Rosberg rockets to Canadian GP pole ahead of Hamilton

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Nico Rosberg has secured pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix after producing a fine final lap in qualifying to deny his teammate Lewis Hamilton in the final stage of the session today.

Hamilton had dominated proceedings in Montreal across the course of the weekend, but a mistake on his final lap heading into turn eighth meant that he had to settle for second place. Rosberg’s margin of victory was less than one-tenth of a second.

Qualifying began with just 21 cars vying for the 16 spots in Q2 after Esteban Gutierrez’s crash in practice forced Sauber to change his chassis. Valtteri Bottas was soon out on track in Q1, posting the first lap time of 1:18.270, but this benchmark did not last long. Teammate Felipe Massa was able to go half a second faster and occupied top spot until Nico Rosberg came through to put Mercedes back up into first place.

Lewis Hamilton took his time to warm things up having made a mistake at turn one on his first timed lap. Once he got his act together, the Briton moved up into first place by two-tenths of a second. Bottas improved to move back ahead of his teammate in third place, but Kimi Raikkonen appeared to be struggling. The Finn had to save his car from spinning twice, and Sergio Perez also pushed too hard and was lucky not to hit the wall.

At the bottom of the order, Pastor Maldonado dropped out in Q1 for the sixth time this season when he pulled over at the side of the track with a problem on his car. Marcus Ericsson’s session also came to an abrupt end when he binned his car at turn nine, bringing out the red flag with 16 seconds left on the clock. As a result, the session did not restart, meaning that Max Chilton could not improve his time and dropped out alongside his teammate and Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi.

Q2 began on time with Adrian Sutil being the first driver to venture out on track. He was soon followed by the rest of the runners, who were running on super-soft tires in order to have a shot of making it into Q3. Felipe Massa was the early leader in the session ahead of current teammate, Valtteri Bottas, and former teammate Fernando Alonso. The two Mercedes drivers headed out later on, but neither Hamilton nor Rosberg could topple Massa with their initial efforts.

With three minutes to go, the drivers began their final runs. Sergio Perez managed to improve and jump up to 12th place with his first lap, but Adrian Sutil was still left languishing down in 16th and quite a way off the rest of the field. Bottas improved his time to move into second place behind his teammate, only for the Mercedes drivers to go first and second late on with Hamilton ahead of Rosberg. Jean-Eric Vergne produced a late lap to get through, dumping Hulkenberg and Magnussen out alongside Perez, Grosjean, Kvyat and Sutil.

The final session saw Bottas head out early in order to get some clear air, and set the first benchmark of 1:15.550 for the rest of the field to follow. Nico Rosberg was the first Mercedes to cross the line and better it, going some six-tenths quicker, and although Hamilton managed to beat Bottas, he fell 0.068 seconds short of his teammate. With the German on provisional pole, Hamilton had one final chance to claim his fifth pole of the year.

On the final runs, both Rosberg and Hamilton made marginal improvements, but the Briton just could not find the pace to better his teammate’s lap, meaning that he had to settle for second place. Sebastian Vettel produced a fine final flyer to qualify third ahead of the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. Daniel Ricciardo qualified sixth ahead of Alonso and Vergne, whilst Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top ten.

After dominating proceedings in practice, Hamilton will unquestionably be frustrated not to have converted this form into a fifth pole position of the season. With an all-Mercedes front row, though, the stage is set for yet another fascinating battle between Hamilton and Rosberg in the race on Sunday.

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.