Nico Rosberg rallies to pole position in Abu Dhabi

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ABU DHABI – Nico Rosberg has stormed to the final pole position of the 2014 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi today, edging out Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton by three-tenths of a second in the final part of qualifying at Yas Marina.

The German driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:40.480 in Q3 to beat Hamilton, who could not hook up either of his final laps and was forced to settle for second place on the grid for tomorrow’s title deciding race in Abu Dhabi.

Having topped both Q1 and Q2, Hamilton appeared to have pole position in the bag, only for Rosberg to find some more time when it mattered in Q3 and claim his 11th pole position of the year.

Williams excelled once again to lock out the second row of the grid, with Valtteri Bottas qualifying third ahead of Felipe Massa and the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, who will start fifth and sixth respectively.

In order to push for the quickest time possible, all of the drivers headed out on the super-soft tire early on in Q1 with Hamilton moving into an early lead ahead of Rosberg. Despite making a number of mistakes on his lap and locking up twice, the Briton moved one-tenth of a second clear of his championship rival after Mercedes’ first runs, with the rest of the field a further one second back.

Red Bull bided its time, opting to send Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel out for just one run midway through the first session, and they duly slotted into P3 and P5 respectively with their timed laps. Ferrari also left it a bit later before securing a place in Q2, with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen sitting in the dropzone with a few minutes remaining, but both eased through in the end.

As the flag fell, Adrian Sutil improved to squeeze through to the second session, dumping Sauber teammate Esteban Gutierrez out alongside Lotus drivers Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, and the Caterham duo of Kamui Kobayashi and Will Stevens. In his first F1 qualifying session, Stevens finished just half a second shy of his teammate, finishing well inside the required 107% time to qualify.

Once again in Q2, the Mercedes drivers were dominant, but Rosberg didn’t have it all his own way. A mistake on his first lap sent him off the circuit, and he fell half second short of Hamilton one lap later, slotting into second place once again. With Bottas and Massa now far behind the German driver after the first runs, it was clear that Rosberg would have to keep one eye on the chasing pack.

McLaren very nearly made a costly mistake in Q2 with Jenson Button’s car, failing to put enough fuel in the MP4-29. The Briton was rushed back to the pits, but he was less than amused, asking the team “are you serious?”. With four minutes to go, most of the runners opted to head out and post a second lap time to try and secure a place in the final top ten shootout.

With a correctly fuelled car, Button lifted himself up to sixth place and out of the dropzone, but his teammate, Kevin Magnussen, was less fortunate, finishing 11th behind Kimi Raikkonen. Jean-Eric Vergne and Adrian Sutil also failed to make it into Q3, along with the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg.

In the dying moments of Q2, both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas improved their lap times to finish second and third respectively, dropping Rosberg to fourth. Heading into Q3, the advantage quite clearly lay with Hamilton at the front.

However, the Briton did not get it right with his first run in the shootout for pole position, running wide at the final corner and locking up to sit P2, three-tenths of a second behind Rosberg who was on provisional pole. The Williams duo of Massa and Bottas sat third and fourth, with the Red Bulls sitting fifth and sixth after the first Q3 runs.

In the final runs, Bottas appeared to throw his hat into the ring for pole position by going quickly in the first two sectors, only for a slow final third of the lap to leave him third on the grid. Although Hamilton was able to improve his time, so was Rosberg, finding an extra two-tenths of a second to secure his 11th pole position of the season in Abu Dhabi.

Despite missing out on pole, Williams impressed once again to lock out the second row of the grid, and it looks set to clinch third in the constructors’ tomorrow given that Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso will start from ninth and tenth on the grid.

Red Bull did all it could under the lights to qualify fifth and sixth, with Ricciardo ahed of Vettel once again, whilst future Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat showed his pace again by finishing seventh ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button.

Rosberg’s qualifying victory is an important one. Not only does he have the advantage of a better grid position, but it may have dealt a psychological blow to Hamilton as he goes in search of his second world title.

With our title protagonists locking out the front row of the grid in Abu Dhabi, the stage is set for a thrilling finale to the 2014 championship. Make sure to join us from 7a ET tomorrow on NBCSN for all of the action from Abu Dhabi.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”