Hamilton flies in qualifying to secure Russian GP pole

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix after fending off stiff competition from teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg during qualifying in Sochi today.

The British driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:38.513 to finished two-tenths of a second clear of Rosberg, but Williams’ Valtteri Bottas very nearly spoiled the party, finishing third after running wide on his final and quickest lap time.

Formula 1 has arrived in Sochi this weekend with a heavy heart following Jules Bianchi’s accident in Japan. The Frenchman remains in hospital in a critical but stable condition, and is the foremost thought for the entire paddock this weekend.

In a mark of respect for its driver, Marussia has opted to race with just one car this weekend in Russia, meaning that 21 cars took to the track for qualifying on Saturday afternoon.

With track evolution and grip being critical around the new Sochi Autodrom circuit, most of the drivers opted to immediately head out in Q1 on the option tire in search of the quickest possible lap time. Jenson Button was one of the few to buck the trend, and did momentarily sit in first place on the medium tire but was soon bumped off as Rosberg and Hamilton resumed normal service for Mercedes in first and second place respectively.

Instead of pitting early, the drivers opted to stay out and continue to learn the circuit as it became faster and faster. Felipe Massa was the shock exit in Q1 after a problem developed on his Williams, leaving him down in 18th position come the checkered flag. Marcus Ericsson put in a good lap to finish 17th, just one-tenth of a second off a place in Q2, with Caterham teammate Kamui Kobayashi finishing 19th ahead of Pastor Maldonado and Max Chilton.

Picking up where he left off in Q1, Hamilton immediately established his dominance in the second part of qualifying by going six-tenths faster than the field, leaving his rivals searching for time. Although Rosberg did cut the gap to 0.2 seconds, he still found himself staring down the barrel of a defeat ahead of Q3.

One man who didn’t expect to be missing the final session was Sebastian Vettel, who struggled for pace and finished down in 11th place. The German driver was eliminated alongside the Force India pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, who qualified 12th and 13th respectively ahead of the two Sauber drivers and Romain Grosjean.

Q3 saw the field head out early to try and find some heat and increase grip on their tires, but Rosberg sent out a statement of intent by going fastest of all ahead of Bottas and Button as Hamilton opted to bide his time before posting his optimum lap.

With three minutes to go, Hamilton finally found his feet to move to the top of the timesheets, but Rosberg could not respond after making a mistake on his hot lap. Both had one more shot in their battle for pole position, and Hamilton made his count, enjoying a lead of two-tenths of a second at the flag.

However, Bottas very nearly upset the odds, going fastest of all in sectors one and two before running wide at the final corner, leaving him third. Jenson Button proved that McLaren’s practice form was genuine, qualifying fourth ahead of home favorite Daniil Kvyat.

Kevin Magnussen qualified sixth for McLaren, but will drop to P11 due to his grid penalty. Daniel Ricciardo finished seventh ahead of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, with Jean-Eric Vergne rounding out the top ten.

In a close qualifying session, it was Hamilton who made it count once again to secure his seventh pole position of the season. With victory tomorrow, he could move into a 17-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship, taking him ever closer to a second world title.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”