Hamilton: Surprises expected for first few races

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Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg seem to be the early favorites for the Australian Grand Prix in a little under two weeks.

Hamilton admitted in a Q&A with the Formula One official website he enjoyed the Bahrain test more than any other in his career, and not just because of the team’s pace.

“These have been my favorite tests – simply because we’ve been in Bahrain,” he said. “These were the nicest two weeks I ever had in testing in terms of weather and in terms of how you’re treated and received in a country. And the track is far greater than Jerez or Barcelona. It really has been a pleasure to be here.”

Still, as most teams opt to do if they’re setting the bar in testing, Mercedes is downplaying their chances. Hamilton took the chance to say as much and recite the “we don’t know where everyone stands” line.

“Yeah, it is good going into a season – to the first race – knowing that we have covered the most miles, we probably are one of the most put-together teams in terms of the car working, a good mileage under our belts and a happy spirit,” he said. “We are driven to fight for the championship – that all is super positive.

“But let’s keep the feet on the ground: right now – even if all indications look great – it is still difficult to know who is hot and who is not. You go to Australia not knowing who the hell will be in the lead. Reliability will be a huge factor – for every single person in the team. For everyone.”

He said this year’s race should be wide open.

“It will be a bit of a mix and match in the first few races,” he explained. “Probably some good surprises for the fans – and for us. Maybe a bit of a deja-vu of 2012 when there was a different winner at the first couple of races.”

Hamilton, now 29, has traditionally done well in Australia. He’s finished on the podium four different times, including his 2008 win in a race littered with retirements. A fifth podium achieved in 2009 was eliminated when he was disqualified after the race when it was revealed he and the McLaren team had misled the stewards about a position battle with Jarno Trulli.

Any winner would be a change of pace from Sebastian Vettel, who won the last nine Grands Prix of 2013.

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.

Results are below. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama rolls off at 3:00 p.m. ET.