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.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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