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Smith: Hamilton may be chilled, but should worry about Rosberg’s run

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When Nico Rosberg swept to three straight wins to close out the 2015 Formula 1 season, many observers thought little of it.

The German had indeed been faultless in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, but given that Lewis Hamilton had the championship sewn up in Austin, he could be forgiven for taking his foot off the gas.

A simple perusal of his rather vibrant Snapchat account was enough to tell you that Lewis was enjoying the high life in the wake of his title success, gracing red carpets and VIP parties all over the world.

Rosberg’s victories were impressive but meaningless in the grand scheme of things – but now that the streak stands at five after the first two races of 2016, should Hamilton be getting worried?

Sunday’s win in Bahrain was Rosberg doing what Rosberg does best: cool, calm, controlled driving. He turned up the wick when required, but otherwise monitored the gap to Kimi Raikkonen in second place. The result was never really in doubt.

Hamilton has been unlucky in the opening two rounds of the season, and is yet to have a real fight with Rosberg on track. A poor start in Australia dropped him back down the order, while a Turn 1 clash with Valtteri Bottas on Sunday left him with damage, making third place a considerable achievement.

Hamilton seem unbothered about the result after the race, telling reporters in the media pen that he felt “chilled” and was happy to have recovered to the podium. The 17 point deficit to Rosberg after two races doesn’t seem to bother him.

But it should.

Sure, it may only be two races out of 21, but Hamilton needs to end Rosberg’s run as soon as possible. Three races in a row with the championship settled may have been circumstantial, but five on the bounce? No driver has ever won that many and not taken the championship.

Chilled as Hamilton may be, Rosberg’s hot streak is surely cause for concern.

Lewis is continuing to make the most of his celebrity status and jet-set lifestyle. He stayed with the Crown Prince in Bahrain, using the studio that was built for Michael Jackson to work on his music, a passion that he continues to forge alongside his racing.

Even with so many interests – the cynic would perhaps call them distractions – outside of racing, Hamilton remains sharp on track. Bear in mind he beat Rosberg to pole in both Australia and Bahrain, the lap to P1 in the latter being particularly impressive. All he needs is a clean start and a little more luck, and the fight between the Mercedes drivers will be back on, just as fierce as ever.

All the while, Rosberg is revelling in this success. His quintet of wins takes him to 16 in F1 – nearly a third of his victories have come since the end of October – level with Stirling Moss as the most successful driver never to have won a championship.

Is 2016 set to be Nico’s year though?

Mathematically, the 17-point advantage may not be much, but the dominance that Mercedes appears to enjoy once again this year makes it significant. Assuming in a ‘normal’ race that the Silver Arrows finish one-two, Hamilton will need three wins to get back into the lead of the championship. By that reckoning, he may not hit the front until Spain, and even then, his advantage would be just four points after a quarter of the season.

The foundations for Hamilton’s title success in 2015 were laid in the first part of the season. He won three of the first four races and beat Rosberg in all of them, giving him a lead of 27 before F1 hit Europe. Another strong run began in Canada and lasted until he clinched the title in Austin, in which period Rosberg beat him on track just once.

When a team enjoys the kind of edge that Mercedes does, momentum is everything to the drivers. Hamilton’s last two championships have come largely thanks to runs of domination – which is exactly what Rosberg is putting together right now.

The Chinese Grand Prix has been a memorable race for both drivers over the years. It was the site of Hamilton’s demise in 2007 and one of his finest hours in 2008, while Rosberg won his very first grand prix there in 2012.

Yet the next race on April 17 could be the most important of them all. It could be where Hamilton ends Rosberg’s streak and wakes up in this title fight, or – more significantly – where Rosberg beats his rival in a straight on-track battle and makes it six wins in a row.

And by then, Hamilton would surely be getting worried.

The battle for the 2016 championship already appears to have more depth and excitement than last year’s ever did. Maybe this might just be Nico’s year.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.