Hamilton, Vettel hail first ’17 wheel-to-wheel battle at Spain (VIDEO)

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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel exchanged mutual respect and admiration for each other following their gripping scrap in today’s Spanish Grand Prix, as Hamilton took his second win of the season for Mercedes to match Vettel’s total at Ferrari.

Vettel led away from the start while Hamilton was in behind him. But the two opted for different strategies for when they’d run their one mandatory set of Pirelli’s harder compound, the mediums, during the race.

Hamilton ran them in a middle stint while Vettel ran his for his final stint, opting to run longer to the finish in hopes Hamilton’s softs would fall off and bring him back. Vettel pitted first and Hamilton pitted later in the first stint, which shifted the race a bit.

Vettel lost time on two occasions this race. He was stuck behind Valtteri Bottas, who ran longer on the first stint by more than 10 laps compared to when Vettel first pitted, and while he made it past the Finn it allowed Hamilton to close.

Then when he opted to pit for the mediums, as it came just at the conclusion of the race’s lone Virtual Safety Car, he emerged right alongside Hamilton – which set up their scrap over the next several laps before Hamilton eventually made the pass for the win.

Hamilton and Vettel’s one side-by-side moment into Turns 1 and 2 saw Hamilton go sideways onto the rumble strips, but while the incident was noted by the race stewards, it was not investigated. Hamilton made it past Vettel for the lead on Lap 44 of 66 and that was all she wrote for the race.

Controversy did not reign between these two on the podium, as they hailed their first proper wheel-to-wheel fight this year.

“The team did an incredible job today. That’s how racing should be. That’s as close as it should be, as Sebastian was incredibly close,” Hamilton said. “It was so much fun. The start, I don’t know exactly what’s gone wrong. It wasn’t good enough.

“(On the contact) I think in heat of moment it’s hard to view. I felt I ran out of road, but that’s how racing should be.”

Vettel added, “I was pushing so much. I had a really good start at the beginning. I put the clutch in. We managed to stay ahead in a nice rhythm, but Lewis stayed out longer on the strategy. I knew in the end it’d be crucial.

“I was a bit surprised it was so close. I tried to brake as late as possible. Not sure if we touched but I managed to stay ahead! A car gave me a tow. But when I was alone, he blew past. We tried to stay in the race. Well done to him.”

Vettel explained why Ferrari opted not to go for what was termed “Plan C” – a potential third stop to switch onto another set of softs.

“We had a huge gap to Daniel (Ricciardo), so we could have done anything really,” he said. “Obviously there was a big conversation trying to do something.

“We wondered about Lewis’ tires. But we didn’t have any problems as the track had a lot of rubber at the end, so we didn’t do it.”

Vettel now leads Hamilton by six points, 104-98, after this result.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.