Hamilton relieved to claim first Bahrain GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton believes that Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg was the faster driver today in Bahrain despite failing to pass the Briton in the dying stages of a spectacular grand prix.

Hamilton claimed his second straight win by giving Rosberg a masterclass in defensive driving. After Mercedes had planned to allow their drivers to fight it out with different strategies, a safety car period following Esteban Gutierrez’s crash meant that Rosberg had the advantage on a quicker tire.

Having lost a 10 second lead, Hamilton appeared to be at the mercy of his German colleague, but despite a number of lunges and opportunistic overtaking attempts, Rosberg simply could not find a way past. Come the checkered flag, Hamilton’s winning margin was just 1.085 seconds; a far cry from the 17 abyss between the two drivers last weekend.

“That was a really tough race tonight and I am absolutely delighted to have come home with the win,” Hamilton explained after the race. “It’s a long time since I had a race like that! I knew that I needed a good start and to go into the first corner in the lead was crucial to my race this evening.

“From there, it was such a battle. Nico drove fantastically well and, in all honesty, he had the pace on me today but I managed to hold on. I knew when the safety car came out that Nico would be on the option tires and that he would be quick. To try and stay ahead of him was so hard and when I came across the line I was just so relieved.”

Hamilton conceded that he felt under pressure because of the inter-team battle, but the Mercedes management had insisted that its drivers would be free to race each other, bucking the trend of team orders that have tainted many races over the past decade.

“When you’re racing your teammate, the pressure is really intense and we both knew that we had to bring the cars home for the team and for the championship,” he said. “All credit to the team for allowing us to race and I hope the fans loved the show that we were able to put on tonight.”

With this win, Hamilton moves clear into second place in the drivers’ championship with 50 points, and trails Rosberg by just 11 heading to the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/