Hamilton holds on to defeat Rosberg in Spain and claim fourth straight win

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Lewis Hamilton has claimed his fourth consecutive Formula 1 victory at today’s Spanish Grand Prix, fending off the challenge of teammate Nico Rosberg in the closing stages of the race to hang on and seize the lead of the drivers’ championship.

The British driver managed to combat a few setup problems and a split strategy compared to that of his teammate to take to the top step of the podium in Spain for the very first time. Rosberg put up a valiant fight to try and deny Hamilton yet another victory, but was unable to pass the 2008 world champion despite closing in the final stages of the race.

Daniel Ricciardo finally secured his first podium finish after suffering heartbreak in Melbourne at the beginning of the year, and led home teammate Sebastian Vettel, who, having started down in 15th place, put in a fine display. Valtteri Bottas lost out to the German driver in the final few laps, but managed to bring his car home in fifth.

The start saw Hamilton make a clean getaway to stay in the lead ahead of Rosberg. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was the big mover at turn one, passing Daniel Ricciardo to jump up into third place. Romain Grosjean locked up when trying to also find a way past the Red Bull, but remained in fifth place. Having started down in 15th, Vettel made a poor start and lost a position, and his efforts were not helped when Kevin Magnussen made contact with him in the final chicane.

Pastor Maldonado didn’t show any signs of backing off despite his crash yesterday, and was lucky to continue after colliding with one of the Caterham cars. He did receive a stop/go penalty for the incident, though.

Having lost P3 off the line, Ricciardo quickly set about re-claiming the position from Bottas, but the Finn kept his Williams as wide as possible to stop him from getting past. The Australian opted to back off to get some clear air, while his teammate finally found his feet to fight past Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil to move up to 13th place behind Jenson Button. However, Vettel then pitted to get out of traffic, and appeared to be set for a three stop strategy.

At the front, Mercedes wasted no time in opening up a lead over the rest of the field. Hamilton and Rosberg were lapping at over one second per lap quicker than the other drivers, but the gap between the two remained constant at around two seconds. When the Briton eventually pitted, Rosberg was released into the lead, and quickly set about establishing a lead over his teammate. Ultimately, he was forced to pit just three laps later, and rejoined the track behind Hamilton. However, he was on a different tire to that of his teammate.

As Bottas remained ahead, Ricciardo took to the pits for a fresh set of tires. Bottas went far longer into the race on his set of starting tires, and as a result lost out to the Red Bull driver. After stopping, Kimi Raikkonen held onto sixth position ahead of Fernando Alonso, but the Spaniard was forced to lock up to avoid hitting his teammate on pit exit. Raikkonen duly set his sights on Grosjean in front, and found a way past on lap 25 to move up into fifth place, with Alonso following suit just one lap later.

Mercedes sought to manage the gap between Hamilton and Rosberg as they were on split strategies, but the race leader began to feel uncomfortable with the back-end of his car. Nevertheless, he continued to eke out a gap to Rosberg, and enjoyed a 4.5 second lead as the race hit half distance.

Sebastian Vettel’s fightback continued at the expense of Kevin Magnussen, and he was soon up into seventh place behind Alonso in the Ferrari. Both managed to find a way past Kimi Raikkonen when the Finn took to the pits a few laps later.

With 22 laps to go, Hamilton dived into the pits for a fresh set of tires and a slight front wing adjustment. A small delay in the pits cost him about a second, and this gave Rosberg a fighting chance to putting the hammer down and catching his teammate. The German pitted two laps later, emerging some way behind Hamilton, although he was on the quicker tire. This soon began to show as Rosberg halved the gap to Hamilton, and with 15 laps to go was just 2.5 seconds behind.

Ricciardo and Bottas both pitted on the same lap as Rosberg, and the Australian looked poised to secure his first podium finish. Bottas came out behind Alonso and Vettel, though, but was released up into fifth place when the defending world champion dived into the pits. Alonso followed Vettel’s example, and came out behind the Red Bull as the duo set their sights on catching Kimi Raikkonen in fifth place. Vettel quickly disposed of Ferrari with a great overtake at turn ten, and Alonso also managed to find a way past before the end of the race to finish in sixth. Vettel himself pushed on to pass Bottas and eventually finish the race in fourth place.

Rosberg refused to lie down at the front, and with lots of fuel in reserve, he cut the gap to just 1.2 seconds with eight laps to go. Hamilton continued to report problems with graining on his tires. Soon, the German was within DRS range, but he was still not close enough to make it past. With just two laps to go, Rosberg was on Hamilton’s rear wing, but he simply could not find a way through, and eventually finished just 0.6 seconds behind his teammate.

With this win, Hamilton takes the lead of the drivers’ championship, and is certainly the man to beat heading to the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. However, Rosberg proved himself to be a worthy adversary today, and it is clear that he will not be backing down in the face of his teammate’s dominance.

BREAKING: Wehrlein ruled out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan: