Bottas enters thick of F1 title fight after Austria win, ‘loving every moment’

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Valtteri Bottas entered the thick of the Formula 1 championship fight by taking his second win of the season on Sunday in Austria, giving the Finn the belief he can battle with Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.

Bottas fended off Vettel in the dying stages at the Red Bull Ring to hold on and take victory for Mercedes, harking back to his maiden F1 win in Russia earlier this year.

Bottas had controlled the race and was more than eight seconds clear of Vettel at one stage, only for a bold strategy from Ferrari to bring the German driver back into contention.

“I had a bit of a déjà vu in the end with what happened in Russia, he was catching up. The problem in the last stint, I had a massive blister on the rear left since lap five of that stint, so that made it quite tricky,” Bottas explained on the podium.

“In the beginning I could control the pace, but in the end the backmarkers made it quite tricky. Really happy, it’s only my second win in my career. Thank you guys for the support. Massive thank you to the team for making this possible, so thank you guys.

“It’s still a long year ahead. We’re not even halfway. This makes good for the points, but it’s still early days and we’re still developing as a team.”

The result saw Bottas draw to within 35 points of Vettel at the front of the drivers’ championship, and is now just 15 back from Hamilton, who has been perceived to be leading Mercedes’ charge this season.

When asked about a title bid, Bottas said: “We’re not even in the halfway of the year, so definitely I believe and the team believes.

“Still a long year ahead. Like I said, we are still developing. I’m just loving every moment and it’s going to be good.”

Despite his jovial mood on the podium, Bottas could not be persuaded to be inducted into the ‘shoey’ club by Daniel Ricciardo, instead hurrying away with his trophy in hand.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”