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.

IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.