Rosberg beats Hamilton to rule at the Red Bull Ring

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SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – Nico Rosberg has won the Austrian Grand Prix after fending off teammate Lewis Hamilton in the final stages of the race to claim his third victory of the season.

The German driver started third on the grid, and was forced to fight with the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas after they had locked out the front row on Saturday. Ultimately, they could not prevent the Mercedes cars from getting past, and eventually had to settle for third and fourth place come the checkered flag.

The result does mark Bottas’ first ever podium finish in Formula 1, as well as the team’s best result of the season. However, it was Rosberg who left the Red Bull Ring with the biggest smile after fighting off his teammate and extending his lead in the drivers’ championship to 29 points.

Off the line, Massa made a good start to hold on to his lead, but teammate Valtteri Bottas became bogged down and was overtaken by Rosberg into turn one. The Finn soon made up for it by re-passing the Mercedes driver, only to soon have two Silver Arrows in his mirrors after Lewis Hamilton surged from ninth on the grid up to fourth by the end of the first lap.

Sebastian Vettel’s disastrous weekend got even worse on the second lap when his Red Bull car lost drive. His race appeared to be over, only for the RB10 to burst back into life one minute later. Although he was a lap down on the rest of the field and stone dead last, he was still running, and was given the call from his engineer to simply “go racing”. However, his race eventually came to an end on lap 37 when Red Bull decided to retire the car.

At the front, Massa and Bottas continued to forge ahead and keep the chasing Mercedes cars at bay. The Brazilian driver was told to keep looking after his tires, but seemed to be keeping a cool head in the lead. After a poor start, Daniil Kvyat began to fight back by overtaking Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo around the outside of turn five with a very impressive move, but Toro Rosso threw it away by unsafely releasing its Russian driver.

Rosberg was the first of the front-runners to pit, coming in on lap eleven, with Hamilton following suit two laps later. The Briton was unable to get the jump on his teammate, but both managed to pass Massa when he came in. The Brazilian driver emerged from the pit lane behind Rosberg and ahead of Hamilton, only for the latter to pass him a few corners later. Bottas was unable to keep Williams in the lead, coming out behind Rosberg after stopping, but by staying ahead of Hamilton he kept the team’s hopes of a race win alive in third place.

The race lead went to Force India’s Sergio Perez, who had started on the prime tire. Just as he did in Canada, he bunched the chasing cars together, and was doing a good job to stay ahead in his bid to make up for his retirement in Montreal.

However, his tires soon began to give way, allowing Rosberg and Bottas both to make it past and into the top two positions. Hamilton followed suit on the next lap, with Massa eventually gaining the place when Force India pitted their Mexican driver, dropping him down to eighth place.

Now leading, Rosberg was lucky not to lose a place to Bottas just a few laps later after running wide at turn one. The Finn closed up on the back of the championship leader, and refused to relent despite the other Mercedes being on his tail. Rosberg regained his composure, and continued to lead as the race passed half distance.

As the team looked to secure another one-two finish, Rosberg and Hamilton were both given the call to push on the final few laps of their stint before pitting for a second time. The status quo remained at Mercedes after the stops, with attention turning to Williams and Bottas at the front. When the Finn did pit, the combination slow stop and a fastest lap from Hamilton meant that he lost a position to the British driver.

Rosberg was soon informed that he was racing Hamilton until the end of the race, with just 1.5 seconds separating the pair after they had passed Bottas. Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first few laps in the lead of a race in 2014 as he went longer on his second stint before pitting with 23 laps to go, handing the lead to the Mercedes duo.

The two Silver Arrows began to fight it out at the front, trading quicker lap times and keeping the gap steady. Further back, Massa found himself trailing Perez once again, and – following their altercation in Canada – stayed behind the Force India and waited until the Mexican made his final pit stop. Perez came back out in eighth place on a set of super-soft tires ahead of teammate Nico Hulkenberg.

As the laps whittled down, Hamilton asked his team for updates on where he could be quicker. Despite matching Rosberg, he simply could not find a way past. The German driver crossed the line to claim his third win of the season, and, perhaps more importantly, increase his championship lead over Hamilton to 29 points.

Despite not converting its front row lock-out into a race win, Williams was left happy as Valtteri Bottas secured his first ever podium finish in Formula 1 and the team’s best result of the season.

Alonso began to catch Massa in the final few laps of the races, but was unable to find a way past his former teammate and had to settle for fifth place come the checkered flag. Perez managed to fight back from his grid penalty to finish sixth ahead of Kevin Magnussen and teammate Nico Hulkenberg. Daniel Ricciardo came home in ninth for Red Bull, and the final point was claimed by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

After a difficult qualifying session on Saturday, Mercedes will be delighted to have claimed its sixth one-two finish in eight races. However, after losing yet more ground to Rosberg in the drivers’ championship, Hamilton will know that only a win will do at his home race, the British Grand Prix, in two weeks’ time.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • 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 (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.