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.

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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