Alonso, Button frustrated as red flag ends Q3 hopes in China

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McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were both left frustrated following qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix as a red flag at the end of Q2 denied them a possible top 10 starting position.

McLaren and engine supplier Honda have made significant progress over the winter, giving Button and the returning Alonso plenty of confidence heading to China this weekend.

Both showed good pace throughout practice and the early part of qualifying, but a red flag caused by Nico Hulkenberg at the end of Q2 meant they were unable to improve their lap times late on.

As a result, Alonso qualified 12th ahead of Button in 13th, leaving both frustrated to have missed out on a place in Q3.

“I think both Jenson and I could have got through to Q3 today,” Alonso said.

“We had the pace, and we had been saving tires and engine ready to go for it… until the red flag ended the session. It was massively frustrating not to be able to complete my final lap in Q2. There really was a lot of potential in the car today.

“Let’s put it into further perspective: not too many races ago, we were just making it into Q2, now we’re frustrated not to be in Q3. That’s definitely a good direction in which to be heading.”

Button joked that the much-criticized elimination qualifying that was dropped ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix weekend might have actually worked in McLaren’s favor had it remained.

“Ironically, although it was neither successful nor popular, the qualifying system we used in the first two races of the year would probably have been better for us today,” Button said.

“However, it’s just one of those things: we ran used options for our first Q2 run, then we waited until the circuit was at its best before fitting new tires. Like a few others, we were caught out by the Q2 red flag, which was frustrating.

“Being just outside the top 10 has its positive side though: we can choose our starting tire, and there are plenty of options with the three different compounds.

“And, by the way, in the next few races, we will get through to Q3!”

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1:30am ET on Sunday.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.