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Rosberg controls Bahrain GP to claim fifth straight F1 victory

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Nico Rosberg continued his Formula 1 winning streak by recording his fifth consecutive grand prix victory with a dominant display in Bahrain on Sunday.

Rosberg made a good start to seize the lead from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton off the line, but after the Briton got tangled in an incident at the first corner, it was left to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to take the fight to the leader.

Rosberg kept his cool to control the majority of the race and continue his perfect start to the 2016 season following his victory in Australia, while Haas F1 Team’s second race went even better than its first as Romain Grosjean came home in fifth place for the American outfit.

En route to the grid, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel suffered an engine failure that meant he was unable to start the race, while Jolyon Palmer also pitted at the end of the formation lap to retire due to an issue on his Renault.

Rosberg made a clean getaway off the line to lead Hamilton into the first corner after the Briton bogged down. The fast-starting Valtteri Bottas tried to move up the inside of Hamilton, only for the two to make contact, causing Hamilton to drop down to ninth place.

Hamilton soon began to make up positions by passing the Haas duo of Esteban Gutierrez and Grosjean in the early stages, but further drama was unfolding further back as Carlos Sainz Jr. and Sergio Perez made contact, forcing both to pit for repairs early on.

The race soon settled down with Rosberg forging a healthy lead at the front of the pack ahead of Felipe Massa, who now ran second for Williams ahead of teammate Bottas, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and the sole-remaining Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, with Hamilton sitting behind in sixth.

Bottas was hit with a drive-through penalty soon after making his first pit stop for causing the collision with Hamilton at the first corner, while the Briton’s fightback continued. He rose to third before making his first stop, trailing Rosberg and Raikkonen up front at the end of the first stint.

Romain Grosjean continued his good form from the Australian Grand Prix by running as high as fourth in the first stint before pitting at the end of lap 11. By this point he was the only Haas driver left in the race after Esteban Gutierrez was forced to retire due to an issue on his car after 10 laps.

Rosberg’s 18-second advantage up front allowed Mercedes to pits both of its drivers at the end of lap 13, with Hamilton re-emerging in sixth place. Raikkonen had risen to second after passing Ricciardo and Massa, who quickly lost out to Hamilton on the medium tire. With Rosberg on softs, Mercedes had opted to split its drivers’ strategies.

Grosjean’s charge continued at the expense of Massa as he put his super-soft tires to good use, seizing fifth place and dropping the Brazilian into the clutches of Max Verstappen behind. He quickly caught up with Ricciardo in fourth before pulling off a brave pass at Turn 4, leaving only Rosberg, Raikkonen and Hamilton ahead.

Mercedes’ varying strategies continued at the second round of pit stops as Rosberg moved onto the soft tires, while Hamilton switched to super-softs. Both were three-stopping, but Rosberg continued to hold the advantage despite having a slow pit stop, enjoying a buffer of nine seconds over Raikkonen behind.

With the medium tire failing to hold up as it did in Australia, most opted for a three-stop strategy. Grosjean pitted from fourth to take on another set of super-soft tires, leaving him in a battle with Ricciardo, Verstappen and the two-stopping Kvyat for fourth place to the end of the race.

Ferrari looked to put some more pressure on Mercedes by bringing Raikkonen in early, forcing the German marque into covering him off. Rosberg had a slow final stop as he moved onto the soft tire, which combined with traffic allowed Raikkonen to sit just 3.8 seconds behind as the final stint of the race began.

Mercedes opted to keep Hamilton out for another four laps before bringing him in for the final time, allowing Rosberg and Raikkonen to escape up the road thanks to the undercut. With five seconds separating them and 15 laps to go, the battle for the lead was far from over.

Grosjean’s hopes of a fourth place finish took a late blow after a slow final pit stop, dropping him back into eighth place. This allowed Ricciardo to pull out a greater advantage after making his final stop, while Verstappen and Massa also lay ahead as they tried to two-stop the race.

However, Grosjean quickly found his feet on the soft tires for the final stint. He eased past Massa as the Brazilian struggled on his worn mediums, while pit stops for Verstappen and Kvyat elevated the Haas driver up into fifth place with 10 laps to go.

Up front, Raikkonen did his best to pile pressure on Rosberg in the closing stages, but was powerless to stop the German driver from recording his fifth straight grand prix victory and his first under the lights in Bahrain.

Raikkonen came home 10 seconds down on Rosberg, while Hamilton was left to settle for third place, leaving him 17 points adrift of his teammate in the championship standings after two races.

Ricciardo made his three-stop strategy work well to end up fourth, while Grosjean’s charge saw him finish the race in P5, going one better than his sixth-place finish in Haas’ debut race in Australia two weeks ago.

Max Verstappen ended Toro Rosso’s bizarre run of never scoring points in Bahrain by finishing sixth, pulling a late pass on Massa who continue to toil on his medium tires. The Williams driver ultimately finished eighth behind Daniil Kvyat, who battled back from 15th on the grid to finish seventh.

Valtteri Bottas finished ninth for Williams, while Stoffel Vandoorne made a splash on his F1 debut to finish 10th and score McLaren’s first point of the season.

Kevin Magnussen finished 11th for Renault after a spirited late battle with fellow Scandinavian Marcus Ericsson. Pascal Wehrlein enjoyed a strong race to finish 13th for Manor behind Ericsson at the flag.

Force India struggled as Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg crossed the line in 14th and 16th respectively, split by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, while Rio Haryanto was the last classified finisher in 17th.

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

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Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500