Belgium F1 GP Auto Racing

Belgian GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday

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There was I thinking that Friday had been pretty ‘chaotic’ as Marussia played flip-flop with its drivers. Compared to what we have seen on race day in Belgium, that was nothing.

It has been a quite remarkable day at the paddock. What started out as a disaster for Mercedes at Les Combes on lap two of the Belgian Grand Prix has now turned into a full blown civil war. Frankly, this latest fall-out between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg might just be irreparable.

Anyhow, let’s deal with the race winner first: congratulations to Daniel Ricciardo for claiming his third career F1 victory. Yet again, he was there to pick up the pieces when Mercedes faltered. The Australian’s win gives a good news story to an otherwise tenuous weekend.

Here’s the final round-up from the paddock at Spa-Francorchamps.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

What a day. As Rosberg extends his championship lead to 29 points, Mercedes stands on the brink of civil war – and it’s hard to see a way back now.

When Hamilton said after the Monaco Grand Prix that he and Rosberg were no longer friends, it was personal; it didn’t involve the team. It was soon patched up with a cute throwback picture on Twitter that made it all better.

This time around? There is no way back. Hamilton and Rosberg are now bitter rivals embroiled in a tight title fight, and boy is it shaping up to be a classic.

Let’s deal with the facts here. Firstly, Nico Rosberg hit Lewis Hamilton on lap two of the Belgian GP, ruining the Briton’s race. Rosberg went on to finish in second place, extending his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to 29 points. His move was immediately condemned by the powers at Mercedes, but general paddock consensus was that it was a “racing incident”.

Then, a few hours after the race, Lewis Hamilton confirmed to the media that Rosberg had said he had the chance to pull out of the move and avoid the accident, but chose not to. This was then verified by the team’s management and communications department. Rosberg insists that he did nothing wrong, but frankly, it is impossible to lay blame with Hamilton here. Rosberg is 100% at fault. He was never going to find a way past around the outside of the corner. Vettel had tried the lap before, only to take to the run off area, just as Nico should have done.

This incident does put into doubt the assumption that his ‘mistake’ in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix was indeed that: a mistake. Rosberg was asked in the press conference about the notion of his move today being deliberate; he brushed it off, why of course not. Now we know that it was – to some extent, which I’ll come to – it puts his character into question.

Another fact is that Rosberg did not go into this race planning to hit Hamilton. He went into it stewing over his defeat in Hungary, yes, but then he said on Thursday that he had “moved on”. Rosberg has traditionally been a very cool and collected character. Today, we saw a very different side to him, someone who was feeling the pressure of a fight for the world championship. Hamilton is winning the mind games here.

Nico therefore went into this race not planning to hit Hamilton, but he was not willing to be as subservient to the Briton as maybe he has been in the past. He was not willing to pull out of a move. A month ago, he would have gone on at Les Combes just like Vettel did. This time, he didn’t, and the consequences are clear for everyone to see.

It will be interesting to see how things go at Monza. Rosberg seemed to be the good guy in the past, but now that has changed. He is the villain in this case – will this play on his mind?

Hamilton may leave Spa with a huge points deficit to make up, but Rosberg has his reputation to save in two weeks’ time.

Force India confident of retaining Sergio Perez

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India in the garage during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) Force India remains “very confident” of extending the contract of Sergio Perez despite the Mexican driver’s threat that he will be forced to consider changing teams if a deal is not reached this month.

The deal was being held up by negotiations over the commercial terms of the sponsorship between team, driver and the Mexican telecommunications companies Telmex, Telcel and Claro.

“The driver contract has been completed for some time,” Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley said Friday at the Malaysian Grand Prix. “We are literally dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on the commercial side and if it takes a week, that is fine, if it takes a couple of weeks, so be it – it will happen.

“We are very confident ‘Checo’ will be with us next year, and we have never deviated from that.”

Perez had expected the deal to be finalized before the current Asian swing of the season in Singapore-Malaysia-Japan, and said he was losing patience with negotiations.

“At the moment I’m just concentrating on one team,” said Perez, who is eighth in the drivers’ standings with two podium finishes this season. “There are some other options on the table, quite interesting options.

“I hope that it works out with one team, and if it doesn’t, then by next week obviously we will have to look at something else.”

Perez has been linked with moves to Renault – which is in the market for an experienced driver and is yet to finalize either race seat for next season – and Haas, which has close links with Ferrari, which would be the Mexican’s dream move.

“I want to keep my career in F1 going. I cannot wait much longer,” Perez said. “I expect everything should be done by next week.

“Thankfully there is a lot of interest out there, makes you feel in a good position. If things don’t work out as you want, you have to look at somewhere else.”

Hamilton hits back to lead second F1 practice in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton responded to the pace shown by Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg during opening practice in Malaysia on Friday morning by topping the afternoon session at Sepang.

Hamilton arrived in Malaysia trailing Rosberg for the first time in the Formula 1 drivers’ championship since the middle of July, the German’s run of three straight wins giving him an eight-point advantage in the standings.

Hamilton finished almost half a second off Rosberg in FP1, but managed to up his pace in second practice to record a fastest time of 1:34.944, enough to finish two-tenths of a second clear of the field.

Rosberg followed his teammate home in second place as Mercedes once again gapped the rest of the pack, pointing towards a significant advantage over one lap in qualifying.

Sebastian Vettel led Ferrari’s charge in third place, finishing 0.6 seconds off Hamilton’s fastest time, but was able to run the Mercedes duo closer during the long-run stints on the soft tire.

Kimi Raikkonen underpinned Vettel’s pace in the second Ferrari, finishing fourth ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in P5.

Sergio Perez followed in sixth place for Force India ahead of Fernando Alonso, who is set to start from the back of the grid this weekend after making changes to his power unit to accommodate new upgrades from Honda.

Daniel Ricciardo ended the session eighth for Red Bull, while Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button rounded out the top 10 positions.

The session saw Kevin Magnussen head back out on track following his firey exit from FP1, the Renault crew producing a rapid turnaround to get the singed R.S.16 car ready to head out midway through FP2. The Dane eventually finished 19th in the classification.

Pla powers to unofficial lap record at Petit Le Mans night practice

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BRASELTON, Ga. – Cooler conditions produced the fastest lap times yet this weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale in night practice, and Olivier Pla kept the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda at the top of the charts.

A 1:13.541 is an unofficial lap record for IMSA (note times were quicker in the American Le Mans Series, but we’re talking post-mergification in 2014 when ALMS and GRAND-AM came under one roof) as Pla dropped the hammer Thursday night in the car he shares with Ozz Negri and John Pew, in Shank’s 250th and last scheduled prototype start. It also gave Shank a Thursday three-practice sweep of the top of the timesheets.

“I’m very happy with the performance today. I love this track, Road Atlanta, and the car has been great from the beginning. We just kept improving the car during each session. All of the changes we made were very positive so thank you to the team for that. I think it’s looking good for the race,” Pla told IMSA Radio.

Other class leaders at night included 2015 IndyCar driver Stefano Coletti, in the third Starworks Motorsport entry in Prototype Challenge, Dirk Mueller in GT Le Mans in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT and Marco Seefried in GT Daytona in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Night practice, like the two day sessions that preceded it, was largely uneventful – a welcome departure from last year’s nightmarish day of crashes and rain on Thursday.

A final pre-qualifying practice occurs on Friday before qualifying later Friday afternoon.

Session three times are linked here.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: Rosberg’s ascendance, Pagenaud’s title

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP speaks with his team-mate Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP as he celebrates his win on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Stefan Johansson’s latest blog entry previews the forthcoming Formula 1 title battle between Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, recaps the IndyCar title just won by Simon Pagenaud, and addresses some other topics from both worlds as well.

Per usual, it’s the latest conversation with Jan Tegler live on Johansson’s website, and continues with what we’ve been chronicling throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

On the Rosberg vs. Hamilton title title, Johansson notes that the narratives around the two keep popping up depending on who’s winning and losing on-track.

“Nico really dominated this one, no doubt,” Johansson wrote of Rosberg’s peerless weekend in Singapore. “He had a flawless weekend throughout qualifying and the race and never put a foot wrong.

“But what’s funny is that again some of the pundits are back saying that Lewis is finished because he’s partying too hard, he’s not focused, etc. I say leave the guy alone. What we’re seeing is the normal, natural dynamics over the course of a 21-race season. You’re going to have good and bad races.

“Rosberg was certainly off-the-boil too for a few races mid-season and the pundits were saying he’s not mentally strong enough and this and that. The changing of momentum back and forth is completely normal but I guess some people just don’t have enough to talk about. Because there is effectively only two of them at the moment with a realistic chance of winning and they are so incredibly closely matched all the time it doesn’t take a lot for the momentum to swing one way or the other.”

Johansson also acutely notes how Sebastian Vettel has taken advantage of 2017 Pirelli tire testing to perhaps gain a leg up on the competition next year.

He writes of Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari’s test runs on the newer 2017 rubber, among other things, “What’s more interesting is that Sebastian Vettel has been doing every test lap for Ferrari that has been available. I guarantee you that this will give him an advantage next year. Every time you run a car you gain some level of knowledge. Racing and F1 in particular is no different than any other business in that it relies on human interaction and relationships to get the best results.

“The fact that Pirelli has Vettel doing testing, making every single run he can make will pay off. I’ve done lots of tire testing in the past and it’s absolutely the best way to move things forward for driver or a team performance.”

On Simon Pagenaud’s IndyCar title, Johansson praised the 32-year-old Frenchman who’s come into his own this year:

“Pagenaud ended the season in a pretty impressive way. There’s no doubt that he went to Sonoma to win the race as well as the championship. He did a superb job all weekend and the Penske team definitely has the momentum now. Ganassi had the momentum for several years but it seems to have swung toward Penske now. They also have four very strong cars with any one of them capable of winning any race under right circumstances, Ganassi doesn’t have that at the moment.”

Johansson still said Scott Dixon, the 2015 and four-time champion, put together a barnstorming 2016 campaign – but it was one undone by horrific luck.

“As I’ve said, it’s weird but Scott had his best year for many years in some ways. If everything had gone his way, he could have won three races where he had mechanical failures which are almost unheard of now in IndyCar. But he had engine problems at Detroit, Road America and St. Petersburg. There were also a few strategic errors all adding up to a Championship finish that was his lowest for quite some time. If all that hadn’t happened he would have almost dominated the season.”

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.