Hamilton claims Australian GP pole in wet conditions

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Lewis Hamilton has claimed pole position for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday after taming the wet conditions to beat his rivals by three-tenths of a second.

However, he was nearly denied by home favorite Daniel Ricciardo, but the Australian driver was forced to settle for second place ahead of Nico Rosberg and McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso qualified in fifth place for Ferrari, but it was a disastrous qualifying session for defending world champion Sebastian Vettel as he finished down in P13.

Qualifying began under a cover of cloud with rain threatening to interrupt proceedings on Saturday evening in Melbourne. As a result, most of the drivers opted to get out early, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg queuing at the end of the pit lane. The Briton was the first driver to post a time of 1:31.699 on mediums, but he was soon toppled by Felipe Massa on the soft tire. Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen managed to beat the Brazilian with their first lap times on options, and occupied the top two positions at the halfway point in the session.

With a great time difference between the tire compounds, Alonso was told to give up on his medium run and pit for fresh softs. Despite a ragged lap, he managed to jump up into fourth place. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel scraped the wall on the exit of turn ten as he continued to struggle with the Red Bull RB10, but he managed to move into the top ten as the first reports of rain came through.

As the umbrellas went up, the drivers languishing in the dropzone pushed to get a quick lap in and beat the weather. However, the rain only grew stronger, meaning that they had to pit and could not get back out again. Lotus drivers Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado fared terribly, making up the back row of the grid, whilst Kamui Kobayashi was the big winner by making it through to Q2 for Caterham.

At the beginning of the second session, the teams were forced to fit intermediate tires in order to deal with the spray, although the rain had eased slightly. Leading the field, Valtteri Bottas had two big moments as he looked for grip, but he held it together to post the first time of the session. With weather forecasts varying, most opted to get out early and post a time, with Daniel Ricciardo leading the way after the initial set of times had been set.

Bottas, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Button and Rosberg all traded fastest times in the wet conditions as the track began to dry, meaning that it was soon a question of track position. All of the drivers pitted for a fresh set of intermediate tires for one final run in the final few minutes of the session, and a dry line began to emerge on the track.

However, the session was interrupted when Kimi Raikkonen put his Ferrari into the wall at turn four, forcing drivers to slow. Nevertheless, some were able to improve as the checkered flag fell including Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat, both of whom made it into the top ten on their F1 debut. However, for Vettel, it was a disaster as he qualified in 12th place, just behind Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen, who were also disappointed not to make it into the top ten.

Sans Vettel, Ricciardo was left to keep the Red Bull fight alive in Q3 and try to stop Mercedes dominating proceedings. All of the drivers except Alonso headed out on full wet tires as the rain had grown far heavier. Rosberg set the initial benchmark of 1:45.550 with teammate Hamilton slotting into second place at first before moving up into top spot one lap later.

As the final runs began, most of the teams opted to switch to intermediate tires, but Mercedes kept its drivers on full wets to deal with the slippery conditions. Rosberg lost his first lap after running off at turn nine, but he claimed provisional pole as the checkered flag fell. However, Hamilton, Ricciardo and Alonso all had one extra lap, giving them a chance to deny the German.

With his final lap, Ricciardo sent the Australian crowd into delirium by claiming provisional pole, but he was forced to settle for second place as Lewis Hamilton charged through the spray to claim pole position by three tenths of a second.

Pole sees Hamilton claim the 100th Mercedes-powered pole in Formula 1. Having dominated practice and testing, the team would have been disappointed with anything less than pole, and both Hamilton and Rosberg will be hoping for a good race tomorrow.

For Ricciardo, P2 is his best ever qualifying result in Formula 1, and frankly a staggering result given how much Red Bull has struggled over the winter. Quite whether he can continue this form into the race on Sunday remains to be seen, but should the forecast rain arrive, the Australian may be able to give his home fans something to shout about.

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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