Sebastian Vettel

Jacques Villeneuve: Vettel’s World Championship reign over

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Former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has declared that four-time reigning champ Sebastian Vettel will not continue his title-winning run into a fifth year.

The always outspoken Canadian, who is set to return to the Indianapolis 500 this May, told a pair of Italian publications that Renault’s problematic preseason testing has already finished off Vettel and Red Bull Racing’s hopes for another crown.

“He’s not going to win this year for sure,” Villeneuve told Autosprint and La Repubblica. “To me, Renault seems completely lost and unable even to finish a Grand Prix. Even if [Red Bull] are making a new car for the European races, it won’t change anything — maybe they’ll do 30 laps instead of 15. It’s not the car but the engine.

“I’m joking, but why bother going to Australia? They can’t do half a Grand Prix and are slower than most.”

Red Bull and Renault’s work in the preseason was repeatedly marred by gremlins on both the new RB10 and Renault V-6 engine. While it’s never wise to count out a defending champion, let alone a four-time defending champion like Vettel, reliability figures to be the top priority for him and the team through the early stages of the season, which begins this weekend in Australia.

For his part, Vettel has conceded that Red Bull is not a favorite to win in Oz but has not given up completely.

“[Red Bull and I] have achieved a lot together and I know everyone is working flat out as normal,” he said last weekend.

Going back to Villeneuve, he believes that Mercedes has to be considered the early favorite for the 2014 title but saw the team’s driving tandem of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as “without a spark.”

He also told the Italian papers that Ferrari remains in striking distance equipment-wise and that he thinks Kimi Raikkonen’s move back to the Scuderia – where he’ll go head-to-head with fellow ex-World Champion Fernando Alonso – will pay dividends.

“For the first time, I see [Raikkonen] working seriously. Maybe his year without pay was good for him,” he said.

“Alonso is a fighter from the first lap and so he might use too much fuel. It also depends on the attitude that he has…The Alonso of 2012 could win this year, but not the Alonso of 2013.”

The Aussie GP weekend officially begins with Thursday night’s opening practice at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN with the Countdown to F1 season preview show.

A full weekend schedule can be found here.

F1 qualifying to be red flagged if double waved yellows are shown

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: A marshal waves the red flag during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that qualifying sessions will now be red flagged in the event of double waved yellow flags being shown following the saga surrounding Nico Rosberg’s pole lap in Hungary.

Double waved yellows were shown at the end of Q3 in Hungary last weekend after Fernando Alonso spun, forcing a number of drivers to abandon their final qualifying laps.

Rosberg was one of the last to come through the yellow flag zone, lifting slightly through Turn 8 before posting a quicker time to take pole position.

The stewards investigated Rosberg’s lap, and although they were satisfied that he slowed sufficiently, the fall-out from the case has continued ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

On Thursday, Lewis Hamilton told NBCSN that the case set a precedent for all other drivers when it comes to reacting to double waved yellow flags, fearing that it could cause a safety issue in the future.

However, there will be no repeat of Rosberg’s actions in Hungary, with Whiting confirming on Friday in a press briefing that the red flag will now be shown to prevent drivers from improving their lap times.

“Ever since we had the Virtual Safety Car in 2015 and then this year we use it in free practice,” Whiting said.

“We can use it in qualifying really but we tend now to stop if there is going to be a yellow flag for any length of time.

“The reason we didn’t show a red flag in Hungary was simply that session had ended, but some cars were behind Alonso’s car and some in front.

“So I think the procedure would be to red flag any time there is a double waved yellow flag. Then there will be no discussion.

“That’s what I intend to do in the future, just to remove any discussion about whether a driver slowed down or not.”

Dixon leads IndyCar opening practice at Mid-Ohio

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – At a track he traditionally dominates, Scott Dixon fired the first shot of the weekend.

The driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet ran a best lap of 1:04.4491 around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to lead the 75-minute first practice.

Dixon enters the weekend 83 points behind points leader Simon Pagenaud and needs a big weekend to have much hope to continue as Verizon IndyCar Series champion. He also enters after the news came out earlier this week that the team’s longtime primary sponsor, Target, will depart IndyCar at the end of the year.

Three Team Penske drivers – Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves – were second through fifth with Tony Kanaan interspersed in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in fourth.

James Hinchcliffe was top Honda in the first session of the Honda Indy 200 weekend, in P6.

Series debutante RC Enerson was 1.1042 of a second off the session lead but the nature of the field is so close that the driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda was 21st.

Teammate Conor Daly had an off in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, potentially with oil on track, and nosed into the tire barriers at the Keyhole. It brought out the only red flag of the session.

Daly was OK and so was the car, except for the front wing assembly leaving the car.

“I hadn’t broke any later. Maybe oil down? I went straight off,” Daly told IndyCar Radio. “Really weird. But maybe that’s what happens to the track. I don’t have a ton of experience. I shouldn’t be doing that.”

Power had an off, Mikhail Aleshin had a 360-degree spin, and Alexander Rossi also went off, but none of those produced any dmage

Times are below. Second practice runs from 2 to 3:15 p.m. ET and local time, and airs LIVE on NBCSN (Also online at http://indystream.nbcsports.com) from 2 to 4.

MidOFP1

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 German GP

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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After seizing the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season in Hungary, Lewis Hamilton arrives in Germany looking to extend his advantage over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

The gap stands at six points after 11 races, and with Hockenheim hosting the final grand prix before the summer break, now is the perfect time to finish on a high and take plenty of momentum into the run to Abu Dhabi.

As ever, MST writers Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno have made their picks ahead of the German Grand Prix weekend. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the article.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Hamilton may have the momentum after five wins in six races, but I’m backing Rosberg to hit back this weekend and take a second win on home soil. If he doesn’t, it could be a big blow to his title chances.

Surprise Finish: Sebastian Vettel. This marks Vettel’s first home race as a Ferrari driver, bringing back memories of Michael Schumacher’s success at Hockenheim. While victory may be out of reach without some divine intervention, I’ll say Seb can finish on the podium behind the two Mercedes drivers.

Most to Prove: Rio Haryanto. Haryanto has done a solid job so far this season, but with talks about his funding ongoing, he needs to impress this weekend. It can’t harm his case.

Additional Storyline: Crowd figures at Hockenheim. After a disappointing turn-out in 2014, will Hockenheim enjoy a better turnout this weekend after two years away? Here’s hoping…

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Continuing with the “home driver wins his home grand prix” theme, I peg Rosberg to get one back over Hamilton this weekend and retake the championship lead.

Surprise Finish: Felipe Massa. Traditionally strong at Hockenheim and with upgrades coming this weekend, a top-five finish is possible for a driver and Williams team that needs it.

Most to Prove: Danill Kvyat. A run of ordinary and forgettable races has followed for him against Carlos Sainz Jr. at Toro Rosso. Would love to see him do something of note.

Additional Storyline: July exhaustion. Fourth race in five weeks and at a track the teams didn’t run at last year. How will the teams hold up and will there be any more mistakes of note?

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull

Button taken to hospital for check-up after eye irritation

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button has been taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after reporting an eye irritation during practice for the German Grand Prix that cut his session short.

Button completed 16 laps in FP2 en route to eighth place in the final timesheets, but was taken to the medical centre after complaining of an irritation.

McLaren confirmed on Twitter shortly after the session that Button had been taken to the local hospital in Mannheim for a check-up.

However, Button later updated that he’d be good to go for Saturday’s running.