Hamilton clinches third F1 world title with US GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton has been crowned Formula 1 world champion for a third time after winning a frantic United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas on Sunday.

After a weekend marred by torrential rain, the race finished in dry conditions with Hamilton heading up a Mercedes one-two to give himself an unassailable lead with three remaining in the 2015 season.

In a race that saw numerous lead changes, two safety car periods, two virtual safety cars and just 12 finishers, the die was cast with eight laps to go when Rosberg ran wide in the lead of the race, handing Hamilton the advantage that was enough to clinch him the title in Austin.

The start saw Hamilton make the better getaway in the damp conditions, forcing Rosberg wide at turn one with a slight touch to take the lead of the race. Rosberg dropped down to fifth behind Daniil Kvyat, Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez, and although he was able to recover P4, he still found himself stuck behind the Red Bulls in the opening stages of the race.

Further back, Sebastian Vettel and Carlos Sainz Jr. both made up positions as Valtteri Bottas, Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso were hit, prompting them to pit for repairs. Bottas opted to gamble and take on slicks on just the second lap, but eventually swapped back to intermediates due to the damp track conditions.

Hamilton was struggling at the front of the pack with his tires, allowing Kvyat to close in the Red Bull. Just as the Russian threatened to seize the lead of the race, his charge was halted when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed to allow the debris at turn one to be cleared following a clash between Sauber teammates Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson.

Trailing Hamilton, Kvyat complained that the Briton was going too slowly under VSC conditions, but there was thinking behind this. Upon the restart, Rosberg managed to jump both Ricciardo and Kvyat to reclaim second place, giving Hamilton some breathing room at the front once again.

Hamilton soon found himself under pressure once agin, though, as Ricciardo managed to pass Rosberg for second place at the first corner when the German’s tires began to fade. Ricciardo moved to within DRS range of the leader, and even managed to get alongside at one point, only for the superior power of the Mercedes engine to pull Hamilton clear.

As the track continued to dry, Ricciardo found his feet and managed to pass Hamilton for the lead of the race on lap 15 before pulling out a comfortable gap at the front. Hamilton was soon left with Rosberg to contend with for second place as more and more drivers contemplated making the switch to slick tires.

Hamilton was the first of the front-runners to make the switch, moving onto the soft tire. Ricciardo, Rosberg and Kvyat followed suit one lap later, all emerging ahead of Hamilton, who now ran fourth. As things stood, his championship celebrations would have to wait.

Just as he managed to pass Kvyat for third, Rosberg was also on the move as the slick tires began to bring Mercedes back into the race. The German driver eased past Ricciardo for the lead on lap 22 before eking out an advantage once again at an impressive rate of knots. All the while, Vettel had been flying on the dry tires, passing Kvyat for fourth and bringing himself into the fight for the podium after starting down in 13th place.

Just before the race passed half distance, Hamilton managed to work his way back up into second place ahead of Ricciardo before being handed a reprieve when the safety car was deployed to recover Ericsson’s stricken Sauber. The ten second advantage Rosberg had enjoyed was now lost.

Both of the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers stayed out, but Vettel, Verstappen and a handful of other drivers dived into the pits to make their second – and, all going to plan, final – pit stop. Running fifth on track within striking distance of the leading quartet, Vettel was in a prime position for the second half of the race.

Towards the back of the pack, American driver Alexander Rossi found himself running in a lofty P13 under the safety car thanks to a flurry of retirements that saw Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas join Ericsson, Grosjean and Will Stevens on the sidelines before half-distance.

On the restart on lap 33, Vettel put his fresh tires to good use by passing Kvyat into the first corner to take fourth, before picking off Ricciardo for P3 one lap later. Also running on fresh tires, Verstappen and Hulkenberg followed Vettel past Kvyat, relegated the Russian down to seventh place with 20 laps to go.

Verstappen continued to excel on the fresh soft tires, passing Ricciardo for fourth with ease one lap later. Hulkenberg tried to do the same, only to make contact with the Red Bull driver and sustaining damage, adding him to the list of retirements.

The Virtual Safety Car was issued once again, prompting Mercedes to pit Rosberg. However, Hamilton was kept out, leaving him in the lead of the race ahead of Vettel. Red Bull opted to stack Kvyat and the ailing Ricciardo, dropping them to the fringes of the top ten.

Upon the restart, Rosberg managed to use his tires to pass Verstappen for third before setting his sights on Vettel and Hamilton, 3.1 and 5.2 seconds up the road respectively. The German made light work of Vettel, and with Hamilton struggling on his tires, he found himself in prime position for the race win.

For the second time in the race, Hamilton was given a reprieve by the safety car after Kvyat ran wide at the penultimate corner and crashed into the barrier. This allowed Mercedes to pit the Briton, bringing him out in second behind Rosberg. Vettel was also pitted by Ferrari, bringing him back out in fourth behind Verstappen.

Rosberg led the drivers away on the restart with ten laps to go, managing to keep Hamilton at bay. Vettel got the jump on Verstappen thanks to his fresher tires, but was unable to keep pace with the leaders.

The race – and the championship – took a huge twist when Rosberg ran wide on lap 48, handing Hamilton the lead of the race and putting him into a title-winning position.

Despite coming under some pressure from Rosberg late on, Hamilton managed to hold on to his lead and cross the line for his tenth win of the season, and, more crucially, his third F1 world championship.

Rosberg fended off Vettel to end the race in second, leaving the Ferrari driver to complete the podium. Verstappen managed to hold on at the end with worn tires to match his best result of the season in fourth.

Sergio Perez will head to his home race in Mexico on a high after finishing fifth. McLaren enjoyed one of its strongest races of the season as Jenson Button finished sixth, with teammate Fernando Alonso finishing 11th. Carlos Sainz Jr, Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Nasr split the drivers in seventh, eighth and ninth respectively.

Ricciardo’s race of early promise ended in a lowly 10th place, while Rossi matched Manor’s best result of the season so far to finish 12th in his first home grand prix.

Hamilton’s third world championship brings him level with Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda for titles won, while victory in Austin takes him clear of Vettel into third place on the all-time wins list.

Hamilton also becomes the first British driver to defend his F1 championship, and is now statistically the most successful driver to hail from the United Kingdom.

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500