Hamilton makes it three from three in final Bahrain practice

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Lewis Hamilton completed a hat-trick of fastest times during the final practice session for the Bahrain Grand Prix today, and the Briton’s Mercedes team appears to be in unstoppable form ahead of qualifying later today.

Hamilton edged out teammate Nico Rosberg by just one-tenth of a second as the Silver Arrows once again enjoyed a significant advantage over the rest of the field.

Just as we saw in FP1 on Friday, most of the teams elected to wait in the pits at the beginning of the final practice session as the conditions – hot in daytime – were not representative of the night-time running that we will see later today in qualifying. Eventually, most of the teams did venture out after 20 minutes or so, fitted with a set of the harder compound tire.

Despite the likes of Marcus Ericsson and Daniil Kvyat sitting on top of the timesheets at points, Mercedes once again laid down an ominous pace in the first set of runs, continuing its form from yesterday. This time though, Nico Rosberg was the man in P1 ahead of Lewis Hamilton, whilst the Williams drivers posed the closest challenge over eight-tenths behind. After struggling in the wet conditions in Australia and Malaysia, both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas appear to be in better shape this weekend in Bahrain.

Sebastian Vettel’s session came to an early end after a rare mistake by the four-time world champion. Upon starting a new lap, the German driver applied too much power through turn two and spun off into the gravel. His car avoided hitting the wall, meaning that he will be able to run in qualifying without any problem. However, the team will still be unsure of where it lies on the soft tire over one lap, with these runs coming at the end of the session.

The teams soon turned their attention to the quicker soft-tire runs, and once again Mercedes romped to a one-two finish. In a flurry of déjà vu, Hamilton finished ahead of Rosberg by one-tenth of a second, giving the Silver Arrows a clean sweep at the top of the timesheets across all three practice sessions. The surprise package was Force India, who got its drivers well up into the top ten, and could be considered as a dark horse for a podium finish in Bahrain. Sergio Perez finished in third position ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, whilst teammate Nico Hulkenberg ended up in eighth place.

Ultimately, it was another dominant display from Mercedes who cantered to a third straight one-two finish in practice. It is difficult to see any other driver realistically challenging either Hamilton or Rosberg, meaning that it may come down to an inter-team battle for pole position later today.

You can watch qualifying live on CNBC and Live Extra from 11am ET.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”