Formula One

xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 22, 2015 in Spa, Belgium.
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How watching a go-kart race changed F1’s Valtteri Bottas’ life forever

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It was 21 years ago, but Valtteri Bottas remembers as if it was yesterday — the day that would change his life forever.

Bottas, just six years old at the time, was riding in a car with his father in their native Finland when they came upon a go-kart race taking place.

It was love at first sight for little Valtteri – and dad, too. Although they were supposed to continue on to a neighboring town of Lahti, they decided to postpone the trip and spent the rest of the day watching the racing action.

It was also the first step Bottas would take towards becoming a race car driver. It’s a journey that two decades later has now, as of Monday, brought him to a seat with the sport’s most dominant team in recent years, Mercedes AMG Petronas, and made him teammates with three-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

Along the way to the present, Bottas became a go-kart champion, won countless races across a number of series, and now has just one thing in mind that he’s focusing on:

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Winning a Formula 1 championship with his new team.

As the driver chosen to replace the now-retired 2016 F1 champion Nico Rosberg, Bottas’ dreams have come true. But at the same time, expectations have never been higher or more demanding upon Bottas, who spent the last four seasons with the Williams F1 team.

Bottas finished 17th in his first season with Williams in 2013, then scored a career-best fourth-place showing the following season. Bottas was fifth in 2015 before slipping to eighth last season, as the car regressed.

But now, Williams is in Bottas’ rearview mirror and all he hopes to see is clear pathways going forward, hopefully with him in the lead and every other driver chasing his Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Silver Arrow.

Yet having the best team in the sport is no guarantee of success, Bottas prudently says.

“It would be nice to know the answer to the question of how you become Formula 1 World Champion,” Bottas said in a story on the MercedesAMGF1.com website. “But there are so many factors involved. It’s not just about you as an individual.

“Even if you’re the best driver, you’re not going to win anything if your engine packs up ten times during the season. As a driver, you have to concentrate on your performance and give everything for the team. On your own, you don’t stand a chance.”

But one of the reasons Mercedes chose Bottas over other F1 drivers is his determination and drive – both in the car and in life.

It’s something that traces back to the first two times he climbed into a go-kart to begin his path to F1: finishing third in his first race and winning his second. A few years later at the age of 13, even though he was larger and heavier than most of his competitors, Bottas would win the Finnish go-kart championship.

“I had to do everything I could to make my dream come true,” Bottas said. That included going on a diet and physical regimen that strengthened both his body as well as his championship-winning chances.

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“This was the turning point, at which I became professional and saw racing as more than just a hobby and a fun ride,” Bottas said.

Now he has perhaps the most fun – and demanding – ride he’s ever had. But just like he did when he climbed behind the wheel of his first go-kart at the age of seven, one thing has remained a constant for the flying Finn.

“I never give up,” Bottas said. “I still cherish my ambition of winning the world title. I will do everything I can to achieve that. It’s my life goal right now.

“There is no better feeling than being in the pits on Sunday – race day. The mechanics start the engine; you hear it and you feel it, and you know this precious gem will be in your hands for the next two hours. It’s now all up to you.”

And while Bottas readily admits “I’m living the dream every day,” he’s not letting the team he’s with, or the success it has had over the years, get to his head.

“Ultimately, I’m just an average guy from Nastola (his hometown of 15,000) in Finland, who just happens to be a Formula One driver.”

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Loyalty brought Felipe Massa out of retirement, back to Williams

Just a few months after waving goodbye to F1, Felipe Massa is waving hello again with his return to Williams for the 2017 season.
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Felipe Massa is a number of things, including a great driver, a fan favorite, a mentor to young drivers and a great representative for Formula 1.

But perhaps above all those attributes are the word that best describes Massa: loyal.

When Massa retired at the end of the 2016 F1 season from Williams, he was pretty sure his F1 days were forever behind him. But when teammate Valtteri Bottas surprised everyone by leaving the team to replace retired champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes, Massa’s sense of loyalty kicked in.

The Brazilian driver knew that 2017 would be a very important year for Williams, as the organization celebrates its 40th anniversary. He also knew young teammate Lance Stroll needed a mentor to guide him through the rigors of F1.

Given all Williams had done for him the past three seasons, Massa felt he owed his old team something back: namely himself and his talent behind the wheel.

Ergo, goodbye retirement, welcome back to Williams. It wasn’t about money, but something much more valuable that you can’t put a price on.

“I have a strong love for Williams,” Massa said in a Q&A on WilliamsF1.com. “I have enjoyed the last three years with the team, and therefore coming back to help give stability and experience to drive things forward in 2017 was something that felt right to do.

“When I joined Williams back in 2014 I found a team – and a family – that I have loved being a part of. I certainly haven’t lost the desire to race and fight on track. Whatever I would have turned my hand to this year, I would have been putting 100 percent effort into doing the best job that I can, and if I didn’t have that passion, I would not have agreed to return.”

While the 35-year-old Massa said his return to F1 and Williams is just for 2017, with all the elements in play, particularly since Bottas left, Massa feels reinvigorated. It may seem like he’s racing for a new team, even though he’s returning to the same team he left less than two months ago.

And that’s where the beauty of his loyalty truly is: Massa made it very clear that the only F1 team he would ever consider ending retirement for was, one and the same, Williams.

“My return is not about seeing Formula 1 as the best option, but is about seeing the role at Williams as the best option,” Massa said. “I would not have returned for any other team.”

And if retirement for the second time is in his future after the 2017 season, Massa will leave with no regrets.

“Whatever happens this season, I will always leave the sport with my head held high,” he said.

While he wishes Bottas the best with his new team, Massa is also very keen on working with Stroll.

“I’m looking forward to working with Lance, having known him for a long time,” Massa said. “He has proved in the championships he has competed in so far that he deserves this opportunity, and it’s great to welcome new talent into Formula 1.

“Lance may be young, but Williams has a history of bringing young drivers into the sport. He knows there is a steep learning curve ahead, but motorsport is a team sport and I look forward supporting him in any way I can.

“Valtteri has been offered a fantastic opportunity and, as a result, an opportunity arose for me. When the media began reporting that I might return, I was touched by the response from so many fans who wanted to see me back in the sport.

“That was certainly a factor in the decision, so I’d like to thank the fans for their support. But, at the end of the day, when I received the call it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was Williams!”

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A lot on line for Force India, departing Nico Hulkenberg in 2016 F1 finale

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Sunday’s season-ending Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will actually be the beginning of things in a way for Force India.

While it will be the final race for the team for Nico Hulkenberg, it will lead to a new beginning for the 29-year-old German driver, who will move to Team Renault for the 2017 season.

Sunday’s race may also be the beginning of a new day of sorts competition-wise for the organization, which is in contention to finish fourth in the F1 Constructor’s Championship. If it accomplishes that feat, it would be the best finish in the team’s history and would provide great momentum going forward into 2017.

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Here’s what Hulkenberg, Perez and team principal Vijay Mallya had to say about Sunday’s event:

Nico Hulkenberg: “The final race of the season is always special, but this year even more so. It will be my final race with the team, so it will be emotional to work with the crew and the other team members for one last time.

“People move around teams a lot in Formula One, so I know it’s a goodbye and not a farewell. I want to enjoy this last race together and make sure it turns into a celebration: I want us to confirm fourth place in the championship, then we will see a lot of big smiles on everyone’s faces and be proud of what we achieved together.

“Looking at the track characteristics, Abu Dhabi should suit us really well. We had a few strong results in the last few years and I am confident we can get a good one this time around too. I would love nothing more than to sign off from the team in style.”

Sergio Perez: “It’s the final race of the year and you really want to close the season with a good result. It’s an exciting time and you need to keep focused on the job even though everyone is already talking about the following season. You want to finish the year well to go on holiday with a sweet taste in your mouth, especially this year when there is so much at stake. Nobody wants to have a bad final race; it’s a pretty nasty feeling!

“Abu Dhabi is a cool place and the fans we meet come from all over the world. The facilities at the track are impressive and I’ve always liked racing there. … Last year’s race was pretty exciting – fighting for the podium against the Ferraris. Even though we fell short, it was a very good race and hopefully we can have another strong weekend after Brazil.

“You always get a bit nostalgic at the end of the season. You know it’s the last time you’re going to drive your VJM09 and you don’t know what the next season will bring. I want to go into the winter with special memories from the final race.”

Vijay Mallya, team principal: “After scoring well in Brazil, we head to Abu Dhabi on the verge of achieving our best ever finish in the constructors’ championship. There is one final step to take and everyone is determined to get the job done and end the season on a high with a strong result.

“The final race is a great opportunity to look back at the work we have done this year. I have always been confident in our team, even when circumstances played against us in the early races and we didn’t get the results our pace deserved. We kept to our plan, trusted our direction and since May we have been on the way up. Monaco was a big turning point and the team has been going from strength to strength since then.

“Abu Dhabi is the culmination of all our efforts, but there is no room for complacency. Both our drivers have an extra bit of motivation to do well – Checo to cross the 100-point threshold, which would be the first time ever for a Force India driver; Nico to close his Force India adventure on a high. This is a track that brought us some good results in the past and it would be special to end the season in style.”

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Austin has it all for F1 weekend: great racing, atmosphere, music and food

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 25:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP leads Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 25, 2015 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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In just four years, the city of Austin has quickly become one of the more popular stops on the Formula One circuit for drivers and team members.

That’s not a total surprise as the Texas city prepares to host the fifth annual United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas.

Like most tourists, F1 drivers and teams have taken a strong liking to the three main tourist attractions in Austin: great racing, great music (including at-track concerts Saturday by Taylor Swift and post-race Sunday with Usher and The Roots) and great food, particularly barbeque, chili (the hotter, the better) and plenty of beer.

It’s a win-win-win for everyone.

Here’s a sampling of how much F1 drivers and officials like coming back year after year to Austin:

Valtteri Bottas (Williams): “Austin is a great city and the people are very nice. Normally the weather is very good – except last year when it was a little bit different! Overall, as a race weekend, with the fans and everything going on it’s one of the best races to go to. It’s a special Grand Prix.”

Felipe Massa (Williams): “Of all the newer tracks COTA is the one I enjoy the most. I also really enjoy Austin itself. It’s a very nice city with good restaurants and an amazing atmosphere during the race weekend.”

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Romain Grosjean (Haas): “(Last year’s event) was wonderful. We had a lot of fans and people really came to see the race. It’s a great venue and one of the best new tracks we’ve had in quite a while. The track was great, the city is nice, and it was a very nice experience. There are a lot of bars and concerts going on in the city, and people came from all over the country to see the race. It was amazing.”

Esteban Gutierrez (Haas): “It’s important to represent America around the world, but now that we get back home and go to Austin for the U.S. Grand Prix, it’s something very special because we are on American soil. That gives a special touch to our weekend. More motivation and great energy from the people to achieve a fantastic result.

“I thought (the venue) was fantastic (last year). It was the United States Grand Prix, but it was also like a Mexican Grand Prix. A lot of Mexicans went there. It’s not far away from my hometown, and that made it a very nice combination because America makes very great events and the atmosphere was very special. I could not have asked for a better experience. Now that we have a full United States Grand Prix and then a full Mexican Grand Prix, the experiences are more intense.

“I love the center of (Austin) and the vibe that’s going on around the whole weekend. In the first year I was there I was the third driver, so in the same kind of way I lived the first season of the Mexican Grand Prix, I lived the Austin Grand Prix. It was really special going around the restaurants and having all the people, everything full and a great atmosphere.”

Guenther Steiner, Haas team principal: “(Austin)’s a cool city. People like the United States and Austin is a nice place to be. I think Austin for the team members stands before Monaco and Singapore because it’s just a cool place.”

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes): “The city itself is awesome and I’m sure everyone in the paddock looks forward to this one. … Mostly I hope it stays dry for the fans: they were amazing waiting out in the rain last time, so they’re owed a nice dry weekend I think! They give us such great hospitality that they deserve an exciting show, so we’ll do our best to provide that.”

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes): “First up, we’re back in the States – which is like a second home race for me these days. I love the country, the culture, the people and the track, so I can’t wait to get started. I’ve got some great memories from Austin, with three wins from four races and, of course, the title win last year. That was one of the highlights of my career, no doubt. It’s almost like the American fans have adopted me as their own, so I’ll try to channel all of that positive energy into this weekend.”

Kevin Magnussen (Renault): “I do love the United States and I know it well from visiting many times. The race in Austin is a great event and the circuit is really good. The fans really get behind you and I’m sure they’ll be out in force as the weather looks like it will be a lot better than all the rain we saw last year!”

Jolyon Palmer (Renault): “Austin itself is a fantastic city, the countryside in Texas is superb and the people are so welcoming. There is a lot more Formula One knowledge than I expected as you always think NASCAR or IndyCar when you think of motorsport in the US.

“My problem with the U.S. is the food; there are too many temptations! This is tough as I have to watch my weight so closely. I’d love to be tucking into ribs and burgers all the time!”

Fernando Alonso (McLaren): “The Circuit of The Americas is a big challenge for every car – each sector offers something completely different. The first section requires a lot of precision, as it’s a big climb up to the first corner, which you go into blind. The elevation changes put a lot of pressure on the car and it’s important to get good traction out of each corner. It’s a really exhilarating circuit to drive and you need to work hard at every braking point to keep good momentum around the circuit, as the rhythm is constantly changing along with the elevation as you go around the lap.”

Jenson Button (McLaren): “I’m looking forward to heading back to Austin. I’ve been spending more and more time in the States recently and Austin is a city with passionate fans that really love their racing. The atmosphere downtown is really relaxed and we usually take the opportunity to sample the famous Texan cuisine in one or two of the restaurants over the course of the weekend.”

Eric Boullier (McLaren Racing Director): “Everyone at McLaren-Honda is very pleased to be returning to Austin for the United States Grand Prix. It’s fast becoming a classic racetrack, there’s a great atmosphere, and the fans’ love of racing is palpable throughout the weekend. We always receive a very warm welcome from the Austinites and the U.S. is a very important market for us to bring our show to every season.”

Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso): “I always lose a kilo of weight on purpose before this race to be able to regain it there and eat loads of meat – some ribs with some delicious barbecue sauce! I’m also staying and not flying to the next race until Tuesday afternoon – I will eat more ribs! (Laughs). Austin is small but… very cute! There are a few nice things to do there. I like going shopping to some of the few shopping centers there when we have a bit of spare time.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. (Toro Rosso): ““Another thing we can’t forget about Texas are the barbecues! Last year I arrived there a day earlier just to be able to go and have a barbecue! Everyone was talking about it, so I had to try!

“The city is actually quite small. There’s a very big, long avenue where all the action takes place, with plenty of music – it’s somewhere we might go on Sunday night, but not during the rest of the weekend. I like it there. After the race I’m staying in Austin for a couple of days with some friends, it will be fun!”

Nico Hulkenberg (Force India): “The weekend in Austin is one of the coolest of the whole year. It’s an event that ticks all the boxes: the track is fun, the city is interesting and the people are great. There’s a brilliant atmosphere, which you can feel as soon as you land in the city, and I really enjoy going there.”

F1 Grand Prix of USA - Race

Sergio Perez (Force India): “Before Mexico joined the calendar, Austin felt like a home race for me so I am always happy to go there, to be close to home and to be able to spend a bit of time with my family and friends at the circuit. I always have guests with me and there are so many fans who make the trip from Mexico to see the race in Austin.

“The city is really nice and you’re never short of things to do. The whole place comes alive at night and there are so many bars and restaurants to enjoy. Of course, being there to race means we do not really get the chance to go out much, but even going for a walk gives you an opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere and see all the fans. It’s a young city, with many students, and that gives it a nice vibe.”

Esteban Ocon (Manor): “It looks pretty amazing. It’s the Live Music Capital of the World, so I’m hoping to experience that a little bit before the hard work starts for the weekend. And the Texas BBQ looks good too. I’ll give that a try, for sure!”

Max Verstappen (Red Bull):I had a good look around Austin last year and really liked it. I love America in general, the people are so friendly and I always feel comfortable and relaxed there. Burgers and meat, it is so good there. I will probably have to be a bit careful to watch my weight as you can eat so well in Austin. I am sure I will find time for a nice steak though.”

Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull): “The track in Austin is sick, I love it. … Austin city is also awesome, I really like its character. It’s raw and authentic which makes it cool without trying to be. The old school bars and music venues which are super cool just makes it work. Pete’s Piano bar and Rainey Street has a lot of local music which is a really nice vibe and I want to check out Hotel Vegas this year.”

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Nasr, Sauber hope to end scoring drought dating to Austin last year

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It’s been an especially rough sophomore season in Formula One for Felipe Nasr.

In the first 17 races of the 2016 season, the 24-year-old Sauber driver has finished no higher than 12th (Baku, Azerbaijan).

Nasr scored on five occasions last year which ranked him 13th in the points, but being one of five drivers yet to score this year (Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson, Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez and Manor’s Rio Haryanto and Esteban Ocon) leaves him just 22nd this year out of 24 drivers that have raced a Grand Prix this year.

Coming to Austin this weekend provides Nasr a shot – albeit a long one – at ending a year-long scoring drought since last year’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas.

It was at last year’s USGP that Nasr last scored points for finishing ninth – his best showing in an F1 race since.

“Finishing in P9 was a nice achievement, bearing in mind that it was the 400th GP for Sauber,” Nasr said in the team’s advance release. “Thinking about this year, I am very much looking forward to racing on this great track again.”

Nasr has four failures to finish this season and in the 13 races he has completed, has ended between 12th and 19th. He started and finished 19th last race at Suzuka, Japan, two weeks ago.

“I will do the best I can for us to achieve a similar result to last year, as scoring points is obviously our objective,” Nasr said.

“I am confident that we are keeping working to improve the Sauber C35-Ferrari, in order to make further steps to be more competitive.”

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