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Strong British GP qualifying for Renault; Hulkenberg P5, Palmer P11

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Renault Sport F1 Team put together its best performance of qualifying this season for Sunday’s British Grand Prix (7:30 a.m. ET, CNBC) as Nico Hulkenberg posted yet another great under-the-radar lap and the under-fire Jolyon Palmer turned in one of his best laps of the year.

Hulkenberg qualified sixth, winning the unofficial best of the rest battle behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. With Daniel Ricciardo knocked out in Q1 with an apparent turbo issue on his Renault-powered, TAG Heuer-badged car, it opened up a spot on the third row for someone from the crowded midfield to emerge.

Valtteri Bottas’ five-spot grid penalty for a gearbox change knocks the Mercedes driver back to ninth and promotes Hulkenberg to a season-best fifth on the grid, and along with that his best qualifying effort since joining Renault at the start of the year.

Hulkenberg hailed both the team’s strategic calls from the pitwall during the rain-affected session and the upgrades that have come this weekend, as Renault celebrates its 40 year anniversary in Formula 1 since 1977.

“Today we had a very successful qualifying and will start the race just behind the top teams,” Hulkenberg said. “I had a good rhythm and we had good times. The team made the right calls for the right track conditions; there was a nice flow. I was feeling calm and confident with the car so I was able to produce a good lap.

“The upgrades we brought here this weekend seemed to also have played their part in our step forward. That said, tomorrow’s race is the true test. Let’s try and have a clean race. We’ll push very hard and I’ll be very happy to bring points home.”

Hulkenberg has scored 14 points this year, with a best finish of sixth place in Spain.

Palmer remains yet to score but was pleased with his performance, having only just missed Q3 to McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

“Yeah starting P11 is my second best all year. There’s a really good feeling with the car,” Palmer told NBCSN’s Will Buxton. “I needed maybe a tenth to beat Stoffel but I’m still happy with that.

“Normally I start further back! I’m confident. If there’s the normal chaos I’m pretty confident we can get some points.”

Sporting Director Alan Permane hailed both drivers’ efforts.

“We are of course very happy with the result today,” he said. “The aero updates used this weekend for the first time worked well and Jolyon just missed out on Q3 by the narrowest of margins.

“Nico is well placed for the race and Jo has a free tire choice so we’re looking forward to the start and converting the result today to points tomorrow.”

Usain Bolt, Bill Clinton among headline guests for USGP at COTA

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The Circuit of The Americas paddock ahead of the United States Grand Prix may have been busy with teams and drivers preparing for lights out, but much of the attention lay with a number of headline guests including former presidents and Olympic champions.

As part of its plans to up the excitement levels ahead of Sunday’s grand prix and mirror other sporting events, F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, announced plans a couple of weeks ago to link up with iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer and eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt for the pre-race festivities.

Ahead of today’s race in Austin, Buffer will introduce the drivers in a number of groups before offering the call for drivers to start their engines, similar to the pre-race procedure for the Indianapolis 500.

Honorary race starter Bolt, who competed in his last athletic world championship event in London earlier this year, will appear on the start line to complete his signature victory pose before waving the green flags to launch the formation lap.

Bolt was also treated to a hot lap around COTA by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton before the start of the formal pre-race build up program in Austin.

Liberty issued a list of celebrities and other public figures who are confirmed to be attending today’s race, including Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and actor Owen Wilson among others.

One name that wasn’t on the list? 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who quickly became a focus for the paddock upon arrival three hours before lights out.

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET today.