Mercedes remains dominant, but there have been changes further back

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Yesterday, I wrote a feature on why Red Bull cannot be discounted from the championship fight just yet. Today, that kind of fell to pieces as Mercedes went faster still and extended its advantage at the front, whilst Red Bull saw Sebastian Vettel complete just four laps all day.

So perhaps at the front, things haven’t changed a great deal. Mercedes still rules the roost, and the gap to the rest of the field is just as big as it was before (if not bigger). On qualifying pace – the raw times that we get at the end of the session – the gap is at least half a second between Mercedes and the rest of the field. Daniel Ricciardo finished third for Red Bull some 0.536s behind Nico Rosberg in P2.

If we take a look at the race pace, though, half a second is being kind.

As per usual, the second half of FP2 on Friday was all about long runs and race pace. The times rarely change in the second half of the session as the teams whack on the harder tire and fill the car full of fuel. Unlike the qualifying sims, the drivers complete far longer runs of around 15 laps to evaluate a normal stint. It gives us an insight into how they might shape up on a Sunday.

And if the script does indeed follow FP2, Mercedes will waltz to a win. Throughout their long runs, Hamilton and Rosberg continually lapped in the 1:30s and 1:31s region – a full one second faster than Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull, and almost 1.5 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari.

So at the front, not much appears to have changed. However, further back, there certainly are a few movers.

Lotus is the team that finally could break its duck this weekend. Zero points from the first four races isn’t much to shout about, but Romain Grosjean did look set to finish in the top ten in China only for a gearbox problem to force him into retirement. However, Pastor Maldonado finished an excellent P9 in FP2, whilst Grosjean would most probably have done a bit better than 17th had it not been for a problem on his car.

Marussia is another team to keep an eye on. Sure, points aren’t on the cards, but after a close-run battle with Caterham over the last few races (and years, in fact), the team appears to have forged ahead. Jules Bianchi finished 16th in FP1, some 1.2 seconds ahead of the Caterhams, and in FP2 extended this advantage to 1.4 seconds. Max Chilton might have been a bit unrealistic saying that he wanted to take on Sauber this weekend, but his French teammate could have a shot.

Finally, McLaren also appeared to be in better shape on Friday as Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button both finished inside the top ten in FP2. After a difficult few races in cold conditions, the return to the warmer coast of Spain is certainly suiting the MP4-29.

It might seem all the same at the front, but there has definitely been some movement further back over the past three weeks.

Recapping the 2018 Dakar Rally with “best of” video highlights

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EDITOR’S NOTE: NBCSN will air additional Dakar Rally highlights on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

As it has done so for four decades, the 40th annual Dakar Rally – the most grueling test of man and machine anywhere – produced a number of surprise finishes and also several disappointments for drivers or riders who were expected to do well in the nearly 5,600-mile trek that began in Peru and continued through Bolivia and ending in Argentina.

NBCSN has aired highlights from all 14 stages (actually 13, because one stage was completely rained out) during the Rally’s two-week run, which concluded Saturday.

Here’s some of the “best of” highlights from the overall Rally highlights, followed by a quick guide that gives you wrapups to all 14 stages.

So, without further adieu, here’s NBCSN’s “best of” the 2018 Dakar Rally:

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of cars

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of bikes

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of trucks

2018 Dakar Rally: Best of quads

Lastly, here’s a day-by-day wrapup of how the Rally played out.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 14 overall Rally wrapup

MORE: Stage 13 wrapup

MORE: Stage 12 wrapup

MORE: Stage 11 wrapup

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup