Hamilton eases to Italian GP pole at Monza

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Lewis Hamilton eased to his seventh consecutive pole position during qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix on Saturday at Monza.

Hamilton posted a fastest lap time of 1:23.397 to secure his 11th pole of the 2015 season ahead of Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel as Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg struggled to fourth place on the grid.

After discovering a problem on Rosberg’s power unit following the final practice session on Saturday morning, Mercedes opted to revert back to the one used by the German at the Belgian Grand Prix so he could take part in qualifying.

WATCH: Italian Grand Prix qualifying full replay

As a result, Hamilton was the only Mercedes driver to run with the upgraded power unit in qualifying, and the advantage was clear as he stormed to his seventh consecutive pole position with relative ease.

Hamilton’s first lap in Q3 was enough to give him pole, but the Briton went faster still with his second effort to ensure that he would not be beaten by the chasing Ferrari drivers.

Taking advantage of Rosberg’s engine trouble, Raikkonen rallied to record his best qualifying of the season in second place, edging out Ferrari teammate Vettel by just 0.054 seconds.

Rosberg managed to jump up to P4 with his final lap in qualifying after previously trailing Williams’ Felipe Massa. The Brazilian was eventually left to settle for fifth place ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Sergio Perez finished seventh for Force India in what proved to be a mixed Q3 for the team. Nico Hulkenberg could only qualify ninth after he stopped at the pit entry during the session, allowing Romain Grosjean to move up to P8 for Lotus. Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top ten for Sauber.

Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Nasr were unable to match the pace of their teammates in qualifying, dropping out in Q2 as a result in 11th and 12th place respectively.

Given the grid drops that were hanging over their heads, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat only went out for one flying lap during qualifying, leaving them P13 and P14. Daniel Ricciardo did not even bother to go out on track in Q2 for the same reason, knowing he would start from the very back regardless.

The McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso endured another difficult qualifying session on Saturday as they both dropped out in Q1 once again. Alonso had been on the brink of making it into Q2, but late laps from Ricciardo and Button dropped the Spaniard down to P17 at the end of the session.

Manor had a trouble-free session en route to P18 and P19, leaving Max Verstappen to prop up the order for Toro Rosso. The Dutchman was only sent out on track with a few seconds to go in Q1 after Toro Rosso had to fix a problem on his car. When he did though, his engine cover was not fitted properly, causing it to fly off the car at the Curva Grande and leave debris on the track.

Verstappen, Button and Alonso are just three of the drivers that will face a grid drop for tomorrow’s race. They will be joined at the back of the grid by Kvyat, Sainz and Ricciardo after they all made changes to their power units, bumping the Manor drivers up the order.

Hamilton’s tally of seven consecutive pole positions matches the record set within a single season by Alain Prost back in 1993, and is now just one shy of Ayrton Senna’s overall record that was spread across 1988 and 1989.

Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”