F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain - Race

Hamilton holds on to claim remarkable Bahrain GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton has won a tense Bahrain Grand Prix after fending off teammate Nico Rosberg in an incredible battle for victory on Sunday night in Bahrain, with the two drivers going wheel-to-wheel in the closest finish to a race so far this season.

Following a late safety car, the two drivers went head-to-head in a remarkable race to the flag that saw Hamilton somehow keep his quicker teammate at bay to clinch his second win of the season.

After a close battle with Williams and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez won the battle to finish third for Force India and claim the team’s first podium finish in five years. After starting P13, Ricciardo fought brilliantly to finish fourth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastian Vettel.

The start saw both Mercedes drivers make a good getaway, but Hamilton managed to squeeze past his teammate into the first corner to take the lead of the race. The British driver had to defend from Rosberg for the rest of the first lap, causing the German driver to run wide, but both managed to keep it clean and continue to hold onto the lead. Felipe Massa made a great start to jump up into third place ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas, and Sergio Perez split the two Williams drivers. Kimi Raikkonen’s podium aspirations were damaged by a bad start as he dropped back down to ninth place, but it was Jean-Eric Vergne who lost the most after suffering a puncture following contact with Pastor Maldonado on the first lap.

Hamilton and Rosberg quickly set about dropping the rest of the field in pursuit of a second straight one-two finish, and both drivers were told to keep an eye on their tire usage. Rosberg’s engineer informed him that he was on an “alternative strategy”, suggesting that there was a split in the Mercedes garage between two and three stops. Fighting back from his grid penalty, Daniel Ricciardo tried to pass Kevin Magnussen for 11th place, only to lock up and fall back from the McLaren. Two laps later, the Australian driver managed to regroup and pull off a good overtake on the Dane.

Bottas was passed by Jenson Button on lap nine, and the Briton was followed through by Nico Hulkenberg just two corners later as the Finn pitted for a fresh set of tires. His teammate, Felipe Massa, was also under pressure and lost out to Sergio Perez in the battle for third place, giving his faithful following something to shout about. After pitting, Massa fell further down the order and behind Bottas, handing the advantage to Force India.

After starting on the harder tire, Vettel was able to go further into the race than the rest of the field, but he reported that his DRS was not working as he came under pressure from Ricciardo. Red Bull ordered the German driver to let his teammate past so as not to hinder his strategy, and it got worse for Vettel when he was forced to pit early due to aggressive degradation on his medium tires.

Despite enjoying a lead of almost half a minute, the two Mercedes drivers entered battle as Rosberg had DRS on his teammate. Hamilton made an aggressive move to force his teammate wide, perturbing Rosberg who collected himself and tried again one lap later. Once again, Hamilton was resilient and managed to regain the lead through the second sector, but was called into the pits to release Rosberg into the lead.

The German driver dipped into the pits two laps later for medium compound tires, and came out behind his teammate who was on softs. Valtteri Bottas ran in P3, but was coming under considerable pressure from teammate Massa and the Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Struggling on his tires, the Finn requested to pit early and released his teammate into third place, but Perez was keen on gaining positions as he pulled off a brave pass on his teammate to take fourth and move behind Massa. Both Force Indias fought bravely to pass the Brazilian driver a few laps later, putting them up into P3 and P4 as the team went in search of its second ever podium in Formula 1.

At the front, Hamilton quickly set about increasing the gap to Rosberg who was on the slower tire, and enjoyed an eight second lead. After pitting, Massa came out behind Bottas in the inter-team battle at Williams, but the Finn was forced to go off track when Raikkonen braked early heading into turn one. He eventually found a way past his compatriot after Ricciardo had also passed the Ferrari ahead of the second round of stops.

Sergio Perez exited the pits just behind Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, but made light work of the two-time world champion. Hulkenberg dived into the pits just one lap later, but remained behind his teammate. However, both Bottas and Massa had got the undercut by pitting earlier, and were therefore sitting in P3 and P4 ahead of their close rivals, but as both were a three stop strategy, the advantage was handed to the Force India drivers.

With sixteen laps to go, the safety car was deployed following a huge crash between Esteban Gutierrez and Pastor Maldonado. The Sauber driver was flipped, and despite landing heavily on its roll cage, the car came to rest the right way up and the Mexican driver walked away unharmed. The safety car did eradicate Mercedes’ advantage, and gave Rosberg a fighting chance of the win as he was on the quicker tire when the racing resumed. The three stopping drivers were also given a chance of making up ground on their two stopping rivals, as the gap between them had been reduced.

Ahead of the restart, both Hamilton and Rosberg were told to ensure that they brought both cars home and secured a second successive one-two finish for the team. With the German driver on the quicker tire, he was immediately on Hamilton’s tail on the restart, with the Briton having to force his teammate wide at turn four to ensure that he stayed in the lead. Hulkenberg tried to pass Perez for position as Ricciardo and Vettel both found a way past Button for P5 and P6.

Ricciardo looked to go one better and made a great pass on his teammate to move up into fifth place, and both drivers closed on Hulkenberg who sat in fourth place. At the front, Rosberg once again closed on his teammate, but Hamilton once again defended brilliantly to keep the German driver at bay and stay in the lead. As the laps ticked down, the Briton managed to just stay ahead and eventually cross the line one second ahead of his teammate.

Having passed Hulkenberg, Ricciardo set his sights on Perez, but could not quite find a way past to give Force India its first podium finish since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. However, it did mark Ricciardo’s first points as a Red Bull driver and his best result in Formula 1. Hulkenberg managed to hang onto fifth place ahead of Vettel and Massa, whilst Bottas led home the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen who rounded out the points.

In one of the finest races we have seen in recent years, it certainly went a long way to silencing those who claimed that there were problems with Formula 1 at many summit meetings in Bahrain today.

Following the race, Rosberg and Hamilton shared an embrace after a tough but fair battle. Once again, it was glory for Mercedes in Bahrain, but the team will have been on tenterhooks for the entire race as the drivers went toe-to-toe.

Verstappen, Mercedes joke about vacant seat after Rosberg’s retirement

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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In the wake of Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement announcement on Friday in Vienna, nearly every Formula 1 driver has been named as a possible replacement for the World Champion at Mercedes in 2017.

Fernando Alonso? Sebastian Vettel? Pascal Wehrlein? Esteban Ocon? Or how about Max Verstappen?

Ah, Verstappen. The young upstart who has turned the F1 world on its head since making his debut as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in 2015. Fast-forward to the present day, and he is the youngest ever grand prix winner (and still very fresh-faced).

While a move to Mercedes is, in reality, out of the question for 2017 given the nature of his Red Bull contract and status as one of F1’s hottest prospects, Verstappen was more than happy to engage in some banter on Twitter with the German manufacturer.

Verstappen notably had the chance to join Mercedes’ junior program back in 2014, but decided on a move to Red Bull instead after it promised him an F1 drive with Toro Rosso for 2015.

Stunned racing world reacts to Rosberg’s retirement on social media

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates with his wife Vivian Sibold and his team after finishing second and securing the F1 World Drivers Championship at the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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It is fair to say that nobody saw this coming.

Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from Formula 1 just six days after clinching his maiden world championship has already sent shockwaves through the racing world.

To see a professional athlete bow out in such fashion is rare, particularly when they’re nowhere near retirement age. Alas, it seems that one world title was enough for Nico.

Here’s a round-up of how the racing world has reacted to Rosberg’s retirement on Twitter.

Smith: After his bombshell, who will replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes?

Nico Rosberg 2016 World Championship Victory Behind-the-Scenes Imagery
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
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The driver market for the 2017 Formula 1 season has been a regular talking point on MotorSportsTalk for the past few months.

‘Silly season’, as it is affectionally known, was expected to be particularly crazy ahead of the 2017 season given the number of drivers who were going to be out of contract. Daniel Ricciardo told me in pre-season it was going to be “badass.”

But things went quiet: Max Verstappen got an early promotion to Red Bull; Kimi Raikkonen got another year at Ferrari; Sergio Perez decided to stay at Force India. By the end of the racing season, just three seats remained at Sauber and Manor.

And then Nico Rosberg dropped his bombshell.

Ahead of the FIA prizegiving in Vienna on Friday night, Rosberg announced to the world that, less than six days after being crowned World Champion, he would be ending his racing career with immediate effect.

This is an enormous shock to the F1 paddock and the sporting world as a whole. While it is hardly rare for athletes to quit while on top, it is for them to do so when they’ve still got a number of years left in them. Rosberg is 31. Michael Schumacher didn’t retire until he was 43.

I wrote on Monday in the wake of Rosberg’s title success that one world title might be enough for him. He’s not wired the same way as the Lewis Hamiltons or Fernando Alonsos of this world, to whom three and two World Championships respectively seem an injustice. Rosberg is World Champion forever now; that won’t change no matter how many more times he wins it.

Now Nico gets the chance to be a father and a husband full-time. To him, family is everything. His wife, Vivian, was in all of his post-race shots, celebrating the world title success, while little Alaia is just one year old; it’s a precious time for fathers.

In F1 though, the question now surrounds who will step into Rosberg’s shoes.

It’s time for Silly Season 2: Electric Boogaloo.

The two men who were perceived as being the natural successors to Hamilton and Rosberg at Mercedes were junior drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon. Both raced for Manor this year, making their F1 debuts, with Ocon impressing enough to get a seat with Force India for 2017. Wehrlein is still yet to be signed to a seat for next year.

If Mercedes wants a quick fix, then Wehrlein is a viable option. He is known to the team and has shown signs of pace, scoring just the second point in Manor’s seven-season history this season. However, Force India’s decision to pass on him and take Ocon surely raises doubt as to his suitability to the Mercedes seat.

Because what is now on offer for next season is the chance of a lifetime for the F1 grid. New regulations may be on the horizon for 2017, but Mercedes is expected to still be fighting at the front of the grid. It has enjoyed one of the most dominant spells in the long history of F1. Driver contracts may be in place, but they can be bought out if the price is right.

As one Twitter follower put it: “The hottest girl in school is without a prom date at the moment.”

So who might be the Prom King to this Prom Queen?

The immediate aftermath of the announcement has seen all of F1’s biggest names linked with the drive, including Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, both of whom enter the final year of their contracts in 2017 with McLaren and Ferrari respectively.

Both moved to their new teams at the end of 2014 as part of a long-term project to take them back to the front of the grid; both were left to endure trying 2016 campaigns that yielded not a single victory.

So could either make the move up? Frankly, the money would have to be staggering from Mercedes to get either out of their contract, particularly in Vettel’s case. And things haven’t exactly reached ‘Alonso level’ of frustrating and anger for the German at Maranello just yet.

The Red Bull boys are locked in for 2017 – although you’ve got to think that Mercedes is surely now feeling even more frustrated that it missed out on Verstappen three years ago – and should be in a position to mount a title challenge next year given the progress the team has made through this season. So again, a no-go really.

So instead, it would have to be a driver who is up-and-coming but currently mired in the midfield. Two drivers come to mind.

Firstly, there is Valtteri Bottas. The Finn was the breakout star of F1 in 2014 with Williams, taking a number of podium finishes, but has failed to reach such dizzying heights over the past two campaigns, scoring just one top-three result through 2016.

However, Bottas is still widely regarded as being a top talent, and is managed by Toto Wolff, who also happens to be Mercedes’ F1 chief. If the money is right to prize him away from Williams, Bottas could be a good fit.

Another possibility is Carlos Sainz Jr. Sainz had a hugely impressive campaign in 2016 with Toro Rosso, but there is no room for him to move up to Red Bull’s senior F1 operation for the foreseeable future with Verstappen and Ricciardo in place.

Sainz is currently slated for another year at Toro Rosso, but Red Bull must know deep down that keeping him at STR in the long-term will be an impossible task. So why not ask Mercedes to cough up the cash, while also freeing up a seat for GP2 champion Pierre Gasly in 2017?

You could also make a case for the likes of Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean, both of whom seem to be waiting for their ‘big shot’ in F1.

For Mercedes, it all boils down to its long-term plan. If it thinks Wehrlein is ready, he would be a sensible choice, although it would act as an enormous leap as he literally goes from the back of the grid to the front. Ocon would be in a similar boat, and Mercedes would need to pull him out of the Force India deal.

If Mercedes wants the best driver available, then surely Alonso and Vettel will be on its radar. But it would be more troublesome to hire them – plus the team has Lewis Hamilton to appease, who will be hungrier than ever for a fourth world title in 2017.

If Mercedes wants to take a shot on one of the midfield up-and-comers, then Bottas and Sainz are perhaps the best bets.

But it must be stressed that these are all ‘ifs.’

2016 has been a year packed with shocks and surprise. Rosberg’s retirement is really just the icing on the cake.

DiZinno: Rosberg’s retirement is baller in a year full of racing shock

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My colleague and teammate on MotorSportsTalk, Luke Smith, sent me the Facebook message just after 7 a.m. my time.

“Rosberg’s retiring!!”

“Wait,” I slowly thought in my “trying to process the magnitude of this message while not having had coffee and rolled out of bed” state. He can’t be serious… this is still a weird dream.

The transitionary line from me was as you’d expect.

“What?!?” I naturally, incredulously reply.

“He’s announced it in Vienna. I’m working it up now,” Luke follows, because this is what Luke does: he is on it all the freaking time, often times more than me.

Then the texts started following. Some of them with all caps. Some with expletives. Some with both.

This isn’t happening.

Unless it is.

The first round of stories start hitting the Internet, because that’s how Internet posts work in this age of motorsports journalism. News travels quickly. We await the actual Rosberg statement he posts himself, because it’s not enough to be right anymore, just, like Internet commenters, first.

The Rosberg statement follows. It isn’t a facade. It’s real.

“When I won the race in Suzuka, from the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became World Champion,” Rosberg wrote on his Facebook page in the announcement.

“On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time… and then the lights went out and I had the most intense 55 laps of my life.”

Social media is abuzz.

Lewis Hamilton is known for his social media presence.

Yet it’s Nico Rosberg who’s the Mercedes driver that went “Hammer Time” on him, and broke the racing Internet.

The fact that literally no one saw this coming – in an age when announcements are known days, weeks and months before they actually officially happen – is both a genuine shock and a welcome surprise, and that’s why the magnitude of both the announcement and the timing is as large as it is.

This is not the first time this has happened this year in racing, in a year full of shocks.

Alexander Rossi wasn’t really going to make it home with 36 laps on fuel in the Indianapolis 500. The fuel window is 32 or 33 laps, max.

Yet he did – strategist and team co-owner Bryan Herta’s now-famous radio call of “clutch and coast” has entered the vernacular – and Rossi became a rookie winner at Indianapolis.

Jaw dropped, because the fact it was the 100th Indianapolis 500 wasn’t monumental enough.

Then, Toyota wasn’t really going to lose a near certain first win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We go back to my friend and colleague Luke here, because 10 minutes prior to the race finish, Luke had a rare moment where he wasn’t “on it.” “Toyota’s surely got this…” he tweeted.

Naturally, they didn’t. As Kazuki Nakajima slowed so painfully coming out of the Ford Chicane in the final six minutes and stopped on the front straight, and the Porsche blew past, the hearts stopped once more.

Jaw dropped again, because the fact Toyota had lost its rightful and deserved win was now reality.

And now finally, in a year that really hasn’t had that many jaw-droppers in F1, Rosberg’s beat them both with this news.

So, the quick, first reflection begins with Suzuka. The moment when Rosberg’s teammate Hamilton blew the start in Suzuka in mid-October is now the beginning of the end of Rosberg’s career. Few if any knew it at the time.

Maybe Rosberg did. It appears he has.

Suddenly the metronomic, icy exterior makes all the more sense.

“One race at a time.”

The five words that defined Rosberg’s public persona this season, and hid his inner desire for this moment to be achieved, suddenly loomed larger.

If he took it one race at a time, he’d be one day closer to the end of his career.

The Rosberg that raced just six days ago in Abu Dhabi was not the Rosberg we saw for the bulk of now his 11-year career. He was aggressive, as witnessed by that pass on Max Verstappen. He was calculated; knowing that even as Hamilton was backing him up to try to force him into making a mistake, he knew all he had to do was stand his ground.

And the emotion that was released upon finishing the race? That wasn’t robotic Rosberg. That was human Nico.

Human Nico is now who he can be for the rest of his life. A husband. A dad. And now, a World Champion.

No one can take that away from him.

But, Nico, I do have one final request.

Can you make the rounds to pick our collective jaws up off the ground?