Rosberg rules Down Under to win memorable Australian GP

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Nico Rosberg has won the opening round of the 2014 Formula 1 season in Australia today with a sparkling performance that saw him trounce the field in one of the most memorable races in years.

The German driver took the lead at the start of the race and managed to keep himself out of trouble to win his fourth grand prix as pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton was forced to retire after just three laps. Sebastian Vettel’s title defence started with a whimper as he too had to retire, but teammate Daniel Ricciardo kept the Red Bull flag flying to finish in second place at his home race, marking his first podium in Formula 1.

However, the stars of the day were Kevin Magnussen – who finished an incredible third on debut for McLaren – and Valtteri Bottas, who fought back from a grid penalty and a puncture to finish sixth for Williams by virtue of some incredible overtakes.

The 2014 Formula 1 season got off to something of a false start as both Marussias stalled on the grid, warranting an extra formation lap. When the race did get underway, Nico Rosberg made an incredible start to launch past teammate Lewis Hamilton and take the lead of the race, whilst Daniel Ricciardo stayed steady in second place.

Further back, Sebastian Vettel reported that he was losing power and began haemorrhaging places, and he quickly fell towards the back of the field. Kamui Kobayashi and Felipe Massa got tangled at turn one and both crashed out, whilst Hamilton’s race lasted just three laps as he was told to retire due to an engine problem.

The start to Vettel’s championship defense went from bad to worse as he was forced to retire from the race after just four laps due to an engine problem. Adrian Sutil was also reporting problems, and six cars were already out of the race after just six laps. Valtteri Bottas was having no such issues though, moving up to sixth place from P15 on the grid with some great passes on the likes of Daniil Kvyat, Jean-Eric Vergne and Kimi Raikkonen.

However, Bottas pushed too hard for his own good and hit the wall at turn ten, losing the tire on his left-right wheel. All of his hard work was undone as he was forced to pit for repairs before being sent on his way again. The safety car was soon sent out in order to pick up the debris from Bottas’ tire, bunching the pack and allowing some of the drivers to make a pit stop. Having stopped, Rosberg still led from Ricciardo and rookie Kevin Magnussen whilst Bottas was forced to start his fight back all over again from P16.

Off the restart, Rosberg quickly put his foot down and pull out a two second lead over Ricciardo as the Australian’s mirrors were filled by Kevin Magnussen. Bottas’ fightback began in earnest as he worked his way back into the top ten, whilst Alonso and Button set their sights on Hulkenberg’s fourth place. However, neither could find a way past the Force India to begin with, but a huge lock-up for the German driver allowed Alonso to close. Bottas’ next victim was Kvyat for P9, marking the second time the Finn had passed the Russian in the race, and he soon set his sights on compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in P8.

Having seen both cars stall on the grid, Marussia fought back well with Max Chilton leading the team’s charge. Jules Bianchi spent the race over six laps behind the leader after having extensive repair work done, but Chilton went into battle with Caterham rookie Marcus Ericsson. However, the Swede was forced to retire from the race, ending the team’s day early. Pastor Maldonado also retired due to a problem with his power unit, leaving Romain Grosjean to fight on as the sole remaining Lotus. The Frenchman eventually had to stop with twelve laps to go, ending a disastrous weekend for the team.

At the front, Rosberg continued to push and saw his lead grow to over ten seconds. In second place, Ricciardo did well to drop Magnussen and set into a gentle rhythm on his Red Bull debut. Hulkenberg finally released Alonso by pitting in order to cover Button’s stop, but the Briton was able to pass the German driver by virtue of his earlier stop. When Alonso pitted two laps later, he split the two drivers. Bottas’ fight continued at Raikkonen’s expense, seeing him move up into fourth place before stopping.

As the final round of stops came about, the front three remained unchanged, but Magnussen did manage to cut the gap to Ricciardo with a quick pit stop. The Dane continued to push and closed to within two seconds of the Red Bull as he looked to make it a Mercedes-powered one-two. Rosberg’s lead stood at 16 seconds after stopping, but there was a minor bit of damage to his left front wheel caused at his final stop. Both Toro Rossos were running well in the top ten as Kvyat chased Raikkonen, but Vergne was under pressure from Bottas for seventh place. A mistake from the Frenchman at the final corner finally allowed the Finn past with ten laps to go, and he was soon on Hulkenberg’s tail for sixth place. The German driver couldn’t stop the Williams driver’s charge though

Having run in P2 for the entire race, Ricciardo finally came under some pressure from both McLarens in the closing stages. Magnussen managed to close on the Australian driver and get within DRS range, but he opted to save his rich fuel setting for the final two laps of the race. This allowed Ricciardo to pull away and ensure that he stayed in P2 come the checkered flag, but both drivers performed admirably to finish on the podium.

At the head of the field though, it was all about Nico Rosberg. The German driver proved that Mercedes is definitely the team to beat in 2013 by producing a near-perfect display, keeping his head whilst all around him lost theirs. He crossed the line over 20 seconds ahead of Ricciardo, and dominated proceedings from start to finish.

WATCH LIVE: Australian GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 12am ET

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The new Formula 1 season kicks off this Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix (live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET) as a new era for the sport gets underway.

New rules, new drivers and even a new owner of the series all adds up to make 2017 a season of change, with the established status quo in recent years set to be challenged.

Mercedes faced a stringent test from Ferrari in qualifying on Saturday, but it was Lewis Hamilton who once again took pole position after fending off Sebastian Vettel in the final Q3 shootout.

It may have been a familiar result, being Mercedes’ 16th-straight pole, yet the stage is set for a closer fight on Sunday, with a number of storylines due to play out up and down the grid.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

You can also try out a new ‘Mosaic View’ for the race that includes the race simulcast, in-car cameras, driver tracker and pit lane cam. CLICK HERE to watch the Mosaic View live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground at Albert Park providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.

Ricciardo hit with five-spot grid penalty for gearbox change

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Daniel Ricciardo’s already tough Australian Grand Prix weekend has been dealt another blow, with the Red Bull Racing team confirming it would need to change the gearbox on his RB13 chassis.

As a result, Ricciardo’s 10th place grid position will now be 15th following the five-spot grid penalty that’s assessed for that change.

Coverage of the Australian Grand Prix begins at midnight ET on NBCSN with F1 Countdown. Lights out are at 1 a.m. ET.

Ricciardo was due to line up 10th anyway after his crash in qualifying yesterday, and repairs to the car have necessitated this gearbox change.

It makes the home race a little bit tougher for Ricciardo, but on the bright side, it should allow us to see what the “Honey Badger” is capable of passing or strategy-wise, and if overtaking will be possible given the new cars and from such a low grid position after a rare unforced error.

What to watch for: Australian Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from midnight ET)

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For all of changes that had taken place over the winter, qualifying for Formula 1’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix delivered a familiar result.

For the 16th race in a row, it was a Mercedes that captured pole position, with three-time champion Lewis Hamilton pulling clear in Q3. It marked his 62nd career pole and his sixth in Australia, where he made his F1 debut 10 years ago.

But the status quo from 2016 has been broken up, even if Mercedes took pole yet again. Ferrari put up a good fight courtesy of Sebastian Vettel, who split the Silver Arrows and scored his first front-row start since Singapore 2015.

Qualifying was filled with plenty of interesting storylines, leaving things finely poised for the opening round of the 2017 season.

It’s time to shake off the winter rust: Formula 1 is back.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight ET on Sunday.

Here is what to watch for in tomorrow’s race.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton, Vettel prepare for first act of title battle

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel may have won six of the seven drivers’ titles since 2010, but we are yet to see the two go mano a mano for a championship. That may be all set to change this year.

Ferrari has made significant progress over the winter, proof of that being the disappointment felt by the team as Vettel was only second and not on pole. For a team that would have been happy with fifth at points last year, it marks a big, big step forward.

Hamilton certainly looks to be in the same kind of groove that delivered four straight race wins to close out 2016. He is upbeat, relaxed and looks very comfortable in himself – and when Hamilton is in this kind of shape, it adds another layer of strength to one of the finest grand prix racers in F1 history.

Having Hamilton and Vettel lock out the front row in Australia could be a nice bit of foreshadowing of the title race to come. Let’s hope we see them duke it out on Sunday, and finally make clear who holds the upper-hand in the Mercedes-Ferrari fight.

What can Bottas do on his Mercedes debut?

Valtteri Bottas was impressive in qualifying, finishing just three-tenths of a second shy of Hamilton on pole and securing third place on the grid for his Mercedes debut. For starters, it was really good going – yet the Finn was disappointed not to have made the front row or matched Hamilton.

For the race on Sunday, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Bottas could chalk up his maiden grand prix victory. His race pace in second practice on Friday was comparable to that of Hamilton, and easily clear of the Ferrari drivers. Naturally, fuel loads and engine modes need to be taken into account – but Bottas can certainly get in the mix.

The biggest thing for Bottas will be getting to grips with life at the sharp-end of the grid. Sure, he’s flirted with the front before during his time at Williams, but this is different. A podium finish is no longer the target; it’s the expectation. How he soaks up the pressure on debut tomorrow will be fascinating to see.

New start procedure set to spice things up

As part of F1’s push to increase the challenge posed to drivers, a revision of the start procedure and available aids will get its first official run-through tomorrow.

Stricter rules regarding clutch bite points and paddle placement are set to make the perfect start very, very hard to find, most likely creating greater position change off the line. The way Kevin Magnussen put it during testing was that before, so long as the drivers hit somewhere between 10 and 90 percent of their clutch bite point, they’d get a good getaway. Now the odds are much, much slimmer, making a good start down to luck as well as judgement.

Starts were a particular weakness of Lewis Hamilton through 2016, costing him the chance to fight for victory on numerous occasions, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the new rule. All of the drivers have been focusing on practice starts through testing and practice, yet none seem totally comfortable just yet…

Home hero Ricciardo looks for response after qualifying shunt

The home-race hoodoo for Australians in F1 continued on Saturday as Daniel Ricciardo crashed out of qualifying, resigning himself to 10th place on the grid and in need of quite the fightback on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the weekend aiming to be the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race in F1, with none making the top three since the event became a world championship round in 1985.

Red Bull has struggled for pace for much of the weekend, with setup issues leaving Ricciardo adrift in Friday practice. Teammate Max Verstappen also failed to impress in qualifying, finishing well off the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers at the front in P5.

For Ricciardo, starting P10 is hardly the end of the world. With the start offering a good opportunity to get ahead and the pace of the Red Bull RB13 clearly superior to that of many cars around him, he can certainly battle back into the top five – but that home podium may need to wait for another year…

Overtaking questions set to be answered

As exciting as the new regulations for 2017 have been, and as quick as the cars are for both the drivers to drive and the fans to watch, there is still a big question mark of whether or not the racing itself will improve.

The addition of downforce to the cars has allowed lap times to be slashed, yet it is also set to make following other drivers all the more difficult. If you can’t get close to the car ahead, you’ll struggle to overtake. That’s the thinking.

Sunday will be the first true test of that. The race will be much quicker than last year’s and certainly look more spectacular, yet with a fine line between one and two stops, and the possibility of a lack of movement once the start is done with, F1’s ‘brave new world’ could get a rude awakening.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Max Verstappen Red Bull
6. Romain Grosjean Haas
7. Felipe Massa Williams
8. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
11. Sergio Perez Force India
12. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
13. Fernando Alonso McLaren
14. Esteban Ocon Force India
15. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
16. Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber
17. Kevin Magnussen Haas
18. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
19. Jolyon Palmer Renault
20. Lance Stroll Williams*

* Lance Stroll received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change following FP3.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight ET on Sunday.

Maverick Vinales takes Qatar MotoGP pole as qualifying is rained off

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Maverick Viñales will make his Yamaha MotoGP debut from pole position after qualifying at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit was rained off on Saturday evening.

Viñales claimed his maiden MotoGP race win last year with Suzuki, prompting a move to Yamaha in place of three-time champion Jorge Lorenzo, who made a switch to Ducati.

After impressing throughout pre-season testing, Viñales laid down an early marker in Qatar by setting the pace in practice.

His performances would prove key as rain on Saturday in Qatar forced officials to cancel qualifying, leading them to combine the times from practice to form the grid.

Viñales’ time of 1:54.316 from FP1 handed him his first MotoGP pole by half a second from Suzuki replacement Andrea Iannone, while defending world champion Marc Marquez will start third for Honda.

2015 and 2016 Moto2 champion Johann Zarco will make his MotoGP debut from fourth on the grid, with Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso fifth ahead of Scott Redding.

Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi will begin his search for a 10th title from P10 on the grid, two places ahead of perennial rival Lorenzo, whose Ducati debut will come from P12.