Rosberg on top again in FP2 at Spa, but suffers frightening rear tire failure

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Nico Rosberg continued his strong start to the Belgian Grand Prix weekend by topping the second free practice session at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Friday afternoon.

The German driver managed to edge out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by three-tenths of a second to secure P1, but saw his session come to an early end following a frightening rear tire failure with 25 minutes remaining.

Coming towards the high-speed Blanchimont corner in the final sector of the circuit, Rosberg lost control when the right-rear tire on his Mercedes W06 Hybrid car appeared to delaminate, causing the car to spin.

Although Rosberg did not hit the wall, enough damage was done to his car to bring his session to an end, whilst the debris strewn across the track warranted a red flag period.

The most pressing concern at the end of the session was the cause of the failure, which remains unclear. Rosberg’s tires will be taken away for analysis by Pirelli. Replays of the incident showed that it had sustained damage earlier in the lap, and ultimately failed when he entered a high-speed corner.

Hamilton once again struggled to match Rosberg’s pace, finishing second by three-tenths of a second. Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat slotted into third and fourth place respectively, continuing Red Bull’s strong start to the weekend.

Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg finished fifth and sixth respectively, posting an identical time of 1:50.461, whilst Romain Grosjean fell just two-hundredths of a second short in P7.

Running with the 2015 Ferrari engine for the first time this weekend, Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr ran strongly in FP2 to finish eighth and ninth. Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top ten for Ferrari.

Although Rosberg once again enjoyed an edge over Hamilton, Mercedes will be keen to get some answers later today to establish what the cause of his accident was.

With ten minutes remaining, Marcus Ericsson brought out a second red flag after going off at Pouhons and hitting the wall hard. However, this was due to driver error and unrelated to Rosberg’s tire failure.

The drivers will take to the track for the final free practice session on Saturday morning ahead of qualifying, with the latter being shown live on CNBC from 8am ET.

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.”