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Bottas soaks up Hamilton pressure for Abu Dhabi F1 victory

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Valtteri Bottas closed out the 2017 Formula 1 season with victory after a controlled display in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, soaking up pressure from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton en route to his third win of the year.

Having not won a race since the Austrian Grand Prix in July, Bottas set his sights on ending the drought after taking pole at the Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday, heading up a front-row lock-out for Mercedes.

Bottas was able to convert pole into victory for the second time this season despite coming under heavy pressure from Hamilton for much of the race, signing off in style after an impressive first year for Mercedes.

A good start from Bottas saw him retain his advantage on the run to the first corner, leaving Hamilton to fend off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel from behind. The leaders settled down in their starting positions, with the only major incident coming further back as Kevin Magnussen spun off the track at Turn 3.

The sole attempted move on the opening lap came from Nico Hulkenberg on Sergio Perez, only for the latter receiving a time penalty for cutting a corner and gaining an advantage in an evident off-track move for position.

Bottas and Hamilton were able to pull clear for Mercedes in first and second as Vettel slipped a couple of seconds behind in P3. Even with his teammate running a fresher, more powerful engine, Bottas himself opened up a two-second buffer in the lead early on, retaining his advantage towards the first round of pit stops.

The main fight of note in the early part of the came from Romain Grosjean and Lance Stroll over P13, with the pair going side-by-side on a number of occasions. Grosjean was able to force his way past on Lap 11 with some canny defense at the end of the DRS zone, prompting Stroll to dive into the pits for fresh tires soon after losing position.

Max Verstappen was the first of the leading drivers to pit, coming in at the end of Lap 14 in a bid to get the undercut on fifth-placed Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari responded by pitting Raikkonen one lap later to cover Verstappen, bringing the Finn back out still ahead.

Daniel Ricciardo was able to retain P4 after making his pit stop four laps later, albeit after tapping the wall and losing a bit of bodywork. The Red Bull driver’s plight deepened soon after when a hydraulic issue caused him to slow on-track, forcing him to park up at the side of the track and retire from the race.

Bottas took advantage of the yellow flags to make his pit stop from the lead, handing over to Hamilton at the front. Mercedes opted against bringing the drivers’ champion in one lap later, who instead worked to find the overcut with a series of quick laps.

Hamilton ultimately came in for his sole stop at the end of Lap 24, emerging from the pit lane behind his teammate after a new fastest lap from Bottas ensured his early advantage was restored as he sat around two seconds clear.

Armed with fresher tires, Hamilton quickly put the hammer down and began to make inroads on his teammate at the front of the field, moving to within DRS range as the race passed half distance.

The Briton latched onto the rear of Bottas’ car with 25 laps to go to put himself within striking distance, only for a lock-up at Turn 17 to send him wide and cause him to drop back, relieving some of the pressure at the front.

With Renault looking poised to leapfrog Toro Rosso in the constructors’ championship, the team lost one of its bullets in the gun when Carlos Sainz Jr. was forced to retire after his left-front tire wasn’t attached properly. The Spaniard was fortunate not to crash in the pit exit tunnel, ultimately pulling over at Turn 3 and parking up.

The leading Mercedes drivers continued to trade fastest laps throughout the second half of the race, with Hamilton griping about the difficulty of following other cars at Yas Marina due to the circuit layout.

Hamilton had one final charge at Bottas with six laps to go after the Finn made a mistake at the first chicane, getting back within DRS range, only to drop back again through the final sector.

Bottas was able to cross the line 3.8 seconds clear of Hamilton for his third win of the year, signing off from his maiden season with Mercedes with a stylish display.

Hamilton’s championship year ended with a return to the podium after two races away, taking P2 to complete Mercedes’ fourth one-two finish of the season in the process.

Despite Bottas’ victory, Sebastian Vettel was able to clinch runner-up spot in the drivers’ championship by finishing third for Ferrari, albeit some 15 seconds back from Hamilton in front.

Kimi Raikkonen capped off a mixed season by finishing P4 in Abu Dhabi, rising above Red Bull’s Ricciardo in the final standings in the process. Max Verstappen took fifth in the sole racing Red Bull at the checkered flag, finishing less than one second back from Raikkonen.

Nico Hulkenberg finished as the top midfielder in sixth place despite his early penalty, ensuring Renault moved above Toro Rosso to P6 in the constructors’ standings. The Red Bull B-team was made to pay after failing to score points for the third race in a row, with Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly finishing 15th and 16th respectively.

Force India ended its best-ever F1 season on a high note with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon taking P7 and P8, while McLaren-Honda ended its partnership with a run to ninth for Fernando Alonso.

Felipe Massa bid farewell to F1 with a 10th-place finish for Williams, easily finishing clear of Romain Grosjean at Haas and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Magnussen recovered from his first lap spin to finish 13th for Haas ahead of Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein, with teammate Marcus Ericsson trailing the Toro Rossos in 17th. Lance Stroll was the last classified finisher in 18th for Williams after making three pit stops.

More to follow…

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.