Vettel beats the weather to secure pole for Brazilian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has scored his ninth pole position of the season at the Brazilian Grand Prix after a great display of wet weather driving to get the best out of his Red Bull car despite the tricky conditions.

Vettel’s final time of 1:26.479 saw him finish well ahead of Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso who finished in second and third place respectively, and the quadruple world champion looked at ease in the rain that caused the final stage of qualifying to be delayed by forty minutes.

Qualifying got underway with light rain falling and more due, but with a drier outlook for the race on Sunday, the teams had to set up their cars anticipating a dry race. With conditions thought to be worsening in Q1, a number of drivers went out early to post a time on the intermediate tire. Lewis Hamilton was the first to get out and post a time, and it immediately paid off as he went to the top of the timesheets ahead of Vettel and teammate Nico Rosberg. With the rain growing heavier, many drivers opted to pit and hope that conditions improved, but Mark Webber had to produce a good lap to get himself out of danger after lingering near the dropzone. Conditions soon meant that it was difficult to go quicker, leaving Jean-Eric Vergne and Esteban Gutierrez at risk of elimination. When conditions did begin to improve, only the drivers at risk ventured out in the final few minutes, and it soon became a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Vergne was able to improve to make it through to Q2, but Pastor Maldonado was less fortunate and was eliminated alongside Gutierrez and both Caterham and Marussia drivers.

Mercedes were quick out of the blocks once again in Q2 as Hamilton and Rosberg led the drivers away, but the rain made it hard to judge just when would be the best time to go out on track. Rosberg’s first time was four-tenths quicker than his teammate’s, but compatriot Sebastian Vettel soon resumed normal service to move up to top spot. Mark Webber went third-fastest with his first time only for Hamilton to take his place, and it soon became all about timing. With five minutes to go, some of the drivers pitted for a fresh set of intermediate tires and plotted their final assault. The track began to dry slightly and allowed for improvements as Romain Grosjean went fastest of all and Fernando Alonso moved up into third place. The battle to make it through to Q3 hotted up as both Toro Rossos improved but the rain of Interlagos got heavier once again to scupper any hopes those in the dropzone had of making it through to the top ten. As a result, Heikki Kovalainen and Valtteri Bottas joined both McLarens and both Force Indias in the dropzone, with Sergio Perez’s session ending in the wall after making a mistake at turn five.

Due to the conditions, Q3 was delayed by forty minutes before it was deemed safe to get the final part of qualifying underway. Once the drivers were able to get out, the wet tire was used by all initially and Mark Webber was the first to tackle the damp circuit. After the first set of times, Vettel led from Rosberg and Webber, but many of the drivers opted to head straight for the pits to take on intermediate tires. Romain Grosjean bailed from his wet lap to take on intermediates, and it paid off as he immediately went fastest with three minutes remaining. Mark Webber soon displaced the Frenchman, but Vettel charged through the spray to go over one second faster. Rosberg and Alonso exchanged times for P2, but ultimately the German driver came out on top. However, not even the weather could stop Sebastian Vettel who scored his ninth pole position of the season in Brazil, finishing a full six-tenths clear of the rest of the field.

Vettel will now be looking to continue this form on Sunday to clinch a record-equalling ninth consecutive win, but with Rosberg and Alonso – both of whom have proven themselves as adept wet weather drivers – looming large in his mirrors and the rain also set to interfere, the German driver may be forced to fight for the victory.

Jean Todt: Playing field in F1 should be ‘much closer’

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FIA president Jean Todt has called for a more level playing field between teams in Formula 1, saying that the gaps between the biggest spenders and the smaller operations are too big.

2017 has marked the start of a new technical era for F1, with the design of the new-style cars being a focus for many teams over the past two years.

The opening round of the year in Australia saw Ferrari and Mercedes battle for victory, with Red Bull running a comfortable third-fastest, with the rest of the pack struggling to catch up. Race winner Sebastian Vettel lapped all but five cars.

Speaking to reporters in Australia, Todt expressed his concerns over the gap between F1’s ‘big three’ and the rest of the field, putting it down to the vastly different budgets.

“Ferrari did a good step forward with new regulations, it’s quite impressive. Mercedes is still very strong, there was a lot of speculation about the second driver, but for me there has never been a doubt that he [Bottas] would be very competitive,” Todt said, as quoted by crash.net.

“Red Bull seem to be a bit behind, and honestly I’m a bit concerned that between first and seventh or eighth, it is about two seconds. Still the gap is too big.

“We will really dream of having the 10 first cars within seven or eight tenths, and at the moment it is not yet happening.

“You have a lot of reasons for that, but clearly it is too big a discrepancy between the small budgets and bigger budgets, and the playing field should be much closer.”

F1 drivers relishing Silverstone, Suzuka races in new-style cars

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Formula 1 drivers Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are all relishing the challenge of high-speed tracks such as Silverstone and Suzuka after enjoying their first races in the new-style 2017 cars last weekend.

This season has seen the introduction of revised cars under the new technical regulations that are capable of lapping multiple seconds per lap faster than their predecessors, aided by greater downforce and wider tires.

The new cars raced together for the first time last Sunday in Australia, with the pace difference around the tight confines of the Albert Park street course still notable.

All of the drivers have been impressed by what the new cars are capable of, finding them more fun and rewarding to drive, but it is when F1 hits the classic, high-speed tracks on the calendar that they will really come into their own.

When asked what track they were most looking forward to racing on this year, the top three finishers in Australia gave similar answers.

“Probably Silverstone. I think with that amount of grip and downforce,” Vettel said.

“Probably Suzuka as well later on in the year. Also I guess the cars will be even faster from what they are now.

“So, yeah, I think that would be quite nice. I’m looking forward to that.”

Hamilton added: “Yes, Silverstone, I agree” before Mercedes teammate Bottas echoed his peers’ thoughts.

“I think all the quick ones: Spa; Suzuka; Silverstone will be nice,” Bottas said.

“But I think even street circuits will be a bit more challenging I think – not that it wasn’t challenging before, but with these cars it will be nice.”

One of the biggest changes for 2017 has been the extra physicality of the cars, but Hamilton said he felt no major issues following the race in Australia.

“It was more physical but it was no problem for me and doesn’t look like it was for these guys either,” he said.

Vettel added: “It’s not the most physical circuit in the year. I think later on it will be very interesting. Here is very technical. So, first couple of laps, at least for me, were very intense.

“Obviously it’s easy to have an error, get something wrong under braking, go a bit wide etc. Later on I had a bit of a gap and I could control it, and therefore it was a bit easier.”

Chinese Grand Prix kicks off heavy April F1 stretch on NBCSN

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After an interesting kickoff to the 2017 Formula 1 season on NBCSN with the Australian Grand Prix last week, in just over a week the series will be back in action with the second round of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix from the Shanghai International Circuit. It’s the first of three F1 races in April with the Bahrain and Russian Grands Prix occurring later in the month.

Last year saw Nico Rosberg win in Shanghai over Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat, the last two having had a coming together at the start of the race before Vettel, now of Ferrari, beat his successor at Red Bull, Kvyat. Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, only finished seventh after starting 22nd and last, missing qualifying with a mechanical issue.

Vettel enters China on the heels of his victory in Melbourne, but not having won in Shanghai since 2009, when he won for Red Bull for the first time. Mercedes has won the last three Chinese Grands Prix, Rosberg winning last year while Hamilton won in 2014 and 2015. Ferrari last won here in 2013, with Fernando Alonso.

Will Vettel continue with a second straight win to open the season, or will Mercedes reassume its place up top and continue its win streak in Shanghai? Can Red Bull reassert itself and who in the midfield will emerge?

All sessions will be live streamed on NBC Sports or via the NBC Sports App. FP2, qualifying and the race also will air on NBCSN. Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock. As in Melbourne, qualifying and race run during the late hours of the evening on the East Coast, and a bit earlier for those on the West Coast.

Here’s the schedule with where to watch on TV on digital platforms.

  • Practice 1: Thursday, April 6, 10 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (digital only)
  • Practice 2: Friday, April 7, 2 a.m.-3:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, April 8, 12 a.m.-1 a.m. ET (digital only)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, April 8, 3 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, April 9, 1 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Bahrain Grand Prix, on April 16.

United Fiber & Data back, again, for Marco Andretti’s car

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The continued relationship between United Fiber & Data and Andretti Autosport rolls into 2017, although not in the way that was probably planned for either party.

UFD, which served as a major associate sponsor in 2013, primary sponsor for James Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 car in 2014 and a co-primary sponsor for Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz last year, has now been confirmed for “select races” taking over as primary sponsor of Andretti’s No. 27 Honda this year, starting with next week’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This decision comes in the wake of hhgregg’s ongoing business situation, where per media reports (one from USA Today here as a recent example) the electronics retailer plans to close a number of stores and was close to filing for bankruptcy.

“We are strategically exiting markets and stores that are not financially profitable for us,” hhgregg CEO Robert Riesbeck said in a statement in early March, via USA Today. “This is a proactive decision to streamline our store footprint in the markets where we have been, and will continue to be, important to our customers, vendor partners and communities.”

The sponsor had been announced as a multi-year, co-primary sponsor in August. A release from the Andretti Autosport team today didn’t confirm hhgregg’s exit from the team, nor did it state how many races UFD plans to be the primary sponsor. However, it would probably be a surprise to see hhgregg return later this year.

In the release, the team stated: “The rebranding comes as a result of the current issues being faced by hhgregg, leading Andretti Autosport to the decision of transitioning the branding on the No. 27 Indy car piloted by Marco Andretti.”

“We’d like to wish Bob (Riesbeck) and the entire hhgregg family luck as they work through the current situation,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “We are blessed to have such loyal and dedicated partners; and while this is an unfortunate situation for hhgregg, we are pleased to have such a strong relationship remaining with United Fiber & Data.”

“We are proud of our longstanding partnership with Andretti Autosport, and we are equally pleased to continue this partnership by serving as a primary sponsor for select IndyCar races this season,” added Bill Hynes, Founder & CEO of United Fiber & Data (UFD). “We look forward to once again bringing the signature colors of the UFD livery to IndyCar tracks across the country.”