Hamilton faces big challenge at Chinese GP after penalty

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SHANGHAI (AP) Reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton will have to make up considerable ground in the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday if he’s going to capture his third straight race in Shanghai and close the gap with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ standings.

Hamilton received a five-place grid penalty in Shanghai for making an early switch of his gearbox after it was damaged in a collision at the Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Hamilton, though, seemed unfazed by the fact he can only start as high as sixth in Sunday’s race, even though he’s already 17 points behind Rosberg in the standings following a disappointing start to the season.

“When you hear on the Wednesday morning that you’re arriving at the weekend with a penalty already, of course, that changes the approach to the weekend and it changes the mindset a little bit,” he said at the track on Thursday. “But for me, a challenge is an opportunity to rise.”

Rosberg is confident after sweeping the races in Australia and Bahrain to start the season – and capturing five straight races going back to last season – but he knows he can’t count Hamilton out, particularly on a track where the British driver has prevailed four times before (2008, 2011, 2014-15).

“A Hamilton that starts sixth is still going to challenge for the win and we know that,” Rosberg said. “I’m not taking anything for granted at all.”

Hamilton noted that his teammate will most likely have an “easier weekend” with his penalty, but added: “I’m going to be pushing as hard as I can. It doesn’t mean I can’t win the race.”

Ferrari will also be looking to challenge the Mercedes cars after a series of technical issues slowed the team’s start to the year. Sebastian Vettel was forced out of the race in Bahrain with engine failure on the warmup lap and Kimi Raikkonen failed to finish in Australia due to a problem with the turbo charger.

“We didn’t have the start that we wanted, which is not a big secret,” Vettel said. “The performance is not yet where we want to be. But there’s nothing that shakes me or makes me nervous for this season or the next couple races because I know that this team is very strong.”

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, is looking forward to just getting behind the wheel again following a frightening crash at the season-opening race in Melbourne that left his car in a mangled heap on the track and him with a fractured rib.

The FIA doctors ruled him out of the Bahrain Grand Prix, but he was given provisional clearance to take part in Friday’s practice in Shanghai, after which further tests will be done to ensure he’s fit enough for the rest of the weekend.

“In Bahrain, I was mentally 100 percent, ready to race, but physically I had a lot of pain,” he said. “Now the situation has improved a lot and I’m mentally 120 percent now, but physically also 100 percent with no pain in the last couple of days.”

Alonso said he’s been training normally the last two weeks with running and cycling, along with some golf and tennis, and he wouldn’t have made the trip to China if he wasn’t sure he was ready to race.

“I did (that) once, in Bahrain, and it was quite tough to be there all weekend,” he said.

Formula One will also revert to last year’s qualifying format in China after experimenting with a new rolling-elimination system in the first two races that proved unpopular with drivers.

All the teams voted against the new qualifying format last week, forcing FIA president Jean Todt and series commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone to backtrack.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”