Hamilton and Rosberg lay down their weapons, but will it last?

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The last week or so in Formula 1 has been a funny one. On the grandest of stages – the Monaco Grand Prix – Mercedes looked to be on the brink of civil war as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg locked horns both on and off track.

However, the two spoke yesterday and cleared the air, with Hamilton tweeting: “We’ve been friends for a long time, and as friends we have our ups and downs. Today we spoke and we’re cool, still friends.” It was a sweet way to defuse the situation and remove the tension.

Of course, the cynical question is “will it last?” Is this ceasefire just for show?

Well, that remains to be seen. The crucial part of this is that a ceasefire has taken place, and that there is no longer this public tension and ‘threat of war’. For all we know, it could still linger internally at Mercedes, but from the outside looking in, the waters have calmed.

And that was the important part of this for the team. Over the years, there have been many explosive intra-team rivalries. Those that have taken place in the public domain – Senna/Prost, Webber/Vettel – have been particularly difficult for the teams dealing with them.

However, we must go back to another case involving Lewis Hamilton to compare it to the ‘Battle of Mercedes’ in 2014: his 2007 tiff with Fernando Alonso.

Alonso arrived at McLaren after winning two straight titles with Renault, whilst Hamilton was promoted from GP2 to make his F1 debut. Alonso clearly thought he was the ‘number one’ driver, and very few expected Lewis to perform as well as he did, least of all Alonso.

The first murmurings of unrest came at the Monaco Grand Prix. Alonso had claimed pole position and led away at the start, but Hamilton was on a one stop strategy. Despite having a heavier fuel load (this was back in the days of refueling, of course), he was somehow keeping the Spaniard in sight. Could he really claim his first win at F1’s glamor event?

No, he couldn’t. McLaren switched him to a two stop strategy to his surprise, but little more was said of it. In Canada and at Indianapolis, Hamilton claimed back-to-back wins despite Alonso calling for him to move aside and let him through. Tensions were at breaking point, but it was still implicit. There were none of the direct comments as we saw in Monaco this year, merely some hand gestures from Alonso along the pit straight at the Brickyard.

It first really became public when Alonso deliberately blocked Hamilton during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix. After coming in for a fresh set of tires, Alonso sat in his pit box despite being given the call to go out. By waiting, he held up Hamilton, who was stacked behind him, and meant that the Briton could not post another time in the fight for pole.

The stewards demoted Alonso five places on the grid, and Hamilton had the last laugh by claiming his third win of the year. However, the damage was done. The Spaniard left McLaren at the end of the season by mutual consent.

The year was a tough one for McLaren, with the unrelated spygate scandal resulting in a $100m fine and exclusion from the constructors’ championship. Both Hamilton and Alonso missed out on the title by one point, finishing on 109 to Kimi Raikkonen’s 110. Arguably, the tension that was boiling under the surface cost both of them the title.

And that’s what is different at Mercedes. It is quite clear that the German marque will win both titles this season – it’s simply a question of who will come out on top in the drivers’ championship.

We’ve had the release of pressure in Monaco. Ultimately, these two are friends. Lewis and Fernando weren’t.

Perhaps it’s even a ‘brotherly’ relationship at Mercedes. They have spats, they have moments where they shout “I hate you!” and storm up to their room. A few hours later though, they’ll skulk downstairs and mumble that they’re sorry. Before you know it, Lewis and Nico will be out in the yard playing soccer – or, as we saw in the tweet, riding unicycles!

This current peace at Mercedes will not last. We might see many more spats between the two before the end of the year and when the title is decided. However, they’ll go away, think about it, and then come back. This tension will be temporary.

Mercedes is in a good place right now. Things could change in 2015 if a team does pose a serious challenge to the Silver Arrows, and any kind of intra-team tussle could jeopardize the title bid, as we saw at McLaren in 2007.

For now though, it’s game on between Lewis and Nico. May the best man win.

JR Hildebrand shines at Phoenix after return from injury

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JR Hildebrand had one of the best weekends of his Verizon IndyCar Series career at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. After returning from a broken hand suffered at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Californian qualified a career-best third and went on to finish third. The result is his first top five since Long Beach in 2013 and his first podium since the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

Hildebrand explained in the post-race press conference that he knew Ed Carpenter Racing would be strong on short ovals, and he felt pressure to make good on their potential. “I was definitely anxious to make good on the speed. The team has a great short oval package,” he revealed. “I’m excited to get the result. The car was bitchin. I think at the end of the race, we might have had the best car on the track. It feels good to have that in it. It’s a strong result heading into May.”

And if not for traffic at the end, Hildebrand might have been able to pass Will Power for second. But, as he described, battling traffic was a main theme the entire night, especially with lapped cars battling each other for significant positions. “For me the race ended up coming down to how you managed traffic. Guys are a lap down but racing for top-10 spots. Usually when you’re lapping guys on a road course there’s no stress. Here they were racing even harder than we were. It is a difficult thing to manage. It became about picking opportunities to pass guys,” Hildebrand explained.

In regards to his hand injury, Hildebrand described it as a non-factor and does not see it being an issue going forward. “In my hand, there was no stress. (It’s) good for (Gateway International Raceway) on Tuesday and then the whole month of May.”

Hildebrand now sits 13th in the championship standings, ten back of tenth place Ed Jones.

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Pagenaud breaks through for first oval win in Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Simon Pagenaud parlayed a combination of pace and longer fuel stints to win his first career Verizon IndyCar Series race on an oval, in the next logical career step for the 2016 series champion.

After starting fifth, Pagenaud advanced to the lead and led 116 of 250 laps in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix in the fourth race of the 2017 season in his No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

He’s the fourth winner in as many races, has four top-five finishes to kick off the year, and has now moved into the points lead. It’s his 10th career win.

In a Chevrolet-dominated affair, Pagenaud led teammate Will Power, who finally broke his duck of five straight races outside the top 10, JR Hildebrand, who finished on the podium in his return to action, and Helio Castroneves, who again lost the win from pole position but banked his fourth top-10 straight.

Team Penske dominated, leading all 250 laps themselves – the first time a team has done so since Penske did in Detroit last year.

Scott Dixon completed the top five finishers, the top Honda.

In an attrition-filled race, only 13 of 21 starters finished, with five cars going out in a first-lap accident.

More to follow…

RESULTS

Bourdais among five cars caught up in Turn 1 pileup at Phoenix (VIDEO)

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – A massive five-car pileup has dwindled the 21-car Verizon IndyCar Series field in tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix down after a first turn accident.

Points leader Sebastien Bourdais, rival Mikhail Aleshin (the two have collided several times before), Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and Max Chilton were all involved in the accident.

Aleshin, who started seventh in the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, lost control coming through Turn 2 and collected the others. Bourdais, in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, tried to avoid to Aleshin to the outside but crashed into him. Andretti, in the No. 27 Oberto Honda for Andretti Autosport, spun behind him after contact with Bourdais. Rahal, in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda, tried to split the gap but got caught up. Chilton’s No. 8 Gallagher Honda has also sustained enough damage to be sidelined.

All drivers were out of their cars after the accident, and have been checked, cleared and released from the infield medical center.

Quick quotes are below, Aleshin, Rahal and Chilton talking to NBCSN’s Robin Miller, Andretti to Marty Snider and Bourdais to Kevin Lee.

“Unfortunately when I started to turn into Turn 1, the rear went and I couldn’t do anything. With full lock, I understood that was it. Snap oversteer. Couldn’t do anything about it. It was obviously my mistake. I am sorry for the guys who hit me as well. That’s racing,” Aleshin said.

Andretti said, “I want to be able to just finish a race. Everyone was trying to miss Mikhail. It looked like he had more downforce. Ryan just missed it. I tried to spin to miss him, then my smoke is why Graham couldn’t see. He hit me. It’s not ideal seeing blue smoke with most of the field coming at you. Glad everyone is OK. It was a product of Mikhail losing it and us trying to avoid it.”

Rahal added, “I didn’t have a perspective. I don’t know what happened. The spotter yells go low, Chilton’s spinning in front of me, I tried to go above him, and his car came up the banking. Legitimately I don’t know what happened. Our luck right now. Need to go to New Orleans for a voodoo doll. Spotter yells one thing. Where else do you go? This is what happens when you qualify at the back. Our sponsors, mechanics don’t deserve this. A lot of work to be done ahead. You’ve been around this long enough – you, PT – you’re just doomed. I was wrong place, wrong time.”

Bourdais said, “You’re just along for the ride. I was too close to brake. Marco was already in there anyway. Ryan cleared it barely. Not much you can do. It was a pretty big slap. It was a shame. You have to have wiser moves on the start like that. Everyone gets caught up in the moment and we were collateral damage. Our Sonny’s BBQ car is busted on the left and right side.”

Chilton concluded, “We had a pretty decent start. I was sort of tensing because four-wide is never good on a short oval. Mikhail lost his car. You only need one car to make a mistake and it’s a disaster. I did the normal human reaction. I spun, as I came back, I got collected by Rahal. Frustrating way to end the day. But so much downforce and these races are so boring, everyone tries to overtake on Lap 1.”

A quick video of the accident via the inside of Turn 1 is below along with the main video above.

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: