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Hamilton charges to Abu Dhabi F1 pole, Rosberg to start title-decider second

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Lewis Hamilton gave his chances of claiming a fourth Formula 1 world championship on Sunday a boost by capturing pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Hamilton enters the final race of the season trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 12 points in the drivers’ standings, the latter requiring a top-three finish to clinch a maiden world title.

Hamilton enjoyed the early edge on Rosberg in Q1, going over a second faster than his title rival with his first flying lap after the German got a snap of oversteer coming out of Turn 9 to leave him P5 ahead of Q2.

Rosberg looked set to beat Hamilton’s time in Q2 after outpacing the Briton through the opening two sectors, only to run slightly wide heading under the Viceroy Hotel, costing him a tenth to Hamilton.

Hamilton continued to enjoy his advantage through their first runs in Q3, recording the fastest lap of the weekend to go three-tenths of a second clear of Rosberg and leave the German in need of a mighty final effort if he were to take pole.

Although Rosberg was able to find the time and beat Hamilton’s existing benchmark, Hamilton went faster still to record a lap of 1:38.755 and score his 12th pole position of the season.

Rosberg was left to settle for second, meaning the two title rivals will be side-by-side for the start of the showdown at Yas Marina.

Red Bull, meanwhile, laid the early foundations to play championship spoiler on Sunday by getting both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo through to Q3 on super-soft tires, giving the team more strategy options for Sunday’s race.

Ricciardo was able to qualify third in Q3, finishing half a second off Rosberg, but an error from Verstappen on his final lap left him sixth on the grid.

Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth for Ferrari ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel in P5, giving the Finn a season victory in head-to-head qualifying, the score finishing at 11-10. Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez qualified seventh and eighth for Force India ahead of Fernando Alonso in ninth.

Felipe Massa secured a top-10 grid slot for his final grand prix, ending Q3 in 10th place, while Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas narrowly lost out at the end of Q2, leaving the Finn 11th on the grid for Sunday.

Jenson Button will start what looks set to be his last F1 race from 12th on the grid, with a late improvement in Q2 not enough to get him a top-10 position.

Haas’ final qualifying session of its rookie year ended with a failure routine result as Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean qualified P13 and P14 respectively, the latter having struggled with his tires throughout Q2.

Jolyon Palmer continued his impressive recent form by qualifying 15th for Renault, with Pascal Wehrlein also providing an upset in P16 as he took Manor through to Q2 for the fifth time in 2016.

Toro Rosso’s troublesome weekend continued in Q1 as both Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. fell at the first hurdle. Kvyat will start 17th on Sunday, while Sainz ailed to a lowly P21, 2.9 seconds off Hamilton at the front.

Kevin Magnussen was another surprise drop-out in Q1, finishing 18th after late laps from teammate Palmer and Wehrlein shuffled him back. Felipe Nasr opted an early final run, leaving him 19th ahead of Manor’s Esteban Ocon, while Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson qualified last.

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

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.