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Russian Grand Prix rounds out F1’s busy April schedule on NBCSN

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Formula 1’s three-race in four-week stretch this April concludes with next weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, which can you can see live on NBCSN.

Both the race and Friday’s second free practice session air live on NBCSN while live qualifying airs on CNBC, so note that change.

Mercedes AMG Petronas is a perfect three-for-three at the Russian Grand Prix since its arrival on the F1 calendar in 2014. Lewis Hamilton won the first two races here while Nico Rosberg won last year. For the German driver, it was his fourth consecutive victory to open the season en route to his eventual march to the World Championship title.

That means that although it is only a three-race sample size, the Russian Grand Prix winner has gone on to win the World Championship every year, as Hamilton won this race before capturing the 2014 and 2015 titles.

Sebastian Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari are off to their strongest start together, with Vettel having won earlier this week at Bahrain for his second win in three races this season. He leads Hamilton by seven points, 68-61, and the two drivers are already on the verge of a runaway from the rest of the field in the battle for the 2017 title.

Valtteri Bottas (38 points) and Kimi Raikkonen (34) are already 30 or more points behind Vettel after just three races in third and fourth place in the championship.

Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen have had checkered records in Russia. Vettel was irate last year after getting taken out by his successor at Red Bull Racing, Daniil Kvyat, on Kvyat’s home soil. It marked Kvyat’s last race at Red Bull before he and Max Verstappen swapped rides.

Meanwhile Bottas and Raikkonen had an infamous collision when battling over third place on the last lap in 2015, which opened the door for Sahara Force India’s Sergio Perez to take a surprise but well-earned podium finish that day.

As noted above, all sessions will be broadcast on CNBC, NBCSN or via the NBC Sports App. Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock.

Here’s the schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, April 28, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (digital only)
  • Practice 2: Friday, April 28, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, April 29, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (digital only)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, April 29, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (CNBC)
  • Race: Sunday, April 30, 7 a.m.-10:30 a.m ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Spanish Grand Prix, on May 14.

Hamilton paces opening day of Bahrain test

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The first in-season test of the new Formula 1 season is underway with a mostly busy day at the Bahrain International Circuit.

Lewis Hamilton paced the runners in his Mercedes with a best time of 1:31.358. More to the point of the test, he was one of the busiest drivers on the day with 97 laps completed.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson led the way with 106 laps in the books, with Ferrari reserve Antonio Giovinazzi posting 93 in his first day in that car this year, Bahrain race winner Sebastian Vettel 89 laps and Haas driver Romain Grosjean 86, just a day after he turned 31 years old.

Yet more issues struck McLaren Honda, this time with test and development driver Oliver Turvey on board. The team detected a water leak in the ERS system, which prompted a full PU change to further investigate the issue. Turvey did make it out for some running near the end of the day.

Besides Giovinazzi and Turvey, other young drivers running today included Sean Gelael, the Indonesian rookie in his first day with Toro Rosso and Alfonso Celis Jr. with Force India.

Times are below, with the second day of running to come on Wednesday:

Hamilton apologizes to Mercedes for F1 pit lane penalty in Bahrain

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Lewis Hamilton has apologized to his Mercedes Formula 1 team after his hopes of winning Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix were dashed by a five-second time penalty for going too slowly in the pit lane.

Following a safety car period sparked by a crash between Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz Jr., Mercedes opted to pit drivers Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton on the same lap, stacking them in the pit lane.

In order to avoid losing time behind Bottas, Hamilton slowed his pace down before entering the pit lane to create a gap, backing up Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

While this was perfectly legal behind the safety car with no overtaking allowed on the live circuit, Hamilton was not allowed to do it after entering the pit lane, but continued to slow, resulting in a five-second time penalty.

The sanction prompted Mercedes to revise Hamilton’s tire strategy, bringing him in much later than planned for a second stop, and while the Briton was able to charge back to second after taking his penalty, he ultimately fell 6.6 seconds short of Vettel at the checkered flag.

“Obviously a very difficult race. It didn’t start out the best, but the pit lane was really my fault and so apologies to the team for losing the time there,” Hamilton said after the race.

“I tried my hardest to catch up but it was a long old way to go. It was 19 seconds. But I gave it everything I could. Ferrari did a great job today, so we’re going to push hard together, re-gather as a team and come back fighting.”

By finishing second to Vettel, Hamilton slips seven points behind his erstwhile rival in the drivers’ championship, and admitted he was disappointed to have cost Mercedes a chance at winning.

“Of course the disappointment is there. As I said, losing points for the team, particularly when you could have potentially won the race is painful,” Hamilton said.

“But it is what it is. All I can say is that I gave it everything I could.”

Hamilton will aim to regroup at the Russian Grand Prix, which takes place on March 30 in Sochi.

Vettel revels in Bahrain win, makes best start for Ferrari driver since Schumacher

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Sebastian Vettel reveled in his fifth Formula 1 victory for Scuderia Ferrari in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, saying the SF70H was “a pleasure” to drive under the lights at Sakhir.

Vettel charged from third place on the grid to beat the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, with Ferrari’s superior race pace lifting the German to his second win of the year.

“Really great day. Don’t know what to say,” Vettel said on the podium. “It was, the last half of the in-lap when all the fireworks were there and the track was lit up, I just love what I do. I didn’t find any words. It was really great.

“Team effort today, right off the start I could feel that we’re quick, we can have a word. Really tried to put Valtteri under pressure. He didn’t do any mistakes, it was difficult down the straights to get near him, but then we obviously went for the undercut and did the early pit stop, worked fantastic, very good job.”

Vettel feared that the advantage of pitting early and attempting the undercut was lost when the safety car was deployed just three laps later following a crash between Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lance Stroll, handing the Mercedes drivers a chance to take a free stop.

However, an error on one of Bottas’ tires allowed Vettel to emerge ahead of the Finn on-track, moving into a net lead that he would retain through the race on cycle.

“When the safety car came initially I was like ‘not again!’,” Vettel said, having lost the chance to win in China due to a mistimed caution.

“I think I was lucky because the others were just close to the pit lane so they couldn’t really benefit, let’s say. I don’t know. I was a bit surprised when I came out ahead of all of them because with the safety car I thought I might have lost the advantage.

“But after that it was good, the car was really amazing to drive. I had a good feeling yesterday so for many laps I felt it worked well. It was just a pleasure. I could control the pace at the end.”

With two wins and one second-place finish in the opening three races of the year, Vettel has made the strongest start to a season by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004. Schumacher won each of the first three races en route to a record-breaking title success.

Vettel takes Bahrain GP victory as penalty ruins Hamilton’s hopes

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Sebastian Vettel stormed to his second win of the 2017 Formula 1 season with a controlled display in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix that saw him jump both Mercedes drivers and take Ferrari to the top step of the podium.

Starting third in Bahrain, Vettel passed Lewis Hamilton off the start before getting ahead of pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas in the pit stop cycle, aided by a safety car.

Hamilton’s race was hampered after receiving a five-second time penalty for impeding Daniel Ricciardo in the pit lane, forcing Mercedes to get creative with its strategy.

While Hamilton was able to carve into Vettel’s lead with fresh tires at the end after serving his penalty, the Ferrari driver held on to take his second win of the year and fifth for the Scuderia, reclaiming the drivers’ championship lead in the process.

Bottas made a clean getaway from pole to retain the lead at Turn 1, blocking off Hamilton on the inside with a move that allowed Vettel to sweep into second place. Vettel immediately latched onto the back of the Finn, while Hamilton remained a lurking threat as the race began to settle in.

Vettel was able to use DRS to move onto Bottas’ tail, the Finn unable to break away and instead looking to manage his pace and back the field up. Hamilton remained third with the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo also in company, with just three seconds covering the top five through the opening phase of the race.

Ferrari blinked first and brought Vettel in at the end of Lap 10, fitting the German with a second set of super-soft tires in a bid to get the undercut. Verstappen blinked one lap later, but pushed too hard, too soon on his cold Pirellis, causing him to spin off the track at Turn 4, bringing his race to an early end. Two more retirements soon followed after a clash at Turn 1 between Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz Jr, sparking a safety car.

Mercedes looked to double-stack its drivers under the safety car, only for slow stops to cost both Bottas and Hamilton ground. Bottas emerged from the pits in second behind Vettel, while Hamilton – despite going slowly and backing under Ricciardo to create space – had a slow stop that cost him a place to the Red Bull driver, leaving the Briton fourth for the restart.

The safety car came in at the end of Lap 16, with Vettel leading the field to the green flag. Bottas pushed to try and regain the lead, attempting a move around the outside of Turn 4, but was pushed back and soon fell out of DRS range. Hamilton – on soft tires – was also on the move, re-claiming third place from Ricciardo, with the Australian dropping all the way to sixth as he struggled to keep his tires up to temperature.

Despite running third, Hamilton remained a threat to Vettel at the front running on soft tires that could take him to the end of the race. However, the stewards soon threw a spoke into the works for Mercedes by giving Hamilton a five-second time penalty for going too slowly at pit entry.

Desperate not to let the race slip out of reach, Hamilton upped his pace and quickly closed on Bottas, who had fallen over six seconds behind Vettel at the front of the pack. Hamilton moved into second place on Lap 27, Bottas putting up no resistance, freeing the Briton to try and make a revised strategy work in light of his penalty.

Further back, Fernando Alonso’s woes with McLaren continued as he languished outside of the points, being passed by both Daniil Kvyat and Jolyon Palmer on the same lap at one point. Alonso took to his radio in anger, telling McLaren: “I’ve never raced with less power in my life.”

As Hamilton slowly gained on Vettel at the front, Mercedes brought Bottas in for his final stop at the end of Lap 31, fitting the Finn with a set of soft tires that would take him to the end of the race. Ferrari did not react in kind, although as Vettel’s lead was wiped away bit by bit, it seemed to be just a matter of time before he would come in.

Ferrari eventually made the call for Vettel on Lap 33, timing the stop perfectly so he emerged from the pits ahead of Ricciardo and with only teammate Raikkonen ahead on-track in the gap to Hamilton. Vettel soon put his fresh tires – 20 laps fresher than Hamilton’s – to good use, carving into the Mercedes driver’s lead, knowing that with the penalty applied he did not have to make a pass to win the race.

With Hamilton’s lead shrinking by the lap, Mercedes opted to bite the bullet and pit the Briton at the end of Lap 41, allowing him to serve his five-second time penalty before the car was serviced. Hamilton came back out a distant third behind both Vettel and Bottas, but now knew wherever he finished on-track would be his final classified position, even if he was unsure why the team had opted for softs instead of the faster super-soft tire.

The new rubber did the job for Hamilton, though, as he immediately set a flurry of fastest laps and began to lap over one second per lap quicker than Vettel at the front. Bottas was told not to put up a fight to his oncoming teammate – not that he could – freeing Hamilton up to chase Vettel. With 10 laps to go, the gap stood at 12 seconds.

Despite a late scare when Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber stopped on-track and threatened to bring out a safety car, Vettel was able to hold on and finish over six seconds clear of Hamilton to record his second win of the year.

Vettel’s win saw him break clear of Hamilton in the drivers’ championship, the pair being tied after China, and open up a seven-point lead at the top of the standings.

Pole-sitter Bottas’ hopes of a maiden grand prix victory faded into the Bahrain night as he finished 20 seconds behind Vettel in third place, with compatriot Kimi Raikkonen following two seconds behind in P4 in the second Ferrari.

Ricciardo bounced back from his tire woes on the restart to finish fifth, comfortably clear of Felipe Massa in P6.

Sergio Perez continued his impressive start to the season by finishing seventh for Force India, while Esteban Ocon was P10 for the third race in a row, meaning the team has scored points with both cars in all three races so far this season.

Romain Grosjean was unable to repeat Haas’ charge to fifth from 2016, but scored his first points of the year by finishing P8 for the American team. Teammate Kevin Magnussen retired early on after starting last.

Nico Hulkenberg was unable to replicate Renault’s impressive one-lap pace, dropping to ninth place at the checkered flag. Jolyon Palmer also struggled over the long runs, eventually being classified in P13.

Pascal Wehrlein had no issues upon his return to racing for Sauber, coming close to a point after finishing P11. The German won a late battle with Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, who finished 12th.

Alonso was classified in P14, but retired with three laps to go due to an engine issue, marking McLaren’s second straight double DNF in F1.