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In racing and in soccer, Germany’s success perpetuates

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HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY – Being a German sports fan at the moment must be pretty great. Not only has your national soccer team just won the FIFA World Cup, but you have a German driver and a German team leading the F1 world championships.

Mercedes has dominated proceedings so far this season, and although the fight between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is set to rage on this year, the advantage currently lies with the latter by four points.

In fact, since the turn of the century, there have been just three championship victories that have no relation to Germany: Fernando Alonso’s titles in 2005 and 2006 with Renault, and Kimi Raikkonen’s victory in 2007 with Ferrari. Michael Schumacher won every championship from 2000 to 2004; Sebastian Vettel secured four titles on the bounce between 2010 and 2013; Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button won their titles in 2008 and 2009 using Mercedes-powered cars.

Frankly, it is a staggering record. Even if you look at soccer, there is a clear pattern of success as this golden generation comes to the fore. Bayern Munich has become one of the most dominant club teams in the world, winning the UEFA Champions League in 2013, and Germany’s World Cup win wasn’t exactly surprising – they had the best team, consensus suggests – and the dismantling of Brazil will go down as one of the great all-time soccer games.

The feeling in Germany at the moment is wonderful. Being English, I’ve never had the chance to revel in a World Cup win (1966 was quite a bit before my time), so it is interesting to come to a country that is doing exactly that. There is World Cup fever still almost a week since the final. German flags are still draping from buildings and are stuck to car windows; German football shirts are being worn on every street corner; even Coca-Cola has branded its cans with names such as “Bastian” and “Mesut” in honor of the victorious players.

You only have to look at the parade that took place in Berlin following the final. The nation is unified – quite literally in the sense that this was the first World Cup win not as West Germany – by success.

And the same can be said for Formula 1 at the moment. Sebastian Vettel went from a “crash kid” (to quote one team principal) to champion of the world four times over, and is perhaps one of the greatest we have ever seen. Nico Rosberg has stepped out of his compatriot’s shadow, and is now putting the dominant Mercedes W05 Hybrid to good use in his first bid for a world championship. German engineering is dominating in both F1 – Mercedes – and in endurance racing. Audi has won 13 of the last 15 24 Hours of Le Mans races, and Porsche’s return to the LMP1 class has also been successful.

Back in F1, Nico Hulkenberg is one of the most underrated drivers on the grid, and is sniffing at a move to Ferrari in the near future. Adrian Sutil has been solid if unspectacular, and other drivers such as Timo Glock and Nick Heidfeld have podiumed in the past. Then, of course, we have the greatest: Michael Schumacher. 91 race wins, seven world championships, and a statistical record that is second to none.

So what is it that causes Germany’s racing success to perpetuate? Much of it comes down to the last name on that list: Schumacher. “For us, we’re the generation after Michael and Michael was a big inspiration,” explained Vettel on Thursday. “So for sure, when Michael made Formula 1 really a sport in Germany and made it big, a lot of fathers with their sons went to the go-kart tracks and wanted to do like him.

“I think it’s chances. In the end, if you have a thousand kids trying rather than ten, the chances that one or two end up in Formula 1 are obviously a lot greater.”

Brazilian driver Felipe Massa made a quick getaway from testing last week so he could see the match against Germany. Naturally, our first question in jest to him was “have you recovered from the result?”. He laughed and smiled, but then went on to make some very interesting points about Germany’s recent success both on the track and on the soccer pitch.

“If you see how Germany rests and how Germany is preparing everything on the sport, about Formula 1, about the World Cup, about the other categories,” he began. “It’s the country that has the most drivers racing. It’s the country that has more championships as well.

“In the football as well, the job they did was brilliant, amazing, the preparation, the way they worked.

“I think it’s something we need to learn and we need to always try and improve, but definitely we expect – by being Brazilian, by playing the World Cup at home – to be in the final fighting, and we were not, so now we need to concentrate to improve things for the future.”

After all, it was meant to be Brazil’s World Cup to win; the sixth star. Instead, it fell apart in the semi-final at the hands of Joachim Löw’s squad.

Massa’s point about Brazil needing to play catch-up is also relevant in racing. The nation has a wonderful heritage in motorsport, but if Massa were to leave F1 and not be replaced by a fellow countryman, it would be the first time in over 40 years that there has not been a Brazilian driver in the sport. Felipe Nasr is the only Brazilian of note coming through the junior ranks, currently racing in GP2, but there are few other than him.

Instead, there are a number of European h youngsters coming through the ranks that are attracting attention: Sainz, Ocon, Marciello and Vandoorne to name just four. Germany also has one to watch for the future in the shape of Marvin Kirchhofer in GP3. It’s all down to preparation.

The good feeling in Germany is set to last for some time following the national team’s victory in Brazil. However, one eye will unquestionably be on the future; how can the team continue to grow and develop in order to create a legacy?

The same will be on the mind of the management at Mercedes. It is an inevitability that the German marque will win the constructors’, and one of its drivers will definitely win the main title. However, it cannot go down as a flash-in-the-pan success like we saw with Renault in 2005 and 2006. The groundwork was made in the years leading up to Fernando Alonso’s title wins, but it did not go beyond that when he left for McLaren. Mercedes has a perfect opportunity to lay down a Ferrari-esque streak (2000-2004) and create a legacy in F1 with Rosberg and Hamilton leading its charge.

Germany’s sporting scene is in superb shape right now. However, with expectation comes pressure – will the weight prove to be too much for Nico Rosberg this weekend at Hockenheim? A win for Lewis would put the momentum firmly in his direction as we pass the halfway point in the championship.

For Germany, now is about letting the good times roll and the party atmosphere continue. The fans at Hockenheim have their tents up in the woods around Hockenheim, and following the example set by his soccer-playing compatriots, all eyes will be on Nico Rosberg to step up to the plate this weekend.

Gasly takes third win of GP2 season in Spa feature race

Pierre Gasly (FRA, PREMA Racing) lifts the trophy
2016 GP2 Series Round 6
Spa-Francorchamps, Spa, Belgium
Saturday 27 August 2016

Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service
ref: Digital Image _SBB5293
© GP2 Series
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Pierre Gasly continued to strengthen his case for a Formula 1 seat in 2016 by claiming his third victory of the GP2 Series season on Saturday at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Red Bull junior driver Gasly started second on the grid behind Prema Racing teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, and remained P2 behind Gustav Malja in the early stages.

Gasly managed to battle past the Rapax driver on lap five at the end of the Kemmel Straight before making his sole pit stop three laps later.

The Frenchman slipped behind Racing Engineering’s Jordan King after the Briton got the undercut by pitting earlier, with Norman Nato also moving into contention for the lead by passing Malja.

Gasly was able to wrestle the advantage back from King on lap nine, cycling back into the lead once those running an alternative strategy had come in to make their first pit stop.

Gasly continued to soak up the pressure from the Racing Engineering drivers after struggling to open up a lead through the traffic before Nato’s race came to an end following a loss of power.

Nato left his stricken car on the main straight, forcing officials to call a Virtual Safety Car period that neutralized the race. Gasly managed to retain and even extend his lead, with King complaining over the radio that the Prema driver had pulled away.

Gasly kept his cool at the front to ease to his third win of the season and extend his championship lead, with King and Alex Lynn bringing a British flavor to the podium in second and third place respectively.

Raffaele Marciello and Artem Markelov finished fourth and fifth respectively for Russian Time, while pole-sitter Giovinazzi was left to settle for P6 at the checkered flag ahead of Luca Ghiotto and Malja, the latter securing reverse grid pole for Sunday.

The battle for P9 and P10 ended in contact at the final corner. Upon his return to the series, Sergio Canamasas tried to force Oliver Rowland wide at the chicane to keep hold of the position, only for the two to make contact. This allowed title contender Sergey Sirotkin to sweep through and take P9, with Rowland hobbling over the line in 10th.

The victory for Gasly sees his championship lead grow to 23 points over Sirotkin, with the pair set to start next to each other on Sunday for the sprint race.

Verstappen stars in Belgian GP qualifying to become F1’s youngest front-row starter

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing gives a thumbs up from parc ferme during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen became the youngest driver in Formula 1 history to qualify on the front row of the grid on Saturday ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, breaking a record dating back to 1961.

The race at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps acts as Verstappen’s home race, given he hails from the neighbouring Netherlands and lives in Belgium.

An army of Dutch fans have made the trip across the border for the race weekend, prompting a rise in ticket sales that could result in Spa’s highest attendance since 2002.

Their support was rewarded on Saturday as Verstappen starred in qualifying, finishing just 0.149 seconds behind pole-sitter Nico Rosberg to secure second place on the grid.

At 18, Verstappen becomes the youngest driver to qualify on the front row of the grid, beating Ricardo Rodriguez’s record set at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix when he was 19 and 208 days old.

“You can always have done a better job, but Nico could have too,” Verstappen said after qualifying when asked if pole was within reach.

“To be so close on a track with some long straights, we can be very pleased with that. It’s been very smooth. Just very pleased to be second in front of my fans.”

Verstappen will start Sunday’s race on the super-soft tire, giving him a pace advantage over Rosberg to begin with after the German elected to use softs in Q2.

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton prefers grid start for Belgian GP after penalties

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton would prefer to start Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix from the grid instead of the pit lane despite being resigned to last position after a series of engine penalties.

Hamilton has racked up a 55-place grid drop after taking three new power units across the course of the weekend, breaching the limit on the number of components that can be used in a season.

Hamilton only briefly featured in qualifying on Saturday, setting a time quick enough to secure a place on the grid before returning to the pits. He finished 21st in Q1.

Hamilton opted to start from the back of the grid in China before getting caught up in an incident at the first corner, leading to suggestions that Mercedes could opt to put him in the pit lane for the start of the race at Spa.

However, Hamilton wants to start on the grid on Sunday so that he can make up positions on the run down to the first corner.

“It’s not really a difficult decision. I prefer the grid, I love the grid,” Hamilton told NBCSN.

“Most likely I will do. Not really a big difference between both, but I’d rather be immediately in the hustle rather than waiting for everyone to get down to Eau Rouge before I start.”

Tire management will be decisive in Sunday’s race, with a number of teams being forced to raise the pressure levels to prevent failures such as the one suffered by Sebastian Vettel in last year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

“Everyone is struggling on tires. Really difficult on tires, to be honest,” Hamilton said.

“They’re overheating. We were at 18 psi, now we’re at 23 because they’re worried they will all blow. All the tires are blistering, bubbling.

“I don’t know how high I’m gonna be able to go tomorrow.”

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Rosberg takes Belgian GP pole, Verstappen scores first front-row start

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo  on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Nico Rosberg will start the Belgian Grand Prix from pole position after dominating qualifying at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday afternoon.

With Mercedes teammate and Formula 1 drivers’ championship leader Lewis Hamilton dropping out in Q1 as a tactical move due to his grid penalty, Rosberg was left largely unchallenged in the battle for pole.

Red Bull and Ferrari showed glimmers of pace in practice, but when it came to qualifying, Rosberg was able to turn up the wick and continue Mercedes’ pole streak dating back to the Monaco Grand Prix.

Despite failing to improve with his final flying lap in Q3, a fastest time of 1:46.744 saw Rosberg take pole by 0.149 seconds ahead of Verstappen in P2.

Verstappen was the only driver to really push Rosberg, and although he was also unable to improve on his final effort, second place marked his best F1 qualifying result to date. He also becomes the youngest ever driver to start on the front row of the grid in F1.

Four-time Belgian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen qualified third for Ferrari, edging out Sebastian Vettel in P4. Daniel Ricciardo was fifth in the second Red Bull, finishing over three-tenths off Verstappen’s pace.

Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg qualified sixth and seventh for Force India ahead of Valtteri Bottas in P8, while Jenson Button and Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10, finishing over a second off Rosberg’s pole time.

Haas enjoyed a somewhat routine qualifying as Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both reached Q2 for the eighth race in a row. Grosjean qualified 11th with Gutierrez two places behind in 13th. Gutierrez will drop five places on the grid for blocking a driver in practice.

Kevin Magnussen led Renault’s charge in P12, while teammate Jolyon Palmer enjoyed his best qualifying of the year to finish 14th ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

Manor also produced a strong display in qualifying as Pascal Wehrlein reached Q2, finishing ninth in the opening session. The German ultimately finished 16th, with teammate Esteban Ocon finishing P18 in his first F1 qualifying outing.

The impact of Sauber’s car updates for Belgium were evident in Q1 as Felipe Nasr finished within one-tenth of a place in Q2. The Brazilian was left to settle for P17 on the grid, with teammate Marcus Ericsson in 20th. Daniil Kvyat’s ongoing struggles continued as he qualified 19th for Toro Rosso, finishing behind Ocon by 0.008 seconds.

With a 55-place grid penalty looming for a series of power unit changes, Mercedes opted to limit Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying program as much as possible. The Briton posted a time quick enough to qualify for the race, good enough for 21st place.

“This is the best strategic approach in order to maximize his opportunities from the back of the field tomorrow, in terms of new tire sets,” Mercedes confirmed.

Hamilton finished ahead only of Fernando Alonso, who was unable to post a time after coming to a stop at the top of Eau Rouge. The McLaren driver also has a sizeable grid penalty to take into Sunday’s race.

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 7am ET on Sunday.