Rosberg tames wet conditions to claim Belgian GP pole

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Nico Rosberg has secured pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in a wet qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps today.

The German driver beat his teammate by two-tenths of a second in the final session on Saturday afternoon, as Mercedes proved itself to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field come rain or shine. Sebastian Vettel was over two seconds behind Rosberg in third place, ahead of Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo.

A brief rain shower in the run-up to qualifying meant that the session got underway in damp conditions, with all of the drivers fitting intermediate and wet tires accordingly. A number of them struggled to keep their cars on track in the wet, including Lewis Hamilton, who couldn’t get his Mercedes stopped at the final chicane. Despite his off-track excursion, he still managed to post the fastest time during the first runs ahead of Rosberg in the sister Silver Arrow, although the German driver did win out in the end to finish the session a tenth clear of Hamilton at the top.

Williams ran well in Q1 to finish third and fourth, whilst Jean-Eric Vergne rallied through the spray to fifth place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo. Esteban Gutierrez’s session came to an early end when his Sauber ground to a halt on the exit of Stavelot, meaning that he finished in the dropzone at the end of the session.

Andre Lotterer performed well in his first F1 qualifying session to finish almost one second clear of full-time teammate Marcus Ericsson at the back for Caterham, whilst Nico Hulkenberg was the surprise casualty of the first session as he couldn’t get his brakes warm enough. Pastor Maldonado and Max Chilton also dropped out at the end of Q1.

As Q2 got underway, more rain began to fall over Spa, prompting Force India to tell Sergio Perez that his first run could actually turn out to be the fastest of the session. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both struggled to keep their cars on track on intermediates, but the latter soon found his feet to move up into first place ahead of Rosberg.

Contrary to Force India’s forecast, the times did continue to improve throughout the session. Hamilton closed out Q2 ahead of Rosberg and Alonso at the top, with the Mercedes duo enjoying an advantage of almost two seconds over the rest of the field.

The dropzone at the end of the second session was made up of the expected names. Jules Bianchi will start tomorrow’s race from 16th, but making Q2 was a considerable achievement for the Frenchman. His compatriot, Romain Grosjean, will start just ahead in 15th after being beaten in the dying stages by Sergio Perez and Adrian Sutil, who were 12th and 13th behind the two Toro Rossos of Daniil Kvyat (P11) and Jean-Eric Vergne (P12). Kvyat then made a rather embarrassing mistake on his in-lap though, as he waved his hand in frustration before spinning his car as a result.

Q3 saw all of the drivers head out early to get in a banker lap as the sun peeked through the clouds above Spa, giving the track a chance to dry as the session wore on.

A mistake at La Source meant that Hamilton’s first timed lap was a poor one, allowing Rosberg to take provisional pole. The Briton improved with his second effort, but was still some seven-tenths adrift when they pitted for fresh tires with five minutes remaining.

Rosberg headed out early for his final run, but a slow first sector put paid to his initial timed lap on fresh intermediates. Hamilton crossed the line with 20 seconds remaining, and traded fastest sector times with Rosberg, who was now on his second lap. However, the Briton could not keep this form up, and eventually came home in second place. For good measure, Rosberg improved his final time to finish two-tenths clear of Hamilton and claim his seventh pole of the season.

Vettel managed to improve on his final lap to qualify third ahead of Alonso and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who ran wide at Blanchimont on his final lap. Valtteri Bottas qualified sixth ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Kimi Raikkonen, with Felipe Massa and Jenson Button rounding out the top ten.

This result marks Rosberg’s fourth pole position in a row, and he will be hoping to convert it into a win that would see him extend his lead over Lewis Hamilton at the top of the standings. However, with the Briton qualifying inside the top five for the first time since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June, he will be pushing to wrangle back the championship lead and win for a second time in Belgium tomorrow.

You can watch the Belgian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7.30am ET tomorrow.

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.