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.

Lauda on Hamilton’s Baku pole lap: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’

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Formula 1 legend and Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda was quick to heap praise on Lewis Hamilton after qualifying in Azerbaijan on Saturday, saying he had “never seen anything like” the Briton’s Q3 pole lap.

Hamilton charged to the 66th pole of his F1 career at the Baku City Circuit on Saturday after a last-ditch effort took his four-tenths of a second clear of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton was overjoyed by the lap, having struggled to tame the Baku circuit during its inaugural race in 2016, and three-time world champion Lauda was equally as impressed.

“We had some problems on Friday, but the team really did a fantastic job to set the car up in the right way. And Lewis with his lap today… I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lauda said, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“It was not plain sailing at all, but a lot of thinking, digging, back to the factory, and in the end the improvement the engineers and mechanics did to the car is outstanding.

“And then Lewis, what he did today, no one else I think can do that.

“He’s fantastic, especially thinking about his lap time here, because the difference he makes to everybody – it’s only Lewis.”

Hamilton will go in search of his fifth win of the season in Baku on Sunday, with coverage of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET.

WATCH LIVE: Azerbaijan GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 8am ET

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Formula 1’s second trip to the new Baku City Circuit, but first actually as the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, takes place today and you can see it live this morning on NBCSN.

F1 AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX LIVE STREAM

Pre-race coverage runs for an hour from 8 a.m. ET through to 9 a.m. ET, with lights out at that point.

After his 66th career pole put him into second all-time, Lewis Hamilton looks to continue to close the battle for the championship and become the first driver to win a second straight race this season.

The Mercedes AMG Petronas driver leads teammate Valtteri Bottas, who starts second, and the pair of Scuderia Ferrari drivers of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel leads Hamilton by 12 points, 141-129, heading into today’s race. The Red Bull, Force India and Williams drivers were also in the top 10 in qualifying.

You can see a full run-down of what to watch for in today’s race in our Sunday preview.

You can watch the Azerbaijan Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET. CLICK HERE for NBC live stream.

You can also try out a new ‘Mosaic View’ for the race that includes the race simulcast, in-car cameras, driver tracker and pit lane cam. CLICK HERE to watch the Mosaic View live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton providing updates and interviews throughout the race from Baku.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.

What to watch for: Azerbaijan Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 8am ET)

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The momentum that Lewis Hamilton gained with his victory in the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago carried through to qualifying in Baku on Saturday as he swept to his 66th pole position in Formula 1.

One year on from one of the most underwhelming performances of his grand prix career at the Baku City Circuit, Hamilton looked more at ease this time around, producing a stunning late lap in Q3 to bag pole ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

With F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel starting fourth for Ferrari, the odds are stacked in Hamilton’s favor as he bids to reclaim the lead of the drivers’ championship – but as we have seen already this weekend, the Baku track can punish the smallest of errors.

You can watch the Azerbaijan Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton, Bottas look to continue Mercedes’ momentum swing

Even after Lewis Hamilton’s convincing victory in Canada two weeks ago, Ferrari entered the Azerbaijan race weekend as the favorite given the SF70H car’s ‘work everywhere’ nature and the mix of high- and slow-speed sections in Baku.

Yet qualifying saw Mercedes deliver a result that was reminiscent of its devastating qualifying form last year when it was regularly gapping the field by a second. 2017 form it ain’t.

So does this point towards a sea change in the pecking order at the top of the field? Maybe. If Mercedes can sweep to another one-two here and convincingly beat Ferrari, it would be more proof that the “diva” W08 car is slowly starting to come good.

Can Red Bull get in the fight?

Red Bull may have been marooned as the third-fastest team for much of the season so far, but the early signs in Baku are that the team could be in the mix to fight with Mercedes and Ferrari at the front of the field.

Max Verstappen led both practice sessions on Friday and nearly outqualified Vettel, pointing to an improved pace in the RB13 car, even if we didn’t see as much from Daniel Ricciardo after his prang in Q3.

While on raw pace Red Bull may struggle to keep up in the race, should things turn in its favor much as it did in Spain and Malaysia last year, Verstappen looks primed and ready to pounce.

Another one-stop race in store

Pirelli’s more conservative tires have certainly been a big talking point so far this season, with one-stop races appearing to become the norm, and you can expect the same in Baku today.

The super-soft tire was holding up so well that drivers were expecting to keep finding time on their starting set in Q3, only for the red flag to prompt a switch, and it is likely the compound will go deep into the race today as well.

While it may not offer many strategy variants, it does mean that teams can push for both the undercut and the overcut, as seen in Russia and Monaco earlier this year. So there are still a few routes to go down and options, particularly with the challenge of negotiating traffic through the tighter sections.

Will Baku madness finally strike?

Last year’s inaugural race in Baku caught many by surprise given its tameness and lack of incidents. No safety cars and no blockages around the circuit despite the earlier madness that had ensued in the GP2 race was not the expectation.

That might be different this year, though. We have already seen two drivers – Sergio Perez and Jolyon Palmer – get caught out at the tight Turn 8 section, while an incident in the Formula 2 feature event on Saturday prompted the race to end under a red flag.

As drivers look to gain positions and fight their way to the front, things could get crazy in Baku today…

McLare- oh you know the rest…

Yep, it’s another one of those days for McLaren. After ailing to its worst qualifying display of the season with a double-Q1 knockout on Saturday, racing director Eric Boullier said it was one of the worst weekends he’s had in racing. And you can understand why.

The Baku circuit’s tighter sections may suit the MCL32 chassis nicely, yet the high-speed stuff – and especially the never-ending home straight – lay the issues with the Honda power unit bare. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne’s trap speeds were over 20 mph down on the leaders in qualifying – it’s a sad state of affairs.

From P18 and P19, McLaren can’t really expect much from its drivers today. That said, with an incident or two, and taking into account Alonso’s knack for dragging a car far beyond its rightful position, points are still a dream that are not totally out of the question…

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
4. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
5. Max Verstappen Red Bull
6. Sergio Perez Force India
7. Esteban Ocon Force India
8. Lance Stroll Williams
9. Felipe Massa Williams
10. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
11. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
12. Kevin Magnussen Haas
13. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
14. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
15. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso*
16. Romain Grosjean Haas
17. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
18. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren**
19. Fernando Alonso McLaren***
20. Jolyon Palmer Renault****

* Sainz received a three-place grid penalty after causing a collision in the Canadian Grand Prix.
** Vandoorne received a 35-place grid penalty for power unit and gearbox changes.
*** Alonso received a 40-place grid penalty for power unit changes.
**** Palmer failed to set a time in qualifying, and starts from last at the discretion of the stewards.

You can watch the Azerbaijan Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Another day, another photo finish in MX-5 Cup at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The first of three sports car races held Saturday at Road America featured a familiar ending in the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires: a photo finish.

For the third time in four races, a margin of victory of less than a tenth of a second was all that decided the race. This time it was defending series champion Nathanial Sparks of Sick Sideways Racing, edging Atlanta Speedwerks’ Todd Lamb by 0.0468 of a second, for the victory.

Sparks’ win slots in second in the three photo finishes. Friday’s race one saw Patrick Gallagher beat Bryan Ortiz by 0.0263 of a second. At Indianapolis last weekend, Robert Stout beat Gallagher by 0.0632 of a second.

Sparks, also known as “Sparky,” explained how he made the move for the win.

“I fell back a little and I put my head down and really drove hard and I found myself back up at the front,” said Sparks. “Ortiz, Gallagher, and all those guys were driving so hard and there was battling for position and jockeying and moving around. I had a good run coming up out of the last corner and I managed to make my Mazda motor just power me up and just drove it home. It was super excited bringing it home for my Sick Sideways team today.”

Lamb, who came up short, offered his take: “That was a lot of fun. It’s my first podium of the season. We’re starting to get these cars figured out and starting to figure out who is going to work with us and who’s not. It’s been a lot of fun and a good learning experience this weekend, I’m looking forward to more!”

Gallagher led the standings by 39 points over Sparks heading into the weekend and extended the lead with his win on Friday.

“It was definitely more chaotic today, nobody wanted to work together like they did yesterday,” said Gallagher. “Everyone thought they had to be in second, but they didn’t realize they needed to be there until the last lap. Everybody was trying to get to second place from lap one, people were leaning on me and I just had to be careful. I got shoved around a little bit, but it’s a long season, and the championship points we got here this weekend are most important.”

The McCumbee McAleer Racing driver finished third today, his season worst result (hardly a bad thing for the Thornville, Ohio native) and still leads the points as the series heads next to the streets of Toronto, July 14-16, for Rounds 7 and 8. That is also part of a Verizon IndyCar Series weekend.