Hamilton recovers in FP2 to edge out Alonso and Rosberg

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Lewis Hamilton has bounced back from a suspension problem to finish the second practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix as the fastest driver ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

The British driver lost some track time early on in the session, but once he came out he managed to lay down a pace that was good enough to edge out Alonso by one-tenth of a second. The Spaniard had threatened to go back-to-back following his charge to P1 in the first practice on Friday.

An increase in track temperature for FP2 meant that conditions were far more representative of what teams can expect to encounter during qualifying and the race in China, and as a result there was less of a reluctance to get out early. For Mercedes and Hamilton, though, there was little choice in the matter as the team continued to work on his car following a problem during the first session.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat was the early pace-setter during FP2 with McLaren drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button slotting into second and third place behind the Russian youngster. However, his lead soon vanished when the front-runners came out as Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa traded fastest lap times. Nico Rosberg was eventually the first driver to dip below the 1:40 mark, but Fernando Alonso pulled out another half a second on the Mercedes driver.

Having not set a time during first practice, Kimi Raikkonen finally emerged from the pits for Ferrari after his car had been fixed by the team. The Finn did appear to get in the way of Esteban Gutierrez under braking, prompting the Mexican driver to complain over the radio that he had lost time as a result.

Pastor Maldonado was the first driver to make the switch to the soft compound tire, and jumped up into fourth place as a result thanks to the added pace and grip of the options. However, his session soon took a turn for the worse as he crashed his car on the entry to the pit lane, ending his session in the barrier and giving his team some repair work to do overnight.

Despite the yellow flags, Nico Rosberg was able to go fastest once again on the soft tire, pulling out another half-second over Alonso at the top. Teammate Lewis Hamilton finally managed to get out on track after his team had fixed the W05 car, and the Briton went into sixth place with his first attempt. Fernando Alonso soon returned to the top of the timesheets on the soft tire, suggesting that Ferrari has made a step forwards this weekend after a difficult weekend last time out in Bahrain.

Hamilton was one of the last men to make the switch to the soft tire, but it paid off as he went fastest of all by one-tenth of a second with 40 minutes remaining in the session. Kimi Raikkonen also ventured out on the options after his delay, and went seventh fastest.

After this set of soft tire runs, most of the teams turned their attention to race simulations to prepare for Sunday afternoon, and the times went unchanged as a result. Daniel Ricciardo put in a good stint on his long run with the prime tire, whilst Hamilton reported that his options were wearing very quickly, and even told the team that he wasn’t at all happy with the car.

Mercedes might be back on top, but it is hard to believe that the team’s advantage is just one tenth of a second. It will be interesting to see what result qualifying produces tomorrow, but with rain forecast, this weekend might not be as straightforward as Mercedes may have wanted it to be.

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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