Kamui Kobayashi, Niko Rosberg

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.

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.