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Verstappen takes Mexican GP victory, Hamilton clinches F1 title

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Max Verstappen dodged an incident-strewn first lap and concerns about his Renault engine to take his third Formula 1 victory in Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix, as Lewis Hamilton clinched his fourth world title in unexpected circumstances.

A clash between Hamilton and F1 title rival Vettel saw both sustain damage and drop to the back of the field early on, scuppering hopes of a fight between them to settle the championship race.

Despite being lapped for the first time in over four years, Hamilton was able to battle his way back to ninth come the checkered flag. With Vettel finishing fourth, the result was enough to confirm Hamilton as champion for a fourth time.

The start saw Vettel make a good initial getaway before having both Hamilton and Verstappen hot on his tail on the long run down to Turn 1, with the trio going three-abreast into the first corner.

Verstappen muscled his way around the outside of Vettel with a side-bump to seize the lead, with Hamilton attempting to follow the Dutchman through. However, his rear-right tire made contact with Vettel’s front wing, leaving him with a puncture and to slow down on-track.

Hamilton was able to nurse his car back to the pits, while Vettel also dived in for a new nose and front wing, leaving the title contenders occupying the bottom two positions after the opening lap.

Vettel and Hamilton fitted soft tires to take themselves to the end of the race, and were quickly handed a position when Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was forced to retire after just five laps due to a turbo issue, having risen from P16 to eighth in the opening stages.

Tensions continued to flare further down the pack as Hamilton asked the Mercedes pit wall if Vettel’s first-lap move had been deliberate, which the stewards did investigate but deemed no action to be worth taking. Vettel, meanwhile, fumed over a strong defensive move by Felipe Massa when scrapping for P15.

Verstappen was able to quickly get his head down and forge an early lead over Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon, who had risen into the podium positions through the first-lap chaos.

Ocon was able to hold on to P3 through the pit stop cycle despite seeing rivals Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez get the undercut and close the gap in the race for the podium. Hulkenberg’s hopes of finally ending his rostrum drought were soon ended though when he suffered a power issue, forcing him to park up at the side of the track and retire from the race.

Hulkenberg was joined on the sidelines just before half-distance when Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley suffered an engine failure – Renault’s third of the race – forcing him out of the race. A Virtual Safety Car was called to allow his car to be recovered, prompting the front-runners to seize the opportunity to pit.

Verstappen emerged from the pit sequence some seven seconds clear of Bottas at the front of the field, with Kimi Raikkonen taking advantage of the VSC to get the jump on Ocon in P3. Vettel (P8) and Hamilton (P16) also came in to ditch their soft tires, taking ultra-softs and super-softs respectively for the second half of the race.

Verstappen’s pace remained relentless at the front despite concerns on the Red Bull pit wall after the trio of Renault engine failures, prompting the engineers to ask the Dutchman to slow down and simply match Bottas’ pace, with his lead now standing at 15 seconds.

By Lap 50, Vettel had battled his way up to seventh for Ferrari with his sights set on Perez and Lance Stroll up the road. Hamilton was still outside of the points, but on-track to clinch the title so long as his rival did not finish in the top two.

The pair continued to make up ground in the laps that followed, with Vettel making slick passes on Perez, Stroll and Ocon, leaving him fourth at the checkered flag behind Ferrari teammate Raikkonen.

However, with Verstappen taking his third F1 victory in style and Bottas finishing P2, Vettel had fallen short of the required result to keep the title race alive, confirming Hamilton as champion.

For good measure, Hamilton also scored the points he needed had Vettel finished second, fighting his way back up to ninth come the checkered flag.

Force India clinched fourth place in the constructors’ championship for 2017 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished P5 and P7 respectively, the pair split by Williams’ Lance Stroll in sixth.

A late scrap in the lower midfield ended with Kevin Magnussen taking an admirable eighth-place finish for Haas on a weekend that saw the American team struggle for the most part, drawing it closer to Renault in the constructors’ standings.

Fernando Alonso was left to go wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton through the closing laps, ultimately losing the position with just three laps to go after a tight battle through the opening sequence of corners, leaving the Spaniard P10 at the flag.

More to follow…

IndyCar star Scott Dixon to test skills on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Scott Dixon will be the latest IndyCar driver to enter the realm of reality TV when he auditions in Indianapolis next week for “American Ninja Warrior.”

The four-time IndyCar champion, nicknamed “The Iceman,” thought it sounded fun when he was approached with the idea of trying out. As the competition has drawn near, Dixon is wondering what he got himself into.

“I feel a lot of pressure on this one,” Dixon told The Associated Press before heading to this weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. “When it got to be about a month away, I figured I should start training for it, and it’s pretty hard stuff.”

IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all auditioned for the show, which follows competitors as they tackle a series of obstacle courses in qualifying rounds across the country. None of IndyCar’s contestants advanced out of the first round and neither did NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Dixon’s appearance comes about the same time the Game Show Network has Sebastien Bourdais as a guest host for “Daily Draw” for the entire week leading into the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Most recently, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly teamed to finish fourth on “The Amazing Race,” and James Hinchcliffe was a runner-up last year on “Dancing With The Stars.” Castroneves is a former “DWTS” winner.

Dixon, the 2008 winner of the Indianapolis 500 who ranks fourth on IndyCar’s all-time wins list, is accustomed to success. But the New Zealander not so sure he’s going to become the next great ninja. Most of his fitness work focuses on endurance training, and preparing for the obstacle course has taken Dixon out of his element.

“It’s not my wheelhouse,” he said. “This is agility kind of stuff and I’m looking forward to the process. I’m not looking forward so much to the failure, because it’s going to happen at some point, so I guess I just have to make the most of it and enjoy the experience.”

Dixon was famously robbed at gunpoint in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell last year hours after he won the pole for the Indy 500. Asked if his ninja training will have him better prepared should that happen again, he did not think so.

“I suppose if I run away it would help,” Dixon said. “But I don’t exactly have a ninja toolkit to get me through that situation.”