Rosberg narrowly beats Hamilton to Monaco GP pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by just 0.059 seconds in the final stage of qualifying today.

The German driver secured provisional pole on the first set of runs, but made a mistake on his final hot lap that saw him go off at Mirabeau. This brought out yellow flags, meaning that no-one could improve their time, and meant that Hamilton was forced to settle for second place.

Red Bull once again was best of the rest in third and fourth, with Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Sebastian Vettel, whilst Ferrari locked out the third row as Fernando Alonso finished fifth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

Qualifying began under bright blue skies and in warm conditions, and most of the drivers headed out early in order to post a banker lap time. There was a split in choice between the soft and super-soft tires, with some believing that it was not worth running on the slower compound to begin with. Predictably, Mercedes had faith in its pace and immediately went fastest on the soft tires with Rosberg ahead of Hamilton. Daniil Kvyat had a huge spin on the exit of the tunnel, and was lucky not to suffer more damage than a ruined front wing.

As is the norm in Monaco, traffic made setting a clean lap time hard for the drivers out there, with Nico Hulkenberg complaining over his radio that he had been blocked. Pastor Maldonado managed to put his super-soft tires to go use to sit third at the halfway point in the session, but Red Bull opted to bide its time, waiting before sending Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel out. With their first efforts, Ricciardo went third fastest and Vettel slotted into fifth place.

With five minutes to go, most opted to pit for a fresh set of tires in a last effort to make it out of the drop zone. All teams except Mercedes and Red Bull had to make the switch to the super-soft tire in order to be sure of a place in Q2, and this worked for Jean-Eric Vergne as he finished the session in first place. The pressure was on Sauber once again as Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil were in the drop zone after Kvyat had returned to the track after his crash, and was in 16th place.

However, when Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Massa made contact at Mirabeau and brought out the yellow flags, it ruined all hot laps and meant that both Saubers were eliminated in Q1 alongside the Marussia and Caterham drivers. As a result of the incident, Massa was not able to go out in Q2, and as a result will start in 16th at best tomorrow. The stewards will investigate the collision after qualifying, as well as reports of blocking by Sergio Perez, Esteban Gutierrez, Pastor Maldonado and Daniil Kvyat.

On the super-soft tire, Mercedes once again ruled the roost, but Hamilton was still fractionally slower than Rosberg. Daniel Ricciardo continued to prove that Red Bull was best of the rest in third place, ahead of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Sebastian Vettel was late out on track once again, but he moved up into P4 behind his teammate despite report that his ERS system wasn’t working properly.

In the final set of runs, Lewis Hamilton produced a fine lap to move up to P1 ahead of his teammate. Fernando Alonso improved his lap time to get up into third place, whilst Jean-Eric Vergne also managed to make it into the top ten alongside his teammate. This in turn bumped Nico Hulkenberg down outside of the top ten, ending his qualifying in Q2, whilst Lotus also failed to continue its string of top ten qualifyings as Grosjean and Maldonado qualified 14th and 15th respectively. Jenson Button and Valtteri Bottas also failed to make it into the top ten, and will start 12th and 13th tomorrow.

All ten drivers were quick to head out on track in order to have two runs in the fight for pole position. Sergio Perez was the first to lay down a benchmark, but he was soon bumped down the order as Rosberg and Hamilton warmed up their tires for their first hot lap. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen briefly sat first and second, but the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers soon came out.

First blood went to Rosberg in the fight for pole, as he posted a time just 0.059 seconds quicker than Hamilton’s. Daniel Ricciardo was four-tenths further back, but remained ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel in fourth place after their first runs.

On the final set of runs, Rosberg was pushing hard and locked up into Mirabeau, forcing him to take evasive action down the slip road. However, this did bring out yellow flags, and meant that none of the drivers could improve as they had to back off. This inadvertently secured pole position for the German driver ahead of his teammate and the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel.

For the second year in a row, Rosberg will start on pole position at Monaco, but Hamilton seemed to be less than impressed to have finished second once the session was over. It could set the scene for an enthralling fight between the two Mercedes drivers tomorrow in Monaco.

You can watch the Monaco Grand Prix live from 7:30am ET on NBC, with the pre-race show starting at 7am ET on NBCSN.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.