Hulkenberg leads Day 1 of Bahrain testing on Wednesday

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The theme of surprise pace-setters in Formula One testing, as it was in Jerez a few weeks ago, continued Wednesday on the first day at Bahrain. Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India clocked in at 1:36.880 on Pirelli’s soft tires, in a lap actually faster than the 2013 fastest race lap in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

What is a trend though, is that Hulkenberg is in a Mercedes-powered car, and was able to clock a substantial amount of laps on the day. His fellow Mercedes-powered drivers did as well and the Renaults, again as in Jerez, didn’t.

Hulkenberg was third in the morning session behind McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, as times dropped by a couple seconds once teams switched onto the softer compounds.

By day’s end only Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari was within a second, and only just, at 1:37.879.

With times not as important as lap counts on the first day, here’s the breakdown by manufacturer:

  • Mercedes: 238 (Hulkenberg 78, Hamilton 74, Magnussen 81, Felipe Massa 5)
  • Ferrari: 149 (Alonso 64, Adrian Sutil 82, Jules Bianchi 3)
  • Renault: 95 (Sebastian Vettel 14, Robin Frijns 68, Daniil Kvyat 5, Romain Grosjean 8)

Neither Massa or Bianchi set an official time; Williams’ Massa had a fuel system issue that cost him most of his day, while Marussia’s Bianchi had what was deemed an “IT configuration problem” per the team.

Meanwhile for Renault, Red Bull’s Vettel encountered more issues as he stopped on track with a broken down car. The team didn’t reveal the reason as yet. As it is, a disconcerting sign after his Jerez problems.

Kyvat had an oil leak in the Toro Rosso, while Grosjean was out mainly for installation laps and didn’t put up a representative time.

Caterham’s Frijns impressed on his only day of running, before race drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson take over later this week.

1. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes, 1m36.880s, 78 Laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m37.879s, 64
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m37.908s, 74
4. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m38.295s, 81
5. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault, 1m40.224s, 14
6. Adrian Sutil, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m40.443s, 82
7. Robin Frijns, Caterham-Renault, 1m42.534s, 68
8. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m44.346s, 5
9. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault, 1m44.832s, 8
10. Felipe Massa, Williams-Meredes, no time, 5
11. Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari, no time, 3

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”