F1 Qualifying Analysis: Missed opportunities allow Hamilton to rule again


Today’s qualifying session for the Singapore Grand Prix was something of an anti-climax. After all of the signs suggested that Mercedes may face some serious competition in the fight for pole position, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg resumed normal service by locking out the front row of the grid.

However, it wasn’t that the competition faded away in the final part of Q3. Instead, Mercedes did what Mercedes does best: dominate. Two fine final laps from both Lewis and Nico gave the Silver Arrows a well deserved front row, with just 0.007 seconds separating our championship protagonists.

0.007 seconds. In layman’s terms, that’s equivalent to 33cm on track – next to nothing. It is impossible to lynch Rosberg for not scoring pole, given that he was so close, so instead we should praise Lewis Hamilton. The Briton has a knack of pulling a rabbit out of the hat to get the upper hand over his teammate – a trait that all great champions have.

After locking up at turn one, his chances of pole seemed to be dead in the water – even Lewis himself admitted that he thought it was over. However, instead of throwing in the towel as he mistakenly did at Silverstone, he kept his cool to find just enough time to secure his sixth pole position of the season.

Nico’s response to losing out was telling. He shouting “dammit!” loudly over the radio, and in the post-race press conference was clearly frustrated. That said, it wasn’t malicious frustration. He appeared to find it almost funny that he had lost by such a narrow margin. When he and Lewis shook hands for the post race picture, it was very brief; but a second of eye contact before turning to third-placed Daniel Ricciardo. It’s a great rivalry for this year’s championship story.

So well done Mercedes. However, both Ferrari and Red Bull will know that a big chance went begging today – arguably the best that they will see all season.

Ferrari’s plight was a little less surprising given that, to be brutal, the team hasn’t been hot this season. In fact, when Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso led home a one-two at the end of Q1, many were taken aback. “Have Ferrari found the fix?” Some on Twitter snarked that the departure of Luca di Montezemolo was worth two seconds per lap…

Ultimately, Kimi’s charge came to an end thanks to a software issue on his F14 T. Despite not completing a second run in Q3, he still finished seventh, which is actually pretty good for Kimi in 2014. The Finn seems to have some of his old fire back, and a good run into the top five tomorrow would go a long way to silencing many of his critics. Fernando Alonso was surprisingly upbeat with P4, and as a man who is clearly at ease around the Marina Bay Street Circuit, he is certain to be in the fight for a podium finish tomorrow with the Red Bull drivers.

Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel locked out the second row of the grid for the defending champions, but their opinions on how qualifying went were very different. Ricciardo, unsurprisingly, was more upbeat, saying that it was all he could have managed. Vettel was less cheery, saying that pole was within his grasp – the two-tenth gap to the front will leave him dwelling on where that could have been made up, no doubt.

Both Red Bull and Ferrari missed opportunities in qualifying, yes. However, the opportunity wasn’t as great as many anticipated given that Mercedes was on-song in the final stages. Beating a Mercedes in the dry is a nigh-on impossible task. Getting within one-quarter of a second? Admirable efforts all round.

Sadly “admirable efforts” don’t give you world titles – pole positions do. With four of the six winners at Marina Bay having started from pole, Lewis Hamilton will have his tail up heading into tomorrow’s race. From P2, Rosberg will be looking for a repeat of last year’s start where he made a great start to pass Vettel into turn one. By turn two, he was back down in second place, though – that’s how Lewis would like the script to run again.

Missed opportunities at the front allowed Hamilton to make the most of it and secure pole in Singapore. As those who frequently start off the front row like to remind us though, there are no points for qualifying – all the more reason to join us for tomorrow’s Singapore Grand Prix, which promises to be a thriller.

You can watch all of the action live from Marina Bay on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7.30am ET tomorrow.

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”