Dakar, Stage 11: Mini issues team orders in bid for 1-2-3 car finish

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Stephane Peterhansel may have to wait another year to claim his 12th Dakar Rally championship.

Going into today’s Stage 11 from Antofagasta to El Salvador, Chile, Peterhansel (pictured, No. 300) had charged to within two minutes and 15 seconds of fellow Mini driver and overall car class leader Nani Roma.

But today, it was revealed that Mini officials had chosen to have their drivers hold position in a bid to secure a overall podium sweep between Roma, Peterhansel and third-place Nasser Al-Attiyah.

“Yesterday, the boss asked us to take no risk at all to keep the three Minis on the final podium,” said Peterhansel. “So I reduced the speed and we started this morning not with the same spirit. It was a safer spirit for the car. For sure, in these conditions first of all, we don’t take any pleasure in driving and it’s a big frustration.”

Roma, who now leads Peterhansel by five minutes, 32 seconds after finishing second today to stage winner Orlando Terranova (another Mini driver), was reported to have said that there were no team orders in place according to the Dakar website’s daily list of driver quotes.

However, in comments to Agence France-Presse, Roma appeared to be just as stunned as Peterhansel.

“It’s disappointing for Stephane, it’s disrespectful,” he said according to AFP. “It’s a bad decision that has been taken.”

Naturally, the race’s organizers were appalled as well, with director Etienne Lavigne telling AFP that he hadn’t been informed of the decision by Mini.

“But we are disappointed, clearly, because it is not in the spirit of the competition,” Lavigne continued. “It’s a little shocking. It’s not fair. If I was being mean, I would say to Mini that they can collect the trophy immediately.

“Fighting without risk is triumph without glory.”

Al-Attiyah was fifth in today’s stage and remains P3 overall at 56 minutes, one second behind Roma, who now appears set to be crowned champion. But with two stages to go, anything can happen – especially in an event like the Dakar.

As for the bikes, Marc Coma remains on course to earn the overall title. Coma won today’s run to El Salvador, coming out ahead of the surging Cyril Despres by two minutes, 51 seconds.

Coma now holds a 52 minute, 36 second overall advantage on Joan Barreda, who battled to a fifth place finish today after falling halfway through the stage and damaging his navigation system in the process. That forced him to wait for other riders and rely on them in order to make it to the end.

Sergio Lafuente lost his engine at the 272 kilometer mark and was forced to retire from the Dakar, seemingly handing the quad class title to Ignacio Casale. The Chilean won today’s stage, beating countryman Victor Gallegos Lozic by five minutes, 12 seconds; with Lafuente out, Rafal Sonik is now the new overall runner-up at more than one hour behind.

And in the trucks, Andrey Karginov finally overtook Gerard de Rooy for the overall lead after earning the win by 14 minutes, 18 seconds over Kamaz teammate Eduard Nikolaev. de Rooy was third but almost 16 minutes back of Karginov, who now sits atop the standings by seven minutes, 56 seconds over the Dutchman.

Next up tomorrow is the penultimate Stage 12, a southern route from El Salvador to La Serena. From there, the final dash to the finish in Valparaiso awaits.

Williams’ Massa, Stroll prep for new phases of their careers (VIDEO)

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In the video linked above, Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll look ahead to what should be an intriguing 2017 Formula 1 season given their respective stages of their careers.

Massa, 35, returns to the Mercedes-powered team after what was meant to be a retirement following last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the subsequent retirement of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas opened the door for Massa to come back once Valtteri Bottas left to replace Rosberg there, and has given Massa a second ‘farewell tour.’

Stroll, meanwhile, is just 18 – born a year and three days (October 29, 1998) after Williams won its last World Championship in 1997 with Stroll’s Canadian countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Having blitzed the junior categories, particularly the FIA European F3 Championship last year, Stroll’s arrival to F1 comes with some fanfare and some question marks as he’s been fortunate to have significant family support.

The two of them make up Williams’ team this season and along with deputy team principal Claire Williams, they look ahead to what is to come in 2017.

You can see this pair and the rest of the F1 grid as part of NBCSN’s coverage from Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. All times are linked here.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.