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.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.