Rosberg claims first F1 world title, as Hamilton wins Abu Dhabi GP despite defying team orders

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Nico Rosberg clinched his first Formula 1 drivers’ championship by finishing second in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, following home Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton in a nail-biting end to the 2016 season.

Rosberg kept his cool to dodge any bullets fired at him through the race, getting through his pit stops cleanly before Hamilton backed his teammate into the chasing pack in a late attempt to win a fourth world title, defying Mercedes’ order to up his pace in the closing stages.

Despite having his mirrors filled with the chasing Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel in the final few laps, Rosberg managed to see it home and wrap up his first F1 world title, emulating his father, Keke, who was champion back in 1982.

Rosberg got the start he needed, making a clean getaway to hold on to second place behind Hamilton through the first corner, allaying any fears of an early setback.

Even better news for Rosberg was the fact that the threatening Red Bulls, both starting on super-softs, dropped back: Daniel Ricciardo dropped behind Kimi Raikkonen into fourth, while Max Verstappen fell to the back of the pack after a tangle coming out of Turn 1.

Hamilton was not able to immediately drop Rosberg as he may have liked, with the gap between the two Mercedes drivers hovering at around one second. Raikkonen remained a further second back, making him an ever-present threat for the title fighters.

Hamilton was brought into the pits at the end of Lap 7, handing the lead to Rosberg. The Briton took on a set of soft tires, but was forced to wait an extra second in the pits as Raikkonen brought his Ferrari in.

Rosberg followed Hamilton’s lead by coming in one lap later, also taking on soft tires, and also having to wait for Sebastian Vettel ahead to come into his box. Rosberg emerged from the pits fractionally ahead of Raikkonen, while the recovering Verstappen now split the two Mercedes.

Ricciardo failed to make his super-softs last much longer than the ultra-soft runners, coming into the pits just one lap later. The Australian came out just behind Raikkonen, the two entering battle, as were Rosberg and Verstappen ahead, the title contender being told that he had to make a pass given Verstappen’s strategy. Yet again though, Hamilton did not escape up the road as perhaps would be expected of the Briton. A gentler pace allowed him to not only look after his tires, but also continued to back Verstappen towards Rosberg.

Further back, Jenson Button’s (probable) final race in F1 came to an early end when he suffered a front-right upright failure on his car, causing his wheel to buckle and forcing the Briton to box. Upon returning to the pits, Button jumped on top of his cockpit and greeted the cheering crowd that offered a standing ovation to the outgoing McLaren racer.

Verstappen showed few signs of letting up on the super-soft tire, telling Red Bull that he wanted to extend the stint. Mercedes responded by giving Rosberg the hurry up, prompting the German to attempt a divebomb move at the end of the back straight. Remarkably, the two drivers avoided contact, but with Verstappen left off-line, Rosberg was able to cut back and complete the overtake – one that was significant in his bid for a maiden drivers’ championship.

Verstappen came in for fresh soft tires one lap later, with Red Bull hoping to get the Dutchman to the end of the race without coming in again. Rosberg asked Mercedes how much he could push, with the go-ahead resulting in the German posting the fastest lap of the race and cutting the gap to Hamilton to less than five seconds. With Raikkonen now a further five seconds adrift of Rosberg, Hamilton was running short on championship outs.

The second round of pit stops was sparked not long after Verstappen came in, with Red Bull opting to bring Ricciardo in for his stop early at the end of Lap 25. Raikkonen followed one lap later, but came back out behind Ricciardo after the Australian made the undercut work perfectly. Ferrari’s hopes of a podium to close out 2016 were, like the light, fading fast.

Hamilton made his final pit stop at the end of Lap 28, taking a fresh set of soft tires that would see him to the end of the race. Having been told that second place was safe for now, Rosberg dived in one lap later. A flawless stop from the Mercedes crew sent Rosberg on his way, with just 26 laps separating the German from his first F1 world title.

Rosberg soon found himself edging into battle with Hamilton once again, prompting the Mercedes pit wall to ask the net leader why he was running so slow on-track. Although there was no answer, the reason was clear to all watching: it last-ditch attempt to back Rosberg into the chasing Red Bulls and keep his dreams of a fourth world title alive.

Hamilton began to hit the pace mark given to him by Mercedes, lapping around the 1:45.3 range as the team expressed concern about leader Vettel, who had extended his second stint to fit a set of super-softs for the final stint. Vettel pitted at the end of Lap 37, once again releasing Hamilton into the lead with Rosberg still lurking just over a second behind.

With his fresh boots fitted, Vettel began to light the timesheets up purple. The four-time world champion made light work of teammate Raikkonen to take fifth before setting his sights on the Red Bull duo some eight seconds up the road. Verstappen found himself coming under pressure from Ricciardo behind, but neither could respond to the pace of the oncoming Vettel. The German’s pace was such that Mercedes told Hamilton to up his pace at the front, believing that the 10-second gap could be bridged late on.

Hamilton kept badgering the Mercedes pit wall for more information on the race unfolding behind, asking for information about the pace of the Red Bulls in the hope that they could come to his rescue and catch Rosberg. With fresher tires, the Mercedes cars remained quicker, making Hamilton’s best hope of the title a late safety car period. A clash between Carlos Sainz Jr. and Jolyon Palmer had the potential to cause one, but both drivers were able to continue unharmed.

Vettel’s charge continued at the expense of Ricciardo on Lap 46, again piling the pressure up on Mercedes drivers up front. Rosberg requested that he be let past Hamilton, telling the team that “this is really slow”. Mercedes responded, instructing Hamilton to up his pace, only for the Briton to snap back: “I suggest you guys let us race.” With just seven laps remaining, Hamilton was taking matters into his own hands.

As Rosberg continued to protest over team radio, Hamilton continued to trundle around at the front, allowing Verstappen and Vettel to close as the laps ticked down. Vettel look the quickest of the quartet, crawling all over the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull, before making a superb pass with five laps to go. Rosberg was next on his hit list.

Vettel moved to within half a second of Rosberg, getting DRS on his compatriot, but Verstappen was not able to follow the Ferrari driver into the fight, dropping about a second back. Hamilton was not yet willing to up his pace, continuing to back Rosberg into the clutches of Vettel behind. After yet another call from Mercedes, Hamilton remained defiant: “I’m losing this world championship. I don’t really care if I lose this race.”

The battle for the world championship went down to the very last lap. Rosberg was informed once again that he only needed third place for the championship, but the German remained strong in P2. He fended off Vettel through the final DRS zone, before rounding out the final few corners – with Hamilton ahead going at a crawling pace and taking the race win – to secure his first world title.

Rosberg celebrated the title by completing donuts on the main straight, sending plumes of tire smoke into the air in a release of emotion. After three years spent in Hamilton’s shadow, Rosberg was finally on top of the world.

Hamilton returned to the pit lane knowing that, although the title had been lost, he had secured his 10th victory of the season – a record for a driver not to win a championship – and put up a fight to the very end. The two championship rivals embraced in the pit lane, acknowledging their battle throughout the year.

Vettel was the man to round out the podium, finishing less than half a second off Rosberg in second, reporting to Ferrari over the radio that Hamilton had been playing “dirty tricks”. Verstappen was a further eight-tenths of a second behind in fourth, completing a remarkable fightback from his first lap clash.

Ricciardo was P5 at the checkered flag ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, while the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Segio Perez were P7 and P8, ensuring the team finished the year fourth in the constructors’ championship, its highest-ever result.

Felipe Massa bowed out of F1 with grace, finishing P9 for Williams after a late fight with former teammate Fernando Alonso, who crossed the line 10th for McLaren.

Haas F1 Team’s debut season came to a close with Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez 11th and 12th respectively. Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein were P13 and P14 for Manor, the two drivers having clashed late on. Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr were 15th and 16th, with Jolyon Palmer the last classified finisher in 17th.

Hulkenberg: Singapore DNF ‘tough to take’ after strong start

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Nico Hulkenberg has admitted his retirement from last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix was “tough to take” after being in contention to end his long-running Formula 1 podium drought.

Hulkenberg entered the Singapore weekend ready to break the record for making the most F1 starts without recording a top-three finish, having tied Adrian Sutil’s tally of 128 races at Monza.

Hulkenberg qualified an excellent fifth for Renault and dodged the start-line chaos to rise to third, and even ran second for one lap before switching tires.

Hulkenberg settled into fourth place when the switch to dry tires was complete, only for an oil leak on his car to force him to make an unscheduled pit stop and ultimately retire from the race.

“Sunday was tough to take and left me feeling disappointed. We lost a good result, and it was a case of not having a good enough reliability; that’s the way this sport goes sometimes,” Hulkenberg said.

“We lost our fourth position which is a pity especially after all the hard work from the whole team. It would have been a nice bunch of points but that’s racing and it happens!

“The car is looking fast and we have to build on the positives and take it forward now to Malaysia.”

IndyCar points by circuit type: 2017

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After separate reviews of the street and oval portions of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – led by Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves, respectively – the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale was of course, the final road course race of the year as well.

And a third different driver topped the charts in those six permanent road course races this year, in the form of Scott Dixon.

Dixon had one win (Road America) and three runners-up finishes in the six races, with other finishes of fourth (Sonoma) and ninth (Mid-Ohio) which brought him 261 points in these races. That was two points clear of Newgarden, who won at Barber and Mid-Ohio and finished second at both Road America and Sonoma, while losing points at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen.

The top six drivers in permanent road course points – Dixon, Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Castroneves and Graham Rahal – were also the top six drivers in the overall points, albeit not in that order.

For the year, it was interesting to note how being consistent across all three phases of circuit netted the best results.

The two biggest outliers were Power – who was only 14th in street course points but second in oval and fourth in road course points – who ended fifth in points overall and Kanaan, who overcame 16th (street course) and 18th (road course) points positions with third place in oval points, trailing only Castroneves and Power.

That oval haul brought Kanaan up to 10th in points in a year where several others – notably James Hinchcliffe, Max Chilton and Ed Jones – all occasionally staked their claim to the final spot in the top-10.

Otherwise, consistency across all circuits was key to securing your overall points position for the year.

The breakdown of points per driver by circuit type is below.

P # Driver Street Road Oval Total
1 2 Josef Newgarden 185 259 198 642
2 1 Simon Pagenaud 147 256 226 629
3 9 Scott Dixon 159 261 201 621
4 3 Helio Castroneves 126 220 252 598
5 12 Will Power 86 244 232 562
6 15 Graham Rahal 162 191 169 522
7 98 Alexander Rossi 126 171 197 494
8 26 Takuma Sato 115 112 214 441
9 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 105 178 138 421
10 10 Tony Kanaan 79 97 227 403
11 8 Max Chilton 91 141 164 396
12 27 Marco Andretti 103 119 166 388
13 5 James Hinchcliffe 155 99 122 376
14 19 Ed Jones 88 99 167 354
15 21 JR Hildebrand 78 90 179 347
16 14 Carlos Munoz 85 109 134 328
17 83 Charlie Kimball 72 135 120 327
18 4 Conor Daly 68 120 117 305
19 7 Mikhail Aleshin 77 68 92 237
20 20 Spencer Pigot 75 114 29 218
21 18 Sebastien Bourdais 93 89 32 214
22 20 Ed Carpenter 169 169
23 88 Gabby Chaves 98 98
24 22 Juan Pablo Montoya 20 73 93
25 18 Esteban Gutierrez 43 23 25 91
26 7 Sebastian Saavedra 19 61 80
27 16 Oriol Servia 21 40 61
28 7 Jack Harvey 40 17 57
29 29 Fernando Alonso 47 47
30 63 Pippa Mann 32 32
31 13 Zachary Claman DeMelo 26 26
32 77 Jay Howard 24 24
33 24 Sage Karam 23 23
34 40 Zach Veach 11 12 23
35 18 James Davison 21 21
36 18 Tristan Vautier 15 15
37 44 Buddy Lazier 14 14
38 7 Robert Wickens 0 0

Ed Jones adds name to IndyCar’s elite as top rookie in 2017

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Sure, you can say Ed Jones didn’t have a full-season counterpart for IndyCar’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 and so he was always going to win the award.

But in a year when you don’t have competition and the other first-year drivers did only selected races, you have to compare yourself to the rest of the field at large and make an impression – and Jones clearly did so for Dale Coyne Racing.

Per Trackside Online, Jones joins this list of drivers in the series’ full-time lineup who won top rookie honors in their year of eligibility: Alexander Rossi, Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Heading into last year’s offseason, Jones was not the favorite to take over the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda; fellow Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran RC Enerson was on the heels of three impressive debut races at the tail end of 2016.

However Jones was always going to need a place to land with the $1 million Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for at least three races. Between that and with additional budget gathered, Jones found his way into Dale Coyne’s second seat alongside Sebastien Bourdais and together the pairing clicked.

Coyne had his eye on him throughout 2016, and watched him win the Indy Lights title at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – albeit under somewhat controversial circumstances when Carlin teammate Felix Serralles pulled aside to allow Jones through.

“It was Indy Lights. We went to his last race at Laguna Seca when he won the championship,” Coyne said. “We kept an eye on him. We keep an eye on all Indy Lights guys as well. It’s close, we can see them, watch them race, see how aggressive they are.

“He was always smooth in the car. I didn’t know how good he was going to be, because he was smooth. He doesn’t look like Paul Tracy in a car, but he drives better than Paul Tracy, at least in the beginning, at least Paul’s first year. He was a pleasant — it was the biggest surprise we’ve ever had.”

Jones, the 22-year-old Dubai-based Brit who makes his U.S. residence in Miami, was an instant hit on results if not on outright pace. But with finishes of sixth, 10th and 11th among his first five starts and other results lost due to circumstances outside his control, he immediately made a positive impact in the paddock.

Where Jones grew up fastest in a year where he matured so much from a more quiet and reserved driver in Indy Lights – much of that thanks to the family atmosphere at Coyne and its ace PR rep, Karina Redmond – was in May. Bourdais went from points leader and potential Indianapolis 500 contender to hospital-bound after his devastating accident in qualifying.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Max Chilton of England, driver of the #8 Gallagher Honda, Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, and Ed Jones of the United Arab Emirates, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, lead a pack of cars during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Jones, meanwhile, was suddenly thrust into the unexpected role of team leader, not knowing week-to-week who his teammate might be depending on the issue. Similar to Alexander Rossi last year, Jones carried a quiet swagger during the month of May in Indianapolis, and was aggrieved for getting knocked out of the Fast Nine shootout.

What he did on race day was equally as impressive as Rossi’s 2016 win in the ‘500 if not more so, considering the disparity in equipment and the fact Jones’ car was damaged in the nose from debris contacting it earlier in the race.

That third place finish (and the double points that went with it) was enough to earn many votes for this year’s Indianapolis 500 top rookie honors (including from this writer) although it wasn’t enough to supplant Fernando Alonso for the award, somewhat controversially. Coyne couldn’t resist trolling during Jones’ season-long top rookie acceptance press conference at Sonoma.

“Obviously Indy, third place there. Did you get Rookie of the Year at Indy or no? Didn’t get that, okay,” Coyne deadpanned.

Alas, Jones pressed on anyway with a consistent appetite for learning, thanks to Coyne’s tutelage, Michael Cannon’s sharp mind on the engineering stand and a crew that embraced him.

“It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of advice that Dale’s given me,” Jones said. “But, you know, he’s always been very supportive of learning everything step by step, learning from Seb. Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember early on it was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step, there’s no need to overdo it early on.

“I seen myself as well as one of the guys, rookies, younger guys that would come in and they try to be right at the front the beginning. In a series that’s so competitive like this, it doesn’t really happen that often. It’s extreme difficult to do it. Sometimes doing that, you can actually take steps backwards because you kind of lose where you’re at. It’s always better to sort of take it step by step, yeah, get there that way.”

After a ninth place at Detroit race one, Jones’ results suffered the rest of the way through a myriad of mishaps – be it tough setups, bad caution timing, an occasional spin or pit stop issues. A seventh at Road America was the lone bright spot, and a potential top-10 championship finish went begging. Losing Bourdais hurt primarily from a setup standpoint.

“I wasn’t always sure if it was just me or if it was a lot with the car. Yeah, that was the main thing. Seb is really good with setting up the car. Having his feedback to work off from was really helpful,” he said.

“If I ever wasn’t sure about something, I could use him to back something up. Not having him there, yeah, made it harder. Sometimes I was guessing a bit more. So, yeah, that was the toughest part.”

Jones said his driving and development got better as the year went on as, paradoxically, the results got worse.

“It’s always difficult not having another full-time rookie to compare to. Then again, I’ve looked at the rookies over the last few years. I’ve seen it’s extremely tough. I feel pretty happy with how it’s gone in comparison to other guys recently,” he said.

“I wanted to finish top-10 in the points. Halfway through the season, we were on track to doing that. We had a good opportunity to do it. The last few races, things have maybe not gone to plan.

“But I feel like as a driver, I got stronger. Early on in the season, I had some really great results. I was driving well, but also a lot of things fell my way. I was pretty lucky in that sense. Now I think we’ve gone better, me as a driver, also binding with the team. We got stronger, but things just haven’t gone our way. It’s been frustrating.”

None of the issues were egregious and as Coyne related later, Jones was one of the cleanest drivers he’d ever had in a year where the crash damage bills added up fast.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, and Tristan Vautier, driver of the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

With a rotating driver in the second car, be it James Davison, Esteban Gutierrez or Tristan Vautier before Bourdais’ welcome and surprise return at Gateway, Jones was the unexpected but needed rock in the driver lineup.

“I think it’s been a whole progression the whole year. We’ve run a lot of rookies over the years. We run rookies in tests that have never made it to a race, we ran rookies that made it to races,” Coyne said.

“He’s just a puppy. But he’s done a good job, very, very good. I don’t think he scratched the car. He actually did hit the wall at Pocono. The smallest amount of damage I’ve ever seen anybody do hitting a wall at Pocono. Done a very good job all year long, every track.”

Jones isn’t back yet for 2018, but Coyne said “We’re very, very close. I would love to have Ed back next year,” and wants to have a deal struck in the next few weeks.

Looking at what he did as a rookie was quite impressive. The five top-10s matched Conor Daly’s number last year as the lone full-season driver and while Daly was 18th in points in his first full season, Jones ended 14th.

That 14th place in the standings is a Coyne driver’s best finish in the standings since the late Justin Wilson’s incredible run to sixth in 2013, and actually a spot ahead of where Wilson was the following year in 2014, in 15th.

Jones’ qualifying average of 14.3 was 3.5 spots higher than Daly’s last year and Jones out-qualified his teammates nine times this year in 17 races, including Bourdais on three of eight attempts.

What he did for the team this year overall in a tough season will be remembered more than the results itself which again, were impressive given thee circumstances.

“It’s been very tough. But the whole team together, everyone within the team works very well together from the beginning of the year. A big shame to lose Seb after quite a few races. Everyone got on well with it. I remember after the accident, actually Dale got everyone together. We pushed forward,” he said.

“I think there’s been a lot of times that on Dale’s team, there’s things that have happened, gone up and down. As we’ve seen, they’ve always come back stronger.”

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McLaren ‘very close’ to agreeing new F1 deal with Alonso

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McLaren is “very close” to agreeing a new Formula 1 contract with Fernando Alonso beyond the end of the 2017 season, according to team racing director Eric Boullier.

McLaren announced last week in Singapore it would be splitting with struggling engine supplier Honda at the end of the season, linking up with Renault from 2018.

The decision was made in a bid to lift the team to the front of the field, having struggled for much of the past three years while working with Honda.

Alonso has made no secret of his frustration throughout the three-year stint, prompting the Spaniard to consider his future with McLaren upon the expiration of his contract at the end of the year.

With the driver market closing up, Alonso looks poised to remain with McLaren for 2018, but said in Singapore he is considering options in many series.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Boullier expressed his confidence in Alonso staying for 2018, saying a deal was “very close”.

“Fernando wants to stay. You can see it in his body language and the way he speaks,” Boullier added.

“There are marketing details that have to be sorted out, and that Zak [Brown, McLaren executive director] is working on.”

Despite suggestions of an ultimatum regarding its Honda partnership being issued to McLaren by Alonso, Boullier stressed that the team made the decision to switch to Renault by its own accord, with the drivers then fitting in afterwards for its 2018 plans.

“McLaren’s DNA is to be competitive. The team has always been in the top three and we belong there again,” Boullier said.

“Today we know that we have a decent chassis, which would allow us to be in the top three again with an equal level engine.

“So for us as a business it is important to be competitive, no matter what role Fernando plays. We had to make a decision for us.

“But if you want to be competitive you not only need an engine, you also need a driver. That is when Fernando comes into the picture.

“We did what we did for McLaren first, but the package includes also the driver.”