Hamilton keeps his cool to claim pole for Chinese GP

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix with a brilliant display during qualifying, taming the wet conditions in Shanghai on Saturday.

The British driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:53.860 to see off the challenge of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in the wet conditions, whilst two mistakes from Nico Rosberg in the final session meant that he was forced to settle for fourth place on the grid.

In a session defined by the weather, Mercedes’ dominance was threatened by Red Bull and Ferrari at times, but ultimately Hamilton managed to keep his cool and secure his 34th career pole position.

As the green light went on to start qualifying for the Chinese GP, the teams faced a choice between intermediate and wet tires as rain continued to fall over the Shanghai International Circuit. However, Pastor Maldonado’s session was over before it started following an engine problem during FP3 that forced him to sit out of qualifying, thus continuing his streak of Q1 drop-outs in 2014. Nico Rosberg quickly set about proving Mercedes’ wet weather pace by setting the first serious benchmark time of 1:56.351, and teammate Lewis Hamilton slotted into second place ahead of Fernando Alonso.

The drivers continued to find their way through the spray, but some had off-track excursions due to the lack of grip. A drying line soon began to emerge though, allowing them to improve their times, and Sebastian Vettel jumped to the top of the timesheets with four minutes to go. Hamilton restored Mercedes’ advantage with one minute reamaining, and ultimately finished the first session on top ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.

At first, Caterham was the only team to fit a set of intermediate tires, but Sauber soon followed this example with Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil in an attempt to make it into Q2. With just a couple of minutes to go, Jules Bianchi posted an impressive lap on the intermediates despite losing a lot of time at the final corner, signalling to the field that it was time to make the switch. In the end, Gutierrez was the major casualty after a mistake on his final lap meant that he could not improve, and as a result dropped out of Q1 alongside the Marussia and Caterham drivers.

In the sole remaining Sauber, Adrian Sutil was the first driver out in Q2 on intermediate tires, and it looked set to be the compound of choice in the session as rain continued to fall. Hamilton and Rosberg continued to display the wet weather pace of the Mercedes W05 car to move up to P1 and P2 with their first lap times, and enjoy a comfortable gap to their rivals.

A number of drivers still continued to struggle in the wet conditions. Fernando Alonso put one wheel of his Ferrari on the slippery white line and lost time, whilst Romain Grosjean made a similar error in his Lotus. Vettel managed to keep his head and split the Mercedes drivers at the top of the timesheets, but with five minutes to go, none of the drivers appeared to be assured of their place in Q3.

In the final set of runs, Jean-Eric Vergne and Nico Hulkenberg both improved to move into the top ten, and as a result both McLarens were pushed down into the dropzone. Neither Jenson Button nor Kevin Magnussen could improve in the spray, and both dropped out in Q2 as a result. Kimi Raikkonen also languished down in 11th place for Ferrari, but Romain Grosjean produced a fine display to secure Lotus’ first top ten grid slot of the season.

Ahead of Q3, the rain grew heavier, once again presenting the teams with a dilemma between intermediate and wet tires. Sebastian Vettel set an immediate benchmark of 1:54.981 for Red Bull through the spray, and when Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso both fell short, it appeared that an upset could be on the cards. Lewis Hamilton soon redressed the balance with a spectacular lap that earned him provisional pole by six-tenths of a second ahead of the final run in Q3.

With a fresh set of tires, the drivers began to find more grip and improve their times. Rosberg’s first attempt was ruined by a lock-up, allowing Daniel Ricciardo to move up to P2. Hamilton extended his lead to move over one second clear of the field, but his rivals still had one final lap to make up the deficit. Ultimately, Ricciardo could not bridge this gap and finished some six-tenths clear, whilst a spin for Rosberg meant that he had to settle for fourth place on the grid behind Vettel.

Hamilton has broken the British record for the most pole positions with this result, moving ahead of Scottish legend Jim Clark who previously held the record with 33. It also marks Hamilton’s third pole position in four races, and he will be keen on converting it into his third win of the year tomorrow.

You can watch the Chinese Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra tomorrow live from 2:30am ET.

F1 Paddock Pass: Australian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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And so, the 2017 Formula 1 season is officially underway with the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on top, having beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both on strategy and on pace to kick off this new era in the sport’s history.

A recap of the day from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne occurs below in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, as F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales go into the paddock to run down the stories of the day.

MORE: Full Australian Grand Prix event replay; Mosaic replay

The podium saw Vettel ahead of Hamilton, with Mercedes’ new driver Valtteri Bottas coming third on debut for the team.

Other interviews that occurred during NBCSN’s post-race coverage on F1 Extra included with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who came fourth and fifth respectively, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon who scored his first career point, and with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who doggedly dragged his McLaren Honda into a potential points-paying finish before a late-race retirement.

Paddock Pass is in three parts and can be viewed below.

Haas’ sophomore F1 season starts badly with double DNF in Australia

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The Haas Formula 1 team’s sophomore campaign got off to a bad start on Sunday as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were both forced to retire from the Australian Grand Prix.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, making its debut in Australia 12 months ago.

Grosjean scored a memorable sixth-place finish on that day in Melbourne, and looked poised to repeat the result in 2017 after qualifying sixth on Saturday.

A poor start was Grosjean drop to seventh, but he managed to hold position through the opening stint of the race ahead of the pit stop cycle.

However, Grosjean had no chance to wield some strategic genius as Haas did last year, with a water leak forcing him to retire while inside the top 10.

“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car,” Grosjean explained.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6. The start wasn’t ideal, so we need to improve that. I felt I was faster than the Williams, so there’s huge potential in the car.

“I guess the key for us is to keep the momentum and get the consistency we didn’t have last year, where I’d be fifth in Bahrain then 19th in China. I really want to improve on that and get more consistency in terms of results. If we do that, then I’m sure there are going to be plenty of races where we can score good points.”

Grosjean’s new teammate for 2017, Kevin Magnussen, suffered an early setback when he clashed with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson on the first lap, and ultimately retired due to a suspension issue stemming from the incident.

“I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit,” Magnussen said.

“We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast.

“That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “Not the race we wished for, or we expected. With Romain it looks like we had a water leak. We don’t know yet where that came from.

“Obviously, Kevin’s race was destroyed in the third corner after the contact with Ericsson. He then ended up later with a suspension failure, which we still have to investigate why.

“The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast. We need to work on a few parts and, hopefully, we can get back strong again in China in two weeks.”

Sam Posey previews 2017 with ‘The Winds of Change’ (VIDEO)

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As the 2017 kicks off from Australia, our resident poet laureate Sam Posey has penned his latest essay on what’s to come ahead of the new year.

Here’s a look ahead to the new season, with Posey’s “The Winds of Change” looking at the vast transformation in the sport that occurred over the winter, from the change in ownership, to the change in cars, to the change in the lineups… and to the change in the pecking order.

An archive of Posey’s 2016 essays are linked here.

Sprint car veteran Dave Steele killed in accident at Desoto Speedway

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Open-wheel veteran and occasional NASCAR racer Dave Steele was killed Saturday night in an accident at Desoto Speedway in Bradenton, Florida during a sprint car race. The veteran driver out of Tampa was 42 years old.

According to SPEED SPORT, Steele reportedly crashed while driving for position in his winged sprint car, in the Southern Sprintcar Shootout Series event.

The track confirmed Steele’s passing in a Facebook post, writing: “Desoto Speedway owners and staff are saddened by tonights passing of David Steele in the Sprint car feature. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends who were all in attendance, to see him try to win his 100th florida race.”

Steele made three starts in the Indy Racing League in 1998 and had been brought on by Panther Racing as a development driver for the team’s first crack at a two-car effort, then teammate to Scott Goodyear, the last two races of that season. He was entered as a second car for the 1999 Indianapolis 500 but did not qualify. He also drove in the Indy Lights series a few years later in a handful of races.

In USAC though, Steele was regarded as one of the top drivers on the circuit, with a sterling record. As of the end of 2016, he had 26 USAC National Sprint Car wins, 16 Silver Crown wins (third all-time) and 18 National Midget wins, for a total of 60 wins that proved his versatility in USAC’s three primary types of cars, both on pavement and on dirt.

A number of tributes and condolences have already come in on social media. Note the one from Michael Lewis, an up-and-coming sports car driver out of California who’s won races in Pirelli World Challenge, and whose father Steve Lewis was the architect of the old Beast/Pink entries, which Steele used to drive for.