Rosberg dominant in final practice for Australian GP

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Nico Rosberg has dominated the final practice session ahead of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, which starts later tonight at 2am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra.

The German driver posted a fastest time of 1:29.375, comfortably finishing over 1.3 seconds quicker than second-placed Jenson Button whilst Fernando Alonso rounded out the top three. Lewis Hamilton finished fourth, but the Briton failed to post a fast lap time on the option tire, suggesting that Mercedes is still the team to beat heading into the rest of the race weekend.

When the final practice session got underway, the big question was whether or not the teams would send their cars out and risk a failure ahead of qualifying. Both Marussia and Lotus broke their curfews to work on the car overnight, whilst Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson needed to complete some running or he may not have been permitted to start the race on Sunday.

With ten minutes of the session gone, Esteban Gutierrez reported a problem on his Sauber with his gearbox, forcing him to crawl back to the pits at low speed. Kevin Magnussen was the first driver to set a truly representative time of 1:33.130, but the Danish rookie did take a trip through the gravel at turn nine as he pushed his McLaren to the limit. He was soon toppled by fellow youngster Daniil Kvyat by around half a second. Marcus Ericsson, having failed to post a timed lap all weekend, finally got out on track for Caterham, although he did stay at the bottom of the timesheets.

At the front, normal service from Friday was resumed as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton went first and second for Mercedes with Felipe Massa a few tenths off in fourth place. However, Hamilton soon established his inter-team dominance to move six-tenths clear of Rosberg. At the halfway point in the session, seven of the top eight times had been set by Mercedes-powered cars, whilst Ferrari had not emerged from the pits, nor had defending world champion Sebastian Vettel.

When the German driver did come out on track, he immediately found some pace and moved up into fourth place with teammate Daniel Ricciardo slotting into P6. Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso also chose to bide their time and finally come out at the halfway point in the session, and both drivers moved up into the top ten with their lap-times.

With twenty minutes to go, Nico Hulkenberg made a huge improvement on his previous best to move within one-tenth of Hamilton at the top of the table, having switched to the soft option tire. Compatriot Nico Rosberg followed his example, and moved 1.5 seconds clear of teammate Lewis Hamilton. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso moved up into the top three on the soft tire, but couldn’t come close to Rosberg’s lap.

Once again, the session ended with a Lotus parked up at the side of the road as Pastor Maldonado’s car came to a halt at the penultimate corner, suggesting that the team’s problems are dire. Having hit problems earlier on, Sauber changed the gearbox in Gutierrez’s Sauber, resulting in a five place gird penalty, whilst Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean failed to emerge from the pits.

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix begins live at 2am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra.

Agag: New York race ‘a defining moment’ for Formula E

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FIA Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag believes that last weekend’s inaugural event in New York City was “a defining moment” for the all-electric series as it continued its world tour.

Formula E became the first motorsport series to hit the five boroughs on Saturday when it staged a race around the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook, with the Manhattan skyline acting as a backdrop across the East River.

New York was just the latest in a long line of major cities to host Formula E, but series chief Agag felt it was particularly significant given the effort that went in to securing it as a venue.

“Formula E has a habit of breaking new ground. This weekend in New York was yet another example of achieving what many thought was impossible,” Agag said.

“We managed to bring international open-wheel racing to New York for the first time in history, this is something that sets Formula E apart from any other series, bringing electrifying motorsport to the world’s leading cities.

“Along with Hong Kong on Victoria Harbour and Paris with the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, New York has quickly positioned itself as a flagship event on the Formula E calendar. The race in New York was a defining moment in the series and years in the making.”

New York had been a target city for Formula E since its inception in 2014, but Agag had fears at one stage that a race would not be possible before settling on Red Hook.

“We worked tirelessly with the local authorities to find the right location. It couldn’t be Central Park and Liberty State Park wasn’t an option either,” Agag said.

“I actually thought it wasn’t going to happen, I didn’t lose hope but I wasn’t certain we’d get Formula E to New York. It hadn’t happened before in any form of open-wheel racing.

“Then we found the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. It was the most viable option and it also meant we didn’t need to close any streets.

“But, best of all, we still had the most spectacular view of New York. I had a similar feeling on the grid as at our first-ever race in Beijing. We’d done it, and the race proved to be a resounding success in front of a sell-out crowd.

“As the saying goes, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere!”

Charlie Kimball to visit Gateway on Thursday

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball will visit Gateway Motorsports Park on Thursday for a media appearance and will take a ceremonial lap of the repaved 1.25-mile oval.

Following a test in early May that saw several cars suffer cut tires, Gateway officials opted to completely repave the facility ahead of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline on August 26. The project began after the June 17 Drivin’ for Linemen 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and was completed earlier this week.

“I’m really excited to race at Gateway Motorsports Park,” said Kimball. “The opportunity to test there didn’t really pan out earlier in the season with the old paving, so I think the whole series is looking forward to getting out there and seeing what kind of improvements have been made to the track. It’s great to see the investment that Gateway has put into the track with the repaving – new asphalt always produces amazing racing with the Verizon IndyCar Series. To be able to compete under the lights in August on Saturday night on a short track like Gateway is going to be fantastic. I think the way Turn 1 and Turn 3 are so very different is going to lead to an incredible event and the new asphalt will only add to that.”

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Steve Nielsen appointed new F1 sporting director

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Liberty Media has continued to bolster Formula 1’s management team by announcing that Steve Nielsen will take up the role of sporting director on August 1, reporting directly to Ross Brawn.

Nielsen has worked in F1 across four decades, most recently as Williams’ sporting manager, but was known to be leaving the team at the end of July, handing his duties over to inbound Dave Redding.

F1 confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that Nielsen would be joining the management team established by Liberty Media following its takeover of the sport in January, working with sporting managing director Brawn.

“I have known Steve for many years and have seen at first hand his skills and ability,” Brawn said.

“His appointment will strengthen the working group we are setting up to work with the FIA and the teams in defining a framework for the technical and sporting regulations for Formula 1’s next phase.

“Steve’s main responsibility will be related to sporting and organizational matters, for example by attending the meetings of the Sporting Working Group.”

F1 Strategy Group introduces Halo for 2018

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The Halo is coming to Formula 1 in 2018, having been confirmed at Wednesday’s F1 Strategy Group meeting.

This brings the first level of additional frontal cockpit protection to being after several years of discussions and a couple years of testing itself. As of August last year, the idea to introduce the Halo was delayed until 2018 at the earliest for a full introduction.

Here was the statement from the FIA:

“Following the unanimous agreement of the Strategy Group, in July 2016, to introduce additional frontal protection for Formula One and the repeated support from the drivers, the FIA confirms the introduction of the Halo for 2018. With the support of the teams, certain features of its design will be further enhanced.

“Having developed and evaluated a large number of devices over the past five years, it had become clear that the Halo presents the best overall safety performance.”

Both the Halo and the Shield concepts have been tried, with an updated Shield tried most recently by Sebastian Vettel in Friday first practice at the British Grand Prix.

But Vettel spoke of a dizziness in comments after the test, and one could figure those comments were taken into consideration when it came to the decision to go with the halo.

The Halo drops over the cockpit and has three prongs with how it’s positioned. A center post has been right in front of the cockpit during the tests.