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.

WATCH LIVE: Australian GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 12am ET

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The new Formula 1 season kicks off this Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix (live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET) as a new era for the sport gets underway.

New rules, new drivers and even a new owner of the series all adds up to make 2017 a season of change, with the established status quo in recent years set to be challenged.

Mercedes faced a stringent test from Ferrari in qualifying on Saturday, but it was Lewis Hamilton who once again took pole position after fending off Sebastian Vettel in the final Q3 shootout.

It may have been a familiar result, being Mercedes’ 16th-straight pole, yet the stage is set for a closer fight on Sunday, with a number of storylines due to play out up and down the grid.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET. CLICK HERE to watch via 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 on the ground at Albert Park providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

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

Ricciardo hit with five-spot grid penalty for gearbox change

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Daniel Ricciardo’s already tough Australian Grand Prix weekend has been dealt another blow, with the Red Bull Racing team confirming it would need to change the gearbox on his RB13 chassis.

As a result, Ricciardo’s 10th place grid position will now be 15th following the five-spot grid penalty that’s assessed for that change.

Coverage of the Australian Grand Prix begins at midnight ET on NBCSN with F1 Countdown. Lights out are at 1 a.m. ET.

Ricciardo was due to line up 10th anyway after his crash in qualifying yesterday, and repairs to the car have necessitated this gearbox change.

It makes the home race a little bit tougher for Ricciardo, but on the bright side, it should allow us to see what the “Honey Badger” is capable of passing or strategy-wise, and if overtaking will be possible given the new cars and from such a low grid position after a rare unforced error.

What to watch for: Australian Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from midnight ET)

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For all of changes that had taken place over the winter, qualifying for Formula 1’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix delivered a familiar result.

For the 16th race in a row, it was a Mercedes that captured pole position, with three-time champion Lewis Hamilton pulling clear in Q3. It marked his 62nd career pole and his sixth in Australia, where he made his F1 debut 10 years ago.

But the status quo from 2016 has been broken up, even if Mercedes took pole yet again. Ferrari put up a good fight courtesy of Sebastian Vettel, who split the Silver Arrows and scored his first front-row start since Singapore 2015.

Qualifying was filled with plenty of interesting storylines, leaving things finely poised for the opening round of the 2017 season.

It’s time to shake off the winter rust: Formula 1 is back.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight ET on Sunday.

Here is what to watch for in tomorrow’s race.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton, Vettel prepare for first act of title battle

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel may have won six of the seven drivers’ titles since 2010, but we are yet to see the two go mano a mano for a championship. That may be all set to change this year.

Ferrari has made significant progress over the winter, proof of that being the disappointment felt by the team as Vettel was only second and not on pole. For a team that would have been happy with fifth at points last year, it marks a big, big step forward.

Hamilton certainly looks to be in the same kind of groove that delivered four straight race wins to close out 2016. He is upbeat, relaxed and looks very comfortable in himself – and when Hamilton is in this kind of shape, it adds another layer of strength to one of the finest grand prix racers in F1 history.

Having Hamilton and Vettel lock out the front row in Australia could be a nice bit of foreshadowing of the title race to come. Let’s hope we see them duke it out on Sunday, and finally make clear who holds the upper-hand in the Mercedes-Ferrari fight.

What can Bottas do on his Mercedes debut?

Valtteri Bottas was impressive in qualifying, finishing just three-tenths of a second shy of Hamilton on pole and securing third place on the grid for his Mercedes debut. For starters, it was really good going – yet the Finn was disappointed not to have made the front row or matched Hamilton.

For the race on Sunday, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Bottas could chalk up his maiden grand prix victory. His race pace in second practice on Friday was comparable to that of Hamilton, and easily clear of the Ferrari drivers. Naturally, fuel loads and engine modes need to be taken into account – but Bottas can certainly get in the mix.

The biggest thing for Bottas will be getting to grips with life at the sharp-end of the grid. Sure, he’s flirted with the front before during his time at Williams, but this is different. A podium finish is no longer the target; it’s the expectation. How he soaks up the pressure on debut tomorrow will be fascinating to see.

New start procedure set to spice things up

As part of F1’s push to increase the challenge posed to drivers, a revision of the start procedure and available aids will get its first official run-through tomorrow.

Stricter rules regarding clutch bite points and paddle placement are set to make the perfect start very, very hard to find, most likely creating greater position change off the line. The way Kevin Magnussen put it during testing was that before, so long as the drivers hit somewhere between 10 and 90 percent of their clutch bite point, they’d get a good getaway. Now the odds are much, much slimmer, making a good start down to luck as well as judgement.

Starts were a particular weakness of Lewis Hamilton through 2016, costing him the chance to fight for victory on numerous occasions, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the new rule. All of the drivers have been focusing on practice starts through testing and practice, yet none seem totally comfortable just yet…

Home hero Ricciardo looks for response after qualifying shunt

The home-race hoodoo for Australians in F1 continued on Saturday as Daniel Ricciardo crashed out of qualifying, resigning himself to 10th place on the grid and in need of quite the fightback on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the weekend aiming to be the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race in F1, with none making the top three since the event became a world championship round in 1985.

Red Bull has struggled for pace for much of the weekend, with setup issues leaving Ricciardo adrift in Friday practice. Teammate Max Verstappen also failed to impress in qualifying, finishing well off the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers at the front in P5.

For Ricciardo, starting P10 is hardly the end of the world. With the start offering a good opportunity to get ahead and the pace of the Red Bull RB13 clearly superior to that of many cars around him, he can certainly battle back into the top five – but that home podium may need to wait for another year…

Overtaking questions set to be answered

As exciting as the new regulations for 2017 have been, and as quick as the cars are for both the drivers to drive and the fans to watch, there is still a big question mark of whether or not the racing itself will improve.

The addition of downforce to the cars has allowed lap times to be slashed, yet it is also set to make following other drivers all the more difficult. If you can’t get close to the car ahead, you’ll struggle to overtake. That’s the thinking.

Sunday will be the first true test of that. The race will be much quicker than last year’s and certainly look more spectacular, yet with a fine line between one and two stops, and the possibility of a lack of movement once the start is done with, F1’s ‘brave new world’ could get a rude awakening.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

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

* Lance Stroll received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change following FP3.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight ET on Sunday.

Maverick Vinales takes Qatar MotoGP pole as qualifying is rained off

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Maverick Viñales will make his Yamaha MotoGP debut from pole position after qualifying at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit was rained off on Saturday evening.

Viñales claimed his maiden MotoGP race win last year with Suzuki, prompting a move to Yamaha in place of three-time champion Jorge Lorenzo, who made a switch to Ducati.

After impressing throughout pre-season testing, Viñales laid down an early marker in Qatar by setting the pace in practice.

His performances would prove key as rain on Saturday in Qatar forced officials to cancel qualifying, leading them to combine the times from practice to form the grid.

Viñales’ time of 1:54.316 from FP1 handed him his first MotoGP pole by half a second from Suzuki replacement Andrea Iannone, while defending world champion Marc Marquez will start third for Honda.

2015 and 2016 Moto2 champion Johann Zarco will make his MotoGP debut from fourth on the grid, with Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso fifth ahead of Scott Redding.

Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi will begin his search for a 10th title from P10 on the grid, two places ahead of perennial rival Lorenzo, whose Ducati debut will come from P12.