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Race to 100: How Lewis Hamilton can become F1’s first pole centurion

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Lewis Hamilton’s flawless display through the Italian Grand Prix weekend is likely to go down as being one of the most significant of his Formula 1 career.

Not only did he deliver one of the most crushing wins of the season for Mercedes on Ferrari home soil.

Not only did he take the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time this year, taking a huge stride forward in his bid for a fourth crown.

But he also strengthened his case to be considered one of F1’s all-time greats by becoming the sport’s record pole position holder.

The record changing hands for just the sixth time in F1’s 67-year history, Hamilton surpassed Michael Schumacher’s tally of 68 poles by topping qualifying for the 69th time in his career.

The enormity of the result was not lost on Hamilton, a driver who grew up watching Schumacher, but the Briton has never been a man to rest on his laurels.

“You know, Vettel’s not far behind, so I’ve got to keep going,” Hamilton said after the session.

“I’ve got to keep extending it otherwise he might catch it, and so I’ll stick around for a while and try to make life hell for him.”

He’s got the record – but just how many pole positions can Lewis Hamilton end up with before his time in F1 is over?

If he continues at his current rate, passing the 100 mark and becoming F1’s first pole centurion is definitely possible.

MONTREAL – JUNE 09: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes celebrates securing pole position during qualifying for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2007 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

THE ROAD TO THE RECORD

Hamilton’s chase to become F1’s pole position record-holder has accelerated dramatically in recent years, largely thanks to Mercedes’ domination in the V6 turbo hybrid era.

Always a good qualifier, Hamilton has not gone a season in his F1 career without scoring at least one pole position, with his strongest years at McLaren coming in 2008 and 2012 (seven poles in each season). Even in his debut campaign, he was on pole six times, his first coming in Canada (pictured above).

However, it was Vettel – who is now on 48 poles – who looked most likely to break Schumacher’s record at the end of 2013, sitting on 45 by the end of his fourth title-winning campaign. Hamilton, by comparison, was 14 behind on 31.

But Mercedes’ jump on the field at the change of the engine regulations in 2014 push Hamilton’s pole chase into hyperdrive. Seven poles in 2014 saw him draw close to Vettel before overhauling the German through 2015, taking 11 poles en route to his third world title. Had Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg not been such a closer challenger, he may have broken Schumacher’s record long ago.

2016 was a title-less season for Hamilton, but another 12 poles meant Schumacher’s record was easy prey, so long as Mercedes didn’t collapse on the change of technical regulations in 2017.

While Ferrari has been its closest challenger yet and been on a par in races, the Silver Arrows retained their edge in qualifying, with Hamilton’s eighth pole of the year at Monza being enough to give him the record.

Vettel certainly has a chance of surpassing the likes of Schumacher and Ayrton Senna (65), but if Hamilton continues at the rate he’s been going at, it’ll take a mighty effort to claw away the all-time record.

MONTREAL, QC – JUNE 10: Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP with a commemorative helmet of F1 legend Ayrton Senna after he beat the previous record of 65 pole positions during qualifying for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 10, 2017 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

HOW HAMILTON CAN REACH 100

The kids are back to school, but now it’s time for us to do some math.

Hamilton is now on 69 pole positions, and will undoubtedly add to this tally before the season is complete. Ferrari should be closer at tracks such as Singapore and Abu Dhabi, meaning a sweep of the remaining seven races is unlikely, and you cannot discount teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Say Hamilton adds another three or four poles onto his 2017 score, he’ll be onto 72 or 73. Let’s be conservative and go with 72.

To pick up another 28 poles before calling time on his F1 career will be a challenge. Hamilton is 32 and has one year left on his Mercedes contract, and has hinted he won’t stick around forever, having interests outside of the sport in music and fashion.

But staying on for at least another two years beyond 2018 is a sensible guess. He’d be 35 by then, and would certainly have time on his side given that most stretch into their late-30s before calling it a day (e.g. Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen).

Just as much hinges on how long Hamilton sticks around, his chase for 100 is also down to how competitive Mercedes can be. If it remains the team to beat and can continue to deliver the kind of qualifying edge it has this year despite Ferrari’s resurgence, he should manage it comfortably.

The fact there will be no seismic changes to the regulations until 2021 also works in Hamilton’s favor. As seen with Mercedes in recent times and Red Bull before that, teams often retain their advantage through regulation eras – they won’t drop off the map all of a sudden.

Mercedes is pushing to become the first team to win back-to-back titles across a regulation change this year, so again, it would be a surprise to see a collapse.

31 poles through the final seven races of 2017, then all of 2018, 2019 and 2020. It’s more than doable.

Taking our assumption Hamilton will take three more poles this year (again, it could be more), then he would require 28 poles across three years.

Were Hamilton to continue his record since the start of the V6 turbo era, he would just about reach triple-figures.

Since the start of the 2014 season, Hamilton has scored 38 pole positions. Adding on our presumed three for the rest of the year, that gives him 41 across four full seasons – an average of 10.25.

Keeping that record up, Hamilton would sit on 102 poles by the end of the 2020 season (or 103 if you want to round up).

Of course, Bottas could find another gear and begin to share poles out more evenly with Hamilton at Mercedes, much as Rosberg did in 2014. Ferrari could shake off its Saturday hoodoo and become a force once again. Red Bull might get its act together and also begin to draw poles away from Hamilton.

But on the same vein, Hamilton and Mercedes might become even more dominant. He might decide to keep on racing until he is deep into his thirties, giving himself more time to pull even further clear at the top of the record list.

The point is that Hamilton can reach 100. And much as Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 grand prix victories has been deemed by most to be unbeatable, Hamilton would have a pole record that would surely cement his place as one of F1’s all-time greats.

That is if there is any question about that status already.

NASCAR America: Newgarden recaps rise to IndyCar title (VIDEO)

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Newly crowned Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden joined NBCSN’s NASCAR America on Tuesday to reflect on his rise to the top of the series.

Newgarden chatted with show host Carolyn Manno about his championship season, integration to Team Penske and bonding with his three teammates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale but it wasn’t enough to overcome Newgarden’s points lead.

 

Report: Verizon likely to drop IndyCar title sponsorship after ’18

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One of the under-the-radar elements that’s percolated in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock this year is Verizon’s activation strategy itself, in its fourth year of its first five-year deal as title sponsor of the championship.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern while he thinks it’s likely Verizon will end its title sponsorship of the series after 2018, they hope to continue the relationship in a different capacity.

While Verizon got in before 2014, IndyCar was a viable platform for the wireless company to activate in a way it couldn’t in NASCAR, when Sprint was the Cup Series’ title sponsor.

That’s since changed with Sprint’s contract ending after 2016. Verizon still activates within the paddock, working with CSM Sport & Entertainment, but its activation outside the paddock has seemed rather limited this year.

Verizon’s primary point of access or reference point of digital technology has been the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app, which was initially only for Verizon Wireless users but was later expanded to other carriers. That provides some app-specific exclusive content as well as a compilation of written, photographic and video content from IndyCar.com.

Even in the paddock, a Verizon-sponsored “Lunch with Legends” series – where some of IndyCar’s stars from the past had lunch at tracks with fans to provide some exclusive access – was not retained for 2017. Verizon hosted an event at a 5G-outfitted house in Indianapolis this year, prior to the Indianapolis 500, to showcase some of that network capability and virtual reality (VR) technology.

Provided Verizon does not continue as title sponsor past 2018, it would leave the IndyCar series in almost the same situation as prior title sponsor IZOD was in 2013, with a lame duck year.

The absence of a Verizon contract renewal has lurked beneath the surface all year in a year when INDYCAR (sanctioning body) has announced several long-term extensions with key manufacturer partners Dallara, Firestone, Chevrolet, Honda and many of its race tracks.

The competition side of IndyCar has done rather well and has enough momentum with Jay Frye at the head of its President of Competition and Operations for the last two years.

But it’s imperative for IndyCar’s sake its commercial side does as well too, which will make the 2018 season an interesting one from a “how to progress” and find a partner that can truly activate to lift the series’ profile even bigger than it is now.

The title sponsor evolution and the series’ new TV contract, with the current one set to end after 2018, enter as the early leaders in the clubhouse for biggest off-track stories to follow over the winter and into the start of 2018.

Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

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SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Ocon confirmed for another year at Force India

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Sahara Force India will keep the same driver lineup in 2018, with Esteban Ocon confirming Tuesday he’ll stay alongside Sergio Perez next season.

Although the two drivers have occasionally been at odds this year as Ocon has threatened Perez’s place as team leader, both have been instrumental in keeping Force India a clear fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, at the top of the crowded midfield behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ocon’s had a very strong year, with 56 points scored and having made the points in all but one race (Monaco) this season. His best finish is fifth at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Being confirmed for 2018 means like others, the jockeying for spots in 2019 will be fascinating to watch.