Hamilton supreme in qualifying to secure Spanish GP pole

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg during the final stage of qualifying at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona today, marking his first pole at the race.

The British driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:25.232 to finish one-tenth clear of Rosberg, as the Silver Arrows locked out the front row of the grid for the fourth time this season.

Daniel Ricciardo finished as best of the rest in third place, albeit some nine-tenths behind the Mercedes drivers. Valtteri Bottas produced a stunning final lap to qualify in fourth place for Williams, whilst Romain Grosjean ended up in fifth place ahead of both Ferraris.

It was another difficult day for Sebastian Vettel as the German driver suffered a gearbox problem during Q3, leaving him down in 10th place.

Since the end of final practice, the track temperature had rocketed, meaning that it was immediately quicker than it had been at the end of the morning session. A number of drivers came out early in order to post a time, but the session came to an abrupt halt just 90 seconds after the green light when Pastor Maldonado crashed his Lotus at turn three. Although he walked away unharmed, a red flag was required to recover the stricken Lotus.

The restart saw most of the drivers head out, including the two Mercedes drivers who would ultimately battle for pole. Nico Rosberg immediately went fastest of all, but Hamilton’s first lap was slow after he ran onto the grass. He soon made up for it, though, by moving up into second place behind his teammate, and Sebastian Vettel slotted into third place, albeit some seven-tenths down on the Mercedes’ drivers. Daniil Kvyat put in a good lap to finish in sixth place, but Romain Grosjean was having a bit of trouble with his front tires in the sole remaining Lotus, but eventually got through.

With five minutes to go, a number of drivers switched to the quicker option tire to secure a place in Q2. Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen both improved to give themselves a bit more security, and Adrian Sutil moved up to P16 with his last lap, putting Jenson Button at risk. The 2009 world champion duly redressed the balance and moved up to P9, thus dumping Sutil out of qualifying along with the two Marussias, the two Caterhams and Maldonado in the Lotus.

Only Force India and Williams ventured out on track at the beginning of Q2, but this gave Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez a chance to go P1 and P2 early on. With around 10 minutes to go, the rest of the runners emerged from the pits to get in a first lap time, and Mercedes soon resumed normal service by going P1 and P2 with Rosberg ahead of Hamilton. Red Bull slotted in behind the Silver Arrows, whilst Romain Grosjean managed to move up to sixth with his first lap of the session ahead of Fernando Alonso.

Kevin Magnussen’s qualifying came to an early end as a technical problem forced him to get out of his car without posting a time. Jean-Eric Vergne was also sidelined, meaning that with his grid penalty he will start last tomorrow. Mercedes and Red Bull could afford not to run again, such was their advantage, but the other 10 cars on track needed to head out and post a quicker time.

Jenson Button managed to improve and squeeze into the final shoot-out, but the Force India pair were less fortunate as they qualified 11th and 12th with Hulkenberg ahead of Perez. Daniil Kvyat could not repeat his Q1 escapades and finished 13th, whilst Esteban Gutierrez finished as the top Sauber in P14.

Mercedes was the first team to come out in Q3 as both of its drivers planned for two runs in the battle for pole position. However, the session was soon stopped when Sebastian Vettel’s car lost drive, forcing the German to pull his car up at the side of the road and bringing out the red flags.

Once the session restarted, there was a rush to get back out on track and make up for the time lost under the red flag. Rosberg was the first to lay down a benchmark, but he was beaten into second place by Hamilton who went some two-tenths quicker. Daniel Ricciardo slotted into third place ahead of Fernando Alonso, but the rest of the drivers opted to wait for one run at the end of the session.

The final runs saw all of the drivers improve their times on fresh tires, and although Rosberg managed to go quicker, Hamilton went faster still to secure his fourth pole position of the season. Ricciardo slotted into third place as best of the rest ahead of surprise front-runners Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean. Kimi Raikkonen ran well to outqualify his Ferrari teammate Fernando ALonso, whilst Jenson Button and Felipe Massa finished in eighth and ninth ahead of Vettel in P10.

He’s the man in form after three straight wins, and it is hard to bet against Lewis Hamilton making it four in a row on Sunday. Once again, Rosberg simply had no answer to his teammate.

Can Lewis take the lead of the championship? Tune in from 7:30am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra tomorrow to find out.

WATCH LIVE: IndyCar at Phoenix (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Coverage of the fourth round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, takes place today starting at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com (stream link here). The coverage comes after an encore presentation of Phoenix qualifying, which begins at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Rick Allen will be in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will be in pit lane.

Coverage will run from 6 to 9 p.m. PT and local time, so 9 p.m. to midnight ET.

Each of the top three drivers on the grid, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and JR Hildebrand, seek their first wins of the year. The first three race winners start fourth (Josef Newgarden), 10th (points leader Sebastien Bourdais) and 11th (James Hinchcliffe).

Track position is expected to be key for the 250-lap race, the first oval event of the season, with passing projected to be difficult – albeit not impossible.

Beyond the top three, some of the other story lines to watch include these:

  • On the inside of Row 3, is Simon Pagenaud positioned to secure his first oval victory?
  • Will any of the Hondas be able to make significant inroads on the Chevrolets?
  • Is anyone going to be able to make enough gains on pit road to move up the order?

The starting lineup is below:

Monaco apartment bet gives extra spice to race for P5 in Russia

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Remember that episode of Friends where Joey and Chandler go up against Rachel and Monica in a crazy quiz that ends in them swapping apartments for a while?

Well, Formula 1 might be doing its own version on Sunday in Russia.

With Ferrari and Mercedes over one second per lap clear of the rest of the pack, the top four positions seem settled, leaving Williams and Red Bull to battle for P5.

Red Bull has been the third-quickest team for much of the season so far, yet Williams looks more competitive in Russia, with Felipe Massa charging to sixth place in qualifying to split Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

“I predicted them to be quick here. It’s been one of their stronger circuits the last few years, and Massa’s always been pretty handy around here,” Ricciardo said of Williams.

“He got close, split Max and myself. I expect that battle to remain tomorrow. Not expecting to have the battle for the win, I think that’s between Ferrari and Mercedes, but we could have a nice little battle within ourselves for the top five.”

To add an extra twist to things, it turns out that Ricciardo, Massa and Verstappen all live inside the same apartment complex in Monaco – so why not add some extra incentive to the battle?

“I was saying whoever maybe wins our battle tomorrow can get the… Massa or Verstappen, they’ve both got pretty good-sized apartments, so maybe they can give the winner their apartment for the weekend as a bit of a token gesture!” Ricciardo joked to NBCSN after the session.

“Yeah I can give a good party and I will join,” Verstappen added.

Massa laughed before saying: “I hope I will win and I cannot give!’

The race between Red Bull and Williams may be tight, but somehow we doubt remembering that the TV guide goes to Miss Chanandeler Bong or that his job is a transpon… transponster (“that’s not even a word!”) will be much help to Ricciardo, Massa or Verstappen on Sunday.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Saturday edition (VIDEO)

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Life as a rookie in Formula 1 is always tough, but for Williams’ Lance Stroll, his arrival on the grid has been particularly challenging.

Entering F1 as its second-youngest debutant and after an extensive private testing program with Williams last year, big things were expected of Stroll when he made his debut in Australia.

However, his first three races in F1 have been far from ideal, all of them ending in retirement.

The DNF is Australia was the result of a brake issue, while incidents in China and Bahrain – both of which were hard to pin on Stroll – mean the Canadian is without a classified finish to his name.

So how has he dealt with the struggles? To find out, Will Buxton brings you a special edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ to lift the lid on Stroll’s start to life in F1.

You can watch the video in full above.

JR Hildebrand returns in career-best third on grid at Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – The last first-time winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series came on an oval, when Alexander Rossi captured last year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The guy who could well have captured his first career victory five years earlier in 2011, JR Hildebrand, remains in search of ‘ol first win number one. But he’s got a good chance to do so tonight in his No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, as he’ll roll off from a career-best third on the grid in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The qualifying result for Hildebrand eclipses a previous best set twice: fourth at Iowa in 2011, and at Fontana in 2012, both with Panther Racing but in separate iterations of cars. This marks Hildebrand’s first top-five start since that Fontana race in September of that year, and easily eclipses his other 2017 starts of 19th and 15th on the two street course races to start the year.

In some respects Hildebrand’s pace this weekend is not a surprise; he was the pace-setter during the open test here in February. However, after missing Barber owing to his broken bone in his left hand, the more important aspect of his performance this weekend is that he’s back on song and comfortable – best as he can be – for today’s 250-lap race.

“I think with the kind of injury that I’m dealing with and the surgery that I had, an oval definitely is a little easier just literally turning left versus turning right even,” Hildebrand said after practice, when he was second to Josef Newgarden – who will start alongside him tonight on Row 2.

“So it felt better than honestly I thought it would in practice. I didn’t have any, like, major issues. I got a couple of different braces that I’m kind of playing around with and stuff like that. But felt like I got it pretty dialed in. Feel good about qualifying today and then the race tomorrow as well.”

Hildebrand was in a unique situation at Barber where he watched someone else in his car – a situation he hadn’t been afforded since Panther showed him the door after the 2013 Indianapolis 500. His starts since, it’s been Hildebrand in either a fill-in or extra entry, usually at Ed Carpenter Racing.

“It was definitely different to be watching in that situation than it was last year, you know, or in years past when I’ve been stepping in for testing or whatever and doing that on behalf of other guys,” he said. “It was painful to sit there and watch, but I think was in the end the only, you know, feasible kind of way to get through that weekend.”

That being said, Hildebrand wound up playing the mentor role well to Zach Veach, who methodically and consistently improved over the weekend on debut. It flashed back nicely to Hildebrand’s own debut at Mid-Ohio 2010 under nearly identical circumstances.

“I filled in for Mike Conway at Mid-Ohio back in 2010 in sort of similar conditions,” Hildebrand explained.

“Yeah, I mean, knowing this was going to be sort of a short-term thing, in particular, I wanted for the team’s sake to be able to get as much as they could out of having Zach in the car in my absence. That in some ways sort of requires that Zach is up to speed.

“But being a driver myself, being in that situation before, I know that it helps a lot to have somebody that, you know, is kind of just there to help you through whatever those difficulties and challenges are.

“Barber is a really tough place. He had some testing time at Sonoma, which is not really super relevant going into Barber. And on top of that, like, we were not great there when we tested there previously.

“You know, he was in for an uphill battle going in. He had a great attitude about the whole thing. I thought he made evident progression through the weekend. You know, was definitely helpful for the team and did a good job for himself.”

Hildebrand also noted that he wouldn’t have been in this position in the first place had he not had the contact with Mikhail Aleshin at Long Beach that put him into the wall and caused the hand injury.

“Yeah, he came over and told me he didn’t block me while I was still sitting in the car. Then he got a penalty 30 seconds later for doing that. Whatever,” Hildebrand deadpanned.

“I don’t have hard feelings about it, for sure. But, you know, I think that there’s definitely a track record that, you know, he’s begun to build up.”

Hildebrand will look for his second career podium at least if he can finish where he starts – in a weird quirk, his only career IndyCar top-three finish has come at a race where there is not the traditional podium ceremony for top-three finishers, that aforementioned 2011 Indianapolis 500.

Tonight gives him a great opportunity to break that run of tough luck and get a result to match his determination and will to return.