Rosberg wins inter-team battle to secure Bahrain pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix after edging out teammate Lewis Hamilton in a tight inter-team battle on Saturday night in Bahrain.

The German driver’s time of 1:33.185 was good enough to secure him pole after Hamilton made a mistake in Q3, costing him a shot at bettering his teammate’s time and forcing him to settle for second place. Rosberg’s first lap had been 0.279 seconds faster than Hamilton’s initial effort, allowing him to pit and save a set of tires.

Daniel Ricciardo put in a good performance for Red Bull to line up third, but teammate Sebastian Vettel endured a disastrous session and dropped out in Q2 for the second time in three races.

Qualifying got underway as night fell in Bahrain, and many of the drivers got out early in the first session in order to post a banker lap time. Esteban Gutierrez was the first driver to cross the line, but his initial effort was soon bettered by compatriot Sergio Perez and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, with the latter setting the first serious benchmark of 1:36.883. Daniel Ricciardo was the first to beat the German driver, edging him out by two-tenths of a second, and Fernando Alonso followed suit to move up into second place.

Predictably, Mercedes quickly took control of the session with its first lap times as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg moved into the top two positions, and enjoyed an advantage of more than one second over the rest of the field. Williams opted to keep its drivers in the pits to begin with before making a late run, and Valtteri Bottas immediately went P2 on the soft tire behind Hulkenberg, who had also made the switch to softs, and their teammates rallied to fill out the top four come the checkered flag.

As expected, the Caterham and Marussia drivers dropped out at the end of Q1, and they were joined by Adrian Sutil and Pastor Maldonado, with the latter being edged out by his teammate by 0.009 seconds. At the end of the session, Sutil appeared to deliberately block Grosjean, and earned himself a visit to the stewards’ office.

Q2 started in a quiet fashion as all of the drivers opted to sit in the pits for the first few minutes, but Bottas, Massa and Hulkenberg soon broke the silence and came out on soft tires. As this was the first dry qualifying of the season, it marked the first time that the new rule about starting the race on the Q2 tire came into force, meaning that drivers had to be extra careful not to overwork their Pirellis.

After seeing Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen trade fastest lap times, Hamilton soon restored normal service to move up to P1, but the gap was smaller this time as Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso managed to get within one second of the Mercedes driver. Nico Rosberg refused to waver in his teammate’s presence, and moved up to first place. Williams opted to run on the medium tire in its first runs, whilst Sebastian Vettel remained in the pits and rested his hopes on one run at the end of the session.

Mercedes’ advantage was so great that both Hamilton and Rosberg could stay in the pits and save a set of tires, whilst the remaining 14 drivers all headed out for a final run. Vettel’s one and only lap time was nowhere near being good enough, and he dropped out of qualifying as a result, lamenting a gearbox problem. Compatriot Nico Hulkenberg also struggled and ended up in 12th place, whilst Toro Rosso’s dry pace wasn’t good enough to get either Jean-Eric Vergne or Daniil Kvyat into the top ten. They were joined in the dropzone by Gutierrez and Grosjean.

For the final part of qualifying, most of the drivers fitted a set of the soft tires and aimed to do two runs as the conditions became cooler, but Raikkonen bided his time and sat in the pits to begin with. Valtteri Bottas posted the first lap time of the session, and remained in P1 ahead of Perez and Massa until Nico Rosberg crossed the line over one second faster than the Finn. His only realistic challenger – teammate Lewis Hamilton – was three-tenths adrift with his first run, handing provisional pole to Rosberg after the first set of runs.

The drivers returned to the pits to regroup and fit a fresh set of tires, and all ten hit the track with two minutes to go so they could put in one final time. However, a mistake by Lewis Hamilton meant that he could not improve on his previous best lap time, handing pole to Rosberg by two-tenths of a second. Ricciardo improved to move up to P3, but he will drop down ten places on the grid due to a penalty. Bottas ran well to finish fourth ahed of Perez and Raikkonen, whilst Alonso struggled immensely and finished down in 10th place for Ferrari.

Having finished with a one-two in every practice session so far this weekend, Mercedes’ dominance came as little surprise on Saturday night. The team will now need to ensure that it gets its drivers home in the same positions tomorrow, but both Rosberg and Hamilton will be desperate to claim their second win of the season.

Penske: No room for Patrick in Indy 500 lineup. Ganassi? OK

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Roger Penske has no room in his Indianapolis 500 lineup for Danica Patrick.

“The Captain” has a hunch where Patrick’s Indy comeback will take her in May – with Chip Ganassi.

“I sent him a note and said, `Congratulations. Danica better be driving your car at Indy because unfortunately she’s not driving for us,”‘ Penske said, laughing.

The 35-year-old Patrick said this week she will race only in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 next year and then she will walk away from racing. Patrick is the only woman to have led laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Patrick ran the Indy 500 from 2005 through 2011. Her highest finish was third in 2009, and she was the first woman to lead laps in the race when she paced the field for 19 trips around the Brickyard as a rookie.

Penske has a full field for Indy with Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden racing as fulltime entries and three-time winner Helio Castroneves returns on a one-shot deal to try and win a fourth.

Chip Ganassi Racing is the likely ride at Indy. Ganassi has room to field additional cars – he’s scaling down from four full-time cars to two next year – and would give Patrick a car capable of winning. Ganassi said Friday he has met with Patrick and called her “Danica Double” a great idea.

Penske said Patrick and Ganassi, who has Ed Jones and IndyCar great Scott Dixon in his lineup, would be a perfect pair.

“I think that’s a great seat for her,” Penske said Saturday. “That’s a great team. They’re the ones that’s always been competitive there. I take my hat off that she wants to continue to go back to open wheel. That’s going to be terrific for the sport and there’s going to be a lot of interest around the country.”

Patrick was highly marketable early in her career even though wins were rare. She won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013, but finished 24th in the standings the last two seasons. She won her only IndyCar race in 2008, in Japan. Patrick never scored a top-five finish in NASCAR and had only seven top 10s (though she led laps at the Daytona 500) in 189 career starts.

Penske, a 16-time winner as a car owner of the Indy 500, said Patrick would return to IndyCar a better driver.

“I think she’s going to come back to IndyCar a lot tougher having run in NASCAR,” he said. “I think she’s going to be someone that, in a good car, is going to pick it up. She’s got plenty of time to practice.”

Team Penske won the owner championship Saturday in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. Sam Hornish Jr., who won three IndyCar titles and the 2006 Indy 500, said the sport would welcome back Patrick.

“She’s probably going to have a better shot at Indy because of what she’s done the last five years,” Hornish said.

Patrick has not revealed the team she’ll race for but surely a package deal with the same team and same sponsor for the biggest races in motorsports would make her again racing’s most marketable driver.

“I think it’s a great way for her to say, hey, I’m here, I’ve done it, I’m going to go back to the two biggest races and see if I can’t get out on top,” Penske said.

Penske can win a NASCAR championship with Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup race.

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