Hamilton untouchable in charge to Belgian GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship on Sunday by claiming a dominant victory in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Starting from pole, Hamilton went unchallenged en route to his sixth win of the 2015 season, only losing the lead through the pit stops as Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for second place at Spa.

After coming under increased pressure in recent races, Mercedes stamped its authority on the F1 field once again by easing to another one-two finish.

Ultimately, it was Romain Grosjean who completed the podium for Lotus, scoring his first top three finish since the 2013 United States Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel suffered a tire failure on the penultimate lap of the race.

The first start of the race had to be aborted due to a problem on Nico Hulkenberg’s car, which combined with Carlos Sainz Jr’s issue on the second formation lap meant that just 18 drivers took the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Sainz would ultimately rejoin the race, albeit a lap down.

When the field eventually pulled away, it was Hamilton who made the better start at the front of the field as Rosberg dropped back to fifth. Sergio Perez jumped forward in the Force India, putting pressure on Hamilton at the front before settling down into second place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in third.

As Hamilton began to establish a lead over Perez behind, pulling away at over one second per lap, Rosberg began to fight back. After passing Valtteri Bottas, the German managed to move up into third when Ricciardo made an early pit stop on lap seven. Rosberg recovered P2 when Perez pitted one lap later, but found himself over eight seconds behind his teammate at the front.

Rosberg opted to stay out four laps longer than Perez in a bid to stay ahead of the Mexican driver. He eventually emerged from the pit lane on the medium compound tire in front, moving up to second once Sebastian Vettel had pitted. The gap to Hamilton – who had come in just one lap after Rosberg – in front now stood at just four seconds.

Further back, the race to complete the podium proved to be as close as it was in qualifying as Romain Grosjean joined the fight with Perez and Ricciardo for third place.

Valtteri Bottas had been in the running for P3, but a bizarre mistake by Williams in the pits saw the Finn emerge with three option tires and one prime. The stewards looked dimly on the mistake, handing him a drive-through penalty.

Grosjean seized the initiative in the fight for P3 by making an excellent pass on Perez at Les Combes, leaving the Mexican driver in the clutches of Ricciardo. However, the Red Bull driver’s race soon came to an end when his car lost power at the final corner on lap 20, resulting in a Virtual Safety Car period.

Ricciardo’s car was quickly cleared, allowing the field to get back up to full racing speed just two laps later. Grosjean took advantage of the reduction in speed to make a pit stop, which he hoped would be the last of the race.

Hamilton’s lead had shrunk further by this point, prompting the Briton to suggest to Mercedes that Rosberg had got closer under the VSC when he should have maintained his distance. He soon dug deep and found some more pace, though, extending his lead back out to five seconds before the Mercedes drivers made their final pit stops.

Hamilton was the first to pit, coming in on lap 30 for a set of option tires. Despite requesting to go one lap longer, Mercedes told the leader to stick to their planned race strategy, allowing Rosberg to come in soon after. The German emerged from the pits behind his teammate, setting the status quo that would last until the end of the race.

Behind the Mercedes drivers, Sebastian Vettel had emerged as the leader in the battle to complete the podium after Ferrari opted to roll the dice and try a one-stop strategy. With ten laps to go, Vettel enjoyed a 3.5 second lead over Grosjean behind, but had to keep monitoring his tires in a bid to make it to the end without stopping for a second time.

Drama struck Vettel with just two laps to go at Spa, though. Despite making a good go of getting to the end of the race, it proved to be too much for his right-rear tire which blew on the Kemmel Straight, leaving the German to limp back to the pits after dropping down the order.

At the head of the field, Hamilton had no such concerns. With the gap to Rosberg at a comfortable three seconds, the Briton was able to cross the line after 43 laps to claim his sixth win of the 2015 season and extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship to 28 points.

Rosberg was left to finish the race in second, knowing that his poor start had cost him a shot of taking the fight to Hamilton. Following Vettel’s blow-out, Grosjean completed the podium for Lotus, albeit some 35 seconds behind the cars ahead.

Vettel’s tire failure allowed all of the cars behind to make up a position, resulting in Daniil Kvyat finishing fourth after the Russian made a late charge to pass Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages. They were forced to settle for fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.

Max Verstappen made it a home race to remember as he crossed the line in eighth, having started down in P18. Valtteri Bottas bounced back from Williams’ tire faux-pas to finish ninth ahead of Marcus Ericsson, who rounded out the points for Sauber.

Felipe Nasr finished 11th in the second Sauber, whilst Vettel was eventually classified in P12 following his tire blowout, marking his first finish outside of the top five in 2015. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button made it to the end, albeit a lap down, in 13th and 14th ahead of the two Manor cars.

NHRA: Schumacher, C. Force, Kramer No. 1 qualifiers at Phoenix

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NHRA press release

The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continued Saturday as Courtney Force set both ends of the Funny Car track record at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the second of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Force took over the top spot in the category with a record run of 3.826 seconds at 335.98 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro during her second pass of the day. After recording seven No. 1 qualifiers in 2017, she is aiming for her first event victory since Houston 2016.

“That last pass today was pretty incredible, we have run well here in the past and I’m excited to be back in that top spot,” Force said. “We are hoping to turn this consistency into a win, we just have to keep being consistent on race day.”

Force is set to face off against Del Worsham in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Ron Capps sits second after a 3.844 at 330.80 in his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T during the final pass of qualifying on Saturday. The defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight qualified 11th after a 3.927 at 329.26.

Schumacher led the category with a run of 3.649 at 334.65 in his U.S. Army dragster posted during the first qualifying session on Friday. Schumacher also set the Top Fuel national speed record at 336.57 with a time of 3.667 seconds during his second pass on Friday. After securing four No. 1 qualifiers in the 2017 season, Schumacher locked in his first of the year in day two of qualifying.

“We earned our three points and kept the top spot so it’s been a great weekend for us so far,” Schumacher said. “The car continues to be great and [crew chief] Mike Neff is comfortable and knows what the car is doing, so I think tomorrow is going to be great day.”

He will go head-to-head against Greg Carrillo in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Steve Torrence qualified second after a 3.665 at 331.45 in his Capco Contractors dragster, while the defending world champion Brittany Force qualified in the 14th spot.

In Pro Stock, Kramer took over the top spot after driving to a 6.522 at 210.80 run in his American Ethanol Dodge Dart during the fourth qualifying session of the weekend. He secured the first No. 1 qualifying position of his career as Kramer also chases his first-ever victory in the class.

“It feels great to get that first No. 1 qualifier, and we had a great package put together this weekend and that was able to move us to the top,” Kramer said. “There were definitely some tuning adjustments from Pomona, but we went back to our old game plan with that KB power and it was a great combination.”

Kramer matches up against Alan Prusiensky in the first round of eliminations. Erica Enders is second in the qualifying order after a 6.527 at 209.98, while Alex Laughlin sits in the third spot.

Eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations.

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.649 seconds, 336.57 mph vs. 16. Greg Carrillo, 4.227, 220.91; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.655, 331.85 vs. 15. Steven Chrisman, 4.089, 281.30; 3. Clay Millican, 3.664, 335.23 vs. 14. Brittany Force, 3.828, 253.52; 4. Leah Pritchett, 3.679, 334.15 vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.809, 318.77; 5. Richie Crampton, 3.683, 325.30 vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.788, 326.63; 6. Billy Torrence, 3.697, 331.45  vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.742, 328.78; 7. Blake Alexander, 3.705, 332.59 vs. 10. Terry McMillen, 3.740, 325.85; 8. Antron Brown, 3.712, 333.66 vs. 9. Mike Salinas, 3.737, 326.32.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Kebin Kinsley, 5.118, 136.79; 18. Terry Totten, 8.158, 69.73; 19. Terry Haddock, 10.095, 91.23.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.826, 335.98 vs. 16. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 5.089, 173.99; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.844, 330.80 vs. 15. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.551, 182.82; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.845, 332.43 vs. 14. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.244, 235.27; 4. John Force, Camaro, 3.864, 332.51 vs. 13. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.120, 307.79; 5. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.866, 317.27 vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.971, 316.75; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.879, 329.91 vs. 11. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.927, 329.26; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.888, 333.25 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.927, 329.42; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.919, 324.20 vs. 9. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.926, 330.88.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 7.402, 91.58.

PRO STOCK: 1. Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.00 vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.94; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.527, 209.98 vs. 15. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.659, 208.55; 3. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.529, 209.59 vs. 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.640, 209.69; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.530, 211.66 vs. 13. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.581, 209.82; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.531, 211.03 vs. 12. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.567, 210.08; 6. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 210.60 vs. 11. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.553, 210.14; 7. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.534, 211.63 vs. 10. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.550, 210.41; 8. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.542, 210.05 vs. 9. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.550, 211.39.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Joey Grose, 6.720, 206.64.