Hamilton untouchable in charge to Belgian GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship on Sunday by claiming a dominant victory in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Starting from pole, Hamilton went unchallenged en route to his sixth win of the 2015 season, only losing the lead through the pit stops as Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for second place at Spa.

After coming under increased pressure in recent races, Mercedes stamped its authority on the F1 field once again by easing to another one-two finish.

Ultimately, it was Romain Grosjean who completed the podium for Lotus, scoring his first top three finish since the 2013 United States Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel suffered a tire failure on the penultimate lap of the race.

The first start of the race had to be aborted due to a problem on Nico Hulkenberg’s car, which combined with Carlos Sainz Jr’s issue on the second formation lap meant that just 18 drivers took the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Sainz would ultimately rejoin the race, albeit a lap down.

When the field eventually pulled away, it was Hamilton who made the better start at the front of the field as Rosberg dropped back to fifth. Sergio Perez jumped forward in the Force India, putting pressure on Hamilton at the front before settling down into second place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in third.

As Hamilton began to establish a lead over Perez behind, pulling away at over one second per lap, Rosberg began to fight back. After passing Valtteri Bottas, the German managed to move up into third when Ricciardo made an early pit stop on lap seven. Rosberg recovered P2 when Perez pitted one lap later, but found himself over eight seconds behind his teammate at the front.

Rosberg opted to stay out four laps longer than Perez in a bid to stay ahead of the Mexican driver. He eventually emerged from the pit lane on the medium compound tire in front, moving up to second once Sebastian Vettel had pitted. The gap to Hamilton – who had come in just one lap after Rosberg – in front now stood at just four seconds.

Further back, the race to complete the podium proved to be as close as it was in qualifying as Romain Grosjean joined the fight with Perez and Ricciardo for third place.

Valtteri Bottas had been in the running for P3, but a bizarre mistake by Williams in the pits saw the Finn emerge with three option tires and one prime. The stewards looked dimly on the mistake, handing him a drive-through penalty.

Grosjean seized the initiative in the fight for P3 by making an excellent pass on Perez at Les Combes, leaving the Mexican driver in the clutches of Ricciardo. However, the Red Bull driver’s race soon came to an end when his car lost power at the final corner on lap 20, resulting in a Virtual Safety Car period.

Ricciardo’s car was quickly cleared, allowing the field to get back up to full racing speed just two laps later. Grosjean took advantage of the reduction in speed to make a pit stop, which he hoped would be the last of the race.

Hamilton’s lead had shrunk further by this point, prompting the Briton to suggest to Mercedes that Rosberg had got closer under the VSC when he should have maintained his distance. He soon dug deep and found some more pace, though, extending his lead back out to five seconds before the Mercedes drivers made their final pit stops.

Hamilton was the first to pit, coming in on lap 30 for a set of option tires. Despite requesting to go one lap longer, Mercedes told the leader to stick to their planned race strategy, allowing Rosberg to come in soon after. The German emerged from the pits behind his teammate, setting the status quo that would last until the end of the race.

Behind the Mercedes drivers, Sebastian Vettel had emerged as the leader in the battle to complete the podium after Ferrari opted to roll the dice and try a one-stop strategy. With ten laps to go, Vettel enjoyed a 3.5 second lead over Grosjean behind, but had to keep monitoring his tires in a bid to make it to the end without stopping for a second time.

Drama struck Vettel with just two laps to go at Spa, though. Despite making a good go of getting to the end of the race, it proved to be too much for his right-rear tire which blew on the Kemmel Straight, leaving the German to limp back to the pits after dropping down the order.

At the head of the field, Hamilton had no such concerns. With the gap to Rosberg at a comfortable three seconds, the Briton was able to cross the line after 43 laps to claim his sixth win of the 2015 season and extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship to 28 points.

Rosberg was left to finish the race in second, knowing that his poor start had cost him a shot of taking the fight to Hamilton. Following Vettel’s blow-out, Grosjean completed the podium for Lotus, albeit some 35 seconds behind the cars ahead.

Vettel’s tire failure allowed all of the cars behind to make up a position, resulting in Daniil Kvyat finishing fourth after the Russian made a late charge to pass Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages. They were forced to settle for fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.

Max Verstappen made it a home race to remember as he crossed the line in eighth, having started down in P18. Valtteri Bottas bounced back from Williams’ tire faux-pas to finish ninth ahead of Marcus Ericsson, who rounded out the points for Sauber.

Felipe Nasr finished 11th in the second Sauber, whilst Vettel was eventually classified in P12 following his tire blowout, marking his first finish outside of the top five in 2015. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button made it to the end, albeit a lap down, in 13th and 14th ahead of the two Manor cars.

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).