the title sponsor of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.”

Gateway will be the sixth and last oval race of the season, following earlier races in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Pocono.

Rahal wants to turn 2016’s unrealized potential into reality in 2017

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Graham Rahal likes to say “2016 was a year of tremendous potential.”

But it also was a year that some potential was not realized.

After a career season in 2015, when he finished fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series and earning two wins and six podium finishes, Rahal slipped back slightly in 2016, finishing fifth with just one win and only four podiums.

So what does 2017 hold in store? If things go well for the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, the tremendous potential of 2016 will morph into potential not only realized, but could result in the younger Rahal’s best year ever.

Rahal has the power, the car, the equipment and the personnel to make some major upward moves this year.

“We just have to find going forward a way to keep that performance level, enhance it a little bit,” Rahal said. “Obviously the cars aren’t really going to change at all (major changes are planned for 2018).

“I felt like speed-wise, our performance (in 2016) was actually better than 2015, pretty considerably. We just did our season reviews about a month and a half ago, and it’s pretty clear to see performance-wise, the team performed a lot better.

“However, we had a lot of things that just didn’t quite go our way, whereas in 2015 we had bounces that certainly did. 2016 the bounces didn’t happen. We had to fight a lot harder, still managed to get a top-five finish in the championship.

“I think that I probably drove better last year than 2015. But hopefully the best is yet to come. As a driver you always have to be critical of where can you improve, where were mistakes, what did you kind of let go, you know, and where did you lose points.”

The 28-year-old Rahal is particularly focused on potentially following in his father’s footsteps of winning the biggest race of all, the Indianapolis 500.

In nine starts in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, the younger Rahal has just two top-10 finishes: third in 2011 and fifth in 2015. At the opposite end of the spectrum Rahal has four finishes of 25th or worse, including two last-place showings (2008 and 2014).

“We really need to improve at Indy,” he said. “That’s our main focus of everything this off-season. And also get a little bit of those breaks. You know, that’s kind of the goal. That’s what we feel like we need.”

The younger Rahal will also reunite for at least the Indianapolis 500 and probably more races with Oriol Servia, which should help upgrade Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s testing, race preparation and data sharing.

“Oriol is a clear plug-in for us,” Rahal said. “First of all, he’s a great guy. Second of all, he will help us. He’s going to help our performance at Indy. I can tell you that right now. And third, he’s been there so many times with the organization, he’s been in and out of the team a handful of times. He knows everybody. He’s been part of the team before. So it’s a clear fit.

“We need just a very experienced guy who can help lead us down the right path, and Oriol is going to be that guy.”

Interestingly, RLL had the opportunity to bring in a full-time second driver, but chose to go with the 42-year-old Servia in a limited number of races for now.

“There were several drivers who came to the team that wanted to run full season, had budgets to do it and everything else, and they were all turned away,” Rahal said. “The team is focused on making sure if there is the addition of a second car full-time, it has to fit the right environment.

“… We really are proud of the environment that we have, and so Oriol is a guy that fits that just perfectly and won’t upset the apple cart, so to speak. … He’s a great guy, and I think he’ll do a heck of a job for us. We’re looking forward to it.”

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Kimi Raikkonen becomes ambassador for sport in Finland

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari walks in the Paddock before practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Ferrari Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen was named as an ambassador for sport in Finland at a ceremony in Helsinki on Wednesday night.

Raikkonen won the F1 world championship with Ferrari in 2007, becoming the third Finn to achieve the feat following Keke Rosberg in 1982 and Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999.

Raikkonen was honored by Finnish prime minister Juha Sipila at an award’s ceremony, with Ferrari reporting that his presence at the event was kept secret until the last moment.

“I’m not that used to making formal speeches,” Raikkonen said, referring to his reputation for his monosyllabic nature.

“But I would like to wish all the best to the winners in every category, as well as those who missed out on the prizes this year.

“I would stress how important it has been in my case to have the support of my family and help from trustworthy colleagues and the people within the Ferrari team, with whom I have worked for so many years now.”

Raikkonen will return for a 15th season in F1 in 2017 – his seventh with Ferrari – as he looks to build on his sixth-place finish in last year’s drivers’ championship.