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Lewis Hamilton’s F1 legacy still growing

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MEXICO CITY (AP) The checkered flag is two days away, yet the underlying expectation at the Mexican Grand Prix is that Lewis Hamilton’s fourth career Formula One championship is on course for the inevitable.

Whether it’s this week or next month, Hamilton’s nearly insurmountable lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has him facing constant questions about his legacy in the sport and where he stands among Formula One’s greatest drivers.

Hamilton tries to steer the conversation toward winning a single race, but it always returns to measuring his place in F1 history. He can win the title if he finishes as low as fifth. He’ll shoot to finish first.

“I’m trying to win,” in Mexico. “It would be cool if we did and I plan to,” Hamilton said.

If he wins the championship Sunday, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez would be the fourth city where Hamilton gets to celebrate a title, joining Sao Paolo, Brazil in 2008, Abu Dhabi in 2014 and Austin, Texas in 2015.

And with its confetti and sombreros in front of tens of thousands packed into the enormous grandstand, Mexico City provides one of the biggest podium parties of the F1 season.

A fourth world championship would put the 32-year-old Briton in some elite company. He would set the championship record for British drivers, join Vettel and former champion Alain Prost as four-time winners, and trail only Michael Schumacher (seven) and Juan Manuel Fangio (five) for the most all-time.

He also would pass his idol, Brazilian driving great Aryton Senna, who was killed in a crash in Italy in 1994 and is generally considered to be the most elegant and skillful driver in F1 history.

“Aryton’s life was cut short. If he had the chance to race in safe conditions, he would have won more,” Hamilton said. “I feel very proud to have my name mentioned with his.”

Formula One is full of disputes over who were the top drivers of different eras, and how they would fare against each other. Hamilton won his first title with McLaren, but his most dominant years have come with a Mercedes team that has had no peers in the hybrid engine era. Of his 62 career victories, a mark second only to Schumacher’s 91, 40 have come since 2014.

“He’s a champion of this generation,” said McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, himself a former two-time champion. He and Hamilton were teammates for one tempestuous season in 2007 when the rookie Hamilton upstaged Alonso and finished second in the championship by a single point.

“He won races when the car was good, and when it was not so good,” Alonso said.

Williams driver Felipe Massa, who Hamilton beat to the title with a final-lap dash in Brazil in 2008, this week already put Hamilton on the level with Schumacher and Senna.

“He’s there,” Massa said.

“It’s really made me happy to hear nice things from other drivers,” Hamilton said. “They know how hard it is to be consistent and perform.”

Hamilton has neared the 2017 title by chasing down Vettel over the second half of the season. That’s a sharp contrast to the past three years, when Hamilton’s biggest rival was former teammate Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes garage. Those tension-filled seasons fractured a childhood friendship.

Part of Hamilton’s legacy will be his persona off the track. He’s a global star for Formula One as he leads a rock star’s lifestyle with world travels, hobnobbing with other celebrities and a social media presence that draws millions of followers. After the Mexico race, he and friends plan to visit the ruins of the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Rosberg’s quest for the F1 title left him exhausted by season’s end and he abruptly retired. Hamilton seems ready to keep winning. He considers himself a wiser, better racer with more still to accomplish.

“In 2008, I had all the natural talent I have now but I don’t have the experience,” Hamilton said. “It’s been more enjoyable (now). I’m more comfortable in my own skin.”

How long before he retires?

“Definitely don’t want to be here at 40,” Hamilton said. “I anticipate a couple more years.”

 

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Fast Facts

Image courtesy Barber Motorsport Park
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Here’s what you need to know about this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama:

Race weekend: Friday, April 20 – Sunday, April 22

Track: Barber Motorsports Park, a 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course (clockwise) in Birmingham, Alabama

Race distance: 90 laps / 207 miles

Entry List:  Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (PDF)

Push-to-pass parameters: 200 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 20 seconds per activation.

Firestone tire allotment: Seven sets primary, four sets alternate

Twitter: @BarberMotorPark @IndyCar, #HIGPA, #IndyCar

Event website: www.barberracingevents.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2017 race winner: Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet)

2017 Verizon P1 Award winner: Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet),1:06.9614, 123.653 mph

Qualifying lap record: Sebastien Bourdais, 1:06.6001, 124.324 mph, April 23, 2016 (Round 2 of knockout qualifying)

NBCSN qualifying telecast: Saturday, April 21 (4 p.m. ET, live)

NBCSN race telecast: Sunday, April 22 (3 p.m. ET, live)

Leigh Diffey will be the play-by-play announcer for NBCSN’s telecast of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller are the pit reporters.

Radio broadcasts: The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network is led by chief announcer Mark Jaynes, with analyst Anders Krohn. Turn reporters are Jake Query and Nick Yeoman, with Rob Howden and Michael Young reporting from the pits.

All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app and Verizon IndyCar Series practices are broadcast on  IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video Streaming: All practice sessions will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and on the INDYCAR YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/indycar)

At-track schedule (all times EASTERN):

Friday, April 20

12:15 p.m.-1 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

3:50-4:50 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

4:55-5:10 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

Saturday, April 21

11:50 a.m.-12:35 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

4 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of Verizon IndyCar Series knockout qualifications), NBCSN (live)

Sunday, April 22

3 p.m. – Driver introductions

3 p.m. – NBCSN on air

3:35 p.m. – “Drivers, start your engines” command

3:42 p.m. – Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (90 laps/207 miles), NBCSN (live)

Race Notes:

* Alexander Rossi firmly established himself as a championship contender, claiming his first win of the season at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15. The 26-year-old Californian leads reigning series champion and defending Barber race winner Josef Newgarden by 22 points heading into this weekend’s race.

* The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be the ninth Verizon IndyCar Series event conducted at Barber Motorsports Park. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural race in 2010.

* Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are the entered drivers to have won at Barber Motorsports Park. Power won the race in 2011 and 2012, Hunter-Reay in 2013 and 2014, Newgarden in 2015 and 2017 and Pagenaud in 2016.

* Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud are the entered drivers to have won the pole position at Barber Motorsports Park. Pagenaud won the pole in 2016. Power claimed the pole position in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017 and Hunter-Reay won the pole in 2013.

* Three drivers have won the race from the pole – Will Power in 2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2013 and Simon Pagenaud in 2016.

* Scott Dixon has finished on the podium in seven of his eight previous starts at Barber Motorsports Park – including five runner-up finishes – but he has yet to finish on the top step of the podium at the picturesque road circuit.

* Eight drivers have competed in every Indy car race at Barber Motorsports Park – Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Castroneves is not entered this year.

* Team Penske has five wins at Barber Motorsports Park (2010, 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017). Andretti Autosport and Ed Carpenter Racing are the only other teams to win at the track. Andretti Autosport won in 2013 and 2014 with Ryan Hunter-Reay. Ed Carpenter Racing won with Josef Newgarden in 2015.

* Six Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders – Rene Binder, Zachary Claman De Melo, Jordan King, Matheus “Matt” Leist, Zach Veach and Robert Wickens – are entered this weekend. It is the most rookies entered for a Barber race since six rookies started in 2011.

*  Eighteen of the 24 drivers entered in the event have competed in Indy car races at Barber Motorsports Park. Ten entered drivers have led laps: Will Power 208, Ryan Hunter-Reay 93, Simon Pagenaud 87, Josef Newgarden 60, Scott Dixon 44, Graham Rahal 24, Charlie Kimball 14, Sebastien Bourdais 2, James Hinchcliffe 2 and Marco Andretti 1.

* Tony Kanaan seeks to start his 286th consecutive race this weekend, which would extend his Indy car record streak that began in June 2001 at Portland. Kanaan will attempt to make his 347th Indy car start, which ranks third on the all-time list.

* Scott Dixon has made 227 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the second-longest streak in Indy car racing. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti has made 203 consecutive starts, which is the fourth-longest streak in Indy car racing.

* Scott Dixon, the longest-tenured driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, is fourth on the all-time Indy car victory list with 41 wins. 2018 St. Petersburg race winner Sebastien Bourdais is sixth on the all-time list with 37 wins and Will Power ranks ninth on the all-time list with 32 wins.