Hamilton edges out Rosberg to claim pole position in China


Lewis Hamilton will start tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix from pole position after edging out Mercedes teammate and probable championship rival Nico Rosberg in qualifying at the Shanghai International Circuit on Saturday.

The defending Formula 1 world champion had dominated proceedings in practice, and carried this form into qualifying by producing a scintillating final lap in Q3 that was good enough to secure him a fifth pole position at the Chinese Grand Prix.

However, he was very nearly denied pole by Rosberg, who fell just 0.042 seconds short in the final stage of qualifying, leaving him frustrated in second place on the grid ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa.

Hamilton began qualifying as he meant to go on by posting the fastest time in the early part of Q1, easing into the second stage on the medium tire whilst the rest of the field had to complete at least one run on the faster soft compound. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were unable to challenge the Mercedes duo at first, but eventually secured a one-two after both drivers made the tire switch later on in the session.

It proved to be the right decision as the track rubbered in quickly towards the end of Q1, resulting in a number of changes towards the bottom of the timesheets. McLaren’s progress was not so clear in qualifying as Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso dropped out in Q1 once again, whilst Nico Hulkenberg was caught out by improvements from cars towards the bottom, leaving him in 16th.

The Manor duo of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi qualified P19 and P20, but ensured their place on the grid for the race by finishing within the 107% time.

Q2 saw Mercedes make the move onto the soft tire and quickly put it to good use as Hamilton and Rosberg eased into P1 and P2 at the beginning of the session. Their advantage over the rest of the field stood at 1.6 seconds until Ferrari sent its drivers out, with Vettel half a second down on Hamilton. Both teams were able to stick to just one run in Q2, assured of their place in the final part of qualifying.

The small margins between the midfield cars meant that all of the drivers from fifth to 15th were at risk of dropping out, with Williams’ Felipe Massa being the big name on the brink of elimination. The Brazilian was one of a number of drivers to improve and get through though, as Sauber got both of its drivers into Q3 for the first time since the 2013 United States Grand Prix.

Pastor Maldonado dropped out in Q2 once again, alongside Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull and the Toro Rosso pair of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz. Sergio Perez languished at the bottom of the timesheets in Q2 in P15.

With Ferrari opting to re-use a set of its tires from Q1 at the start of Q3, Hamilton and Rosberg were left to fight among themselves for provisional pole position on their first runs in the final session. Hamilton produced a near-perfect lap to go almost three-tenths quicker than Rosberg, whilst Massa was 1.5 seconds down on his time in third place.

However, both of the Mercedes drivers were forced to go out for a second run when Ferrari moved onto fresh options, giving Rosberg one final chance to deny his teammate pole position. His cause was aided when Hamilton produced a scrappy last lap in Q3 and failed to improve. However, despite posting the fastest final sector time of the weekend with his final effort, Rosberg fell 0.042 seconds short, handing Hamilton a third straight pole position in China.

Sebastian Vettel produced a good final lap to put his Ferrari third on the grid, albeit some nine-tenths of a second down on Hamilton. Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas ran well for Williams to qualify fourth and fifth, whilst Kimi Raikkonen had to settle for sixth place in the sister Ferrari.

Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean both outperformed their teammate stop secure P7 and P8 respectively, whilst Sauber locked out the fifth row as Felipe Nasr beat Marcus Ericsson to ninth place.

After losing out in Malaysia to Ferrari, Mercedes has bounced back in style in qualifying on Saturday. However, the Silver Arrows will know that the job is only half done, with tomorrow’s race set to provide a thrilling battle between Hamilton, Rosberg and perhaps Vettel at the front.

You can watch the Chinese Grand Prix live on NBCSN from 1:30a ET on Sunday.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).