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Hamilton’s 4th title ranks him among F1’s great drivers

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Lewis Hamilton is driving his name toward the top levels of Formula One’s record books. The final word on his standing among F1’s greatest drivers is still to come, but with four championships, he’s made a strong argument he belongs among the very best.

Hamilton won his fourth career championship Sunday with his ninth-place finish at the Mexican Grand Prix. A tough race didn’t produce the podium celebration he wanted, but clinching the title with his lowest finish of the season and two races to go defined a year in which he fought off an early challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel .

This championship, along with his first in 2008, should quiet some of those who argue Hamilton is F1’s master of good fortune, a driver who won titles on the strength of a car no one outside the Mercedes garage could match.

“It’s been a long journey these past 10 years,” Hamilton said. “It’s crazy to think I continue to put the Hamilton stamp, the Hamilton name, in the history books. Beyond my time there will be kids that know the name, and that’s probably what I’m most proud of.”

Hamilton’s 2017 title ties him with Vettel and Alain Prost as four-time winners. Juan Manuel Fangio won five, and Michael’s Schumacher’s seven championships still tower over the sport.

Could Hamilton push for Schumacher’s record? He’s 32 and said he wants to keep racing. With both he and Vettel still driving in the front, many pages of the record book could still be re-written.

“I’ll continue to race while I love it,” Hamilton said. “I think there’s more in me.”

This championship pushed Hamilton past the three won by his idol, Aryton Senna, who was killed in a crash in Italy in 1994 and is regarded as one of F1’s greatest and most skillful drivers. It also puts him ahead of Sir Jackie Stewart for the most titles won by a British driver. After Sunday’s race, Hamilton grabbed a British Union Jack and waived it on a “victory” lap before draping it over his shoulders as he celebrated.

Stewart credits Hamilton’s seat in a dominant Mercedes car as the key ingredient to his success. Stewart won his titles in 1969, 1971 and 1973.

“If you have the right car at the right time, it’s not very difficult to win the world championship. If you continue to have the best car, you continue to win the world championship, like Sebastian did, like Schumacher did,” Stewart told The Associated Press.

“In my era, we had a lucky time. Most of us drove the Ford engine, so there was no difference between one or another and they were relatively small teams winning the world championship. The competition was more even. Now I don’t think anyone would say Mercedes hasn’t been totally dominant, and before them Red Bull.

“Take Fangio, who drove so consistently in Maseratis, Alfa Romeos, Ferraris and Mercedes. He just went in and did it with great style,” Stewart said.

Mercedes has been dominant.

Hamilton won his first championship with McLaren and his other with Mercedes. Of his 62 career victories, which rank second to Schumacher’s 91, 40 have come since 2014 when F1 adopted its current turbo hybrid engines.

When Hamilton didn’t win in 2016, his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg did. Those two fought pitched battles for the championship in 2014 and 2015 that ruined a childhood friendship and tested Hamilton’s nerves inside his own team.

But Hamilton wants credit for his decision to leave McLaren for Mercedes in 2013 with an eye on the future. While Mercedes has dominated, McLaren has flailed around the middle or the back of the pack.

“I wonder how many people thought it was the worst move to Mercedes?” Hamilton said Sunday. “Isn’t it cool to see someone take a risk like I did and it to come out the way it has?”

Hamilton and Vettel have raced in a much safer era than previous greats. Many of F1’s safety reforms came after Senna was killed. Hamilton said last week that Senna would have won more titles if safety conditions were better.

“The nervousness on the starting grid is a shadow of what it was,” Stewart said. “Everybody has their own era. Lewis, it’s his era.”

Hamilton’s contemporary, Williams driver Felipe Massa, counts Hamilton among the best. The Brazilian has raced against Schumacher, Vettel and Hamilton, and it was Hamilton’s last lap in Sao Paolo that beat Massa to the championship in 2008.

“Lewis is definitely one of the best drivers in the history of Formula 1,” Massa said. “He’s there.”

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso called Hamilton a “champion of his generation.” The former two-time champion and Hamilton were teammates 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.

Hamilton’s legacy among F1’s giants may also be measured by his impact beyond the sport. He’s an international celebrity with a persona like a rock star. He’s a world traveler even outside of Formula One’s far-flung locations and his social media presence draws millions of followers.

Emerson Fittipaldi, who won championships in 1972 and 1974, said Hamilton is the star and winner Formula One needs.

“As an ambassador for Formula One, he is incredible. He reaches a broader public than anyone else can reach,” Fittipaldi said. “We need a champion like Lewis.”

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.