Rosberg goes lights-to-flag in Russia for seventh straight F1 win

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Nico Rosberg’s blistering run of form continued on Sunday in Sochi as he claimed his seventh successive Formula 1 race win by dominating the Russian Grand Prix.

Rosberg recorded his first F1 ‘grand slam’ by leading every lap of the race from pole position en route to victory while also setting the fastest lap, allowing him to extend his championship lead to 43 points.

Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton capitalized on a messy first lap to rise to second after the sole round of pit stops, only for a water pressure issue to force him to ease his pace and settle for second place.

While Rosberg went relatively unchallenged at the front, the race in the midfield offered a number of fascinating scraps at the Sochi Autodrom as Ferrari and Red Bull both came unstuck.

Rosberg made a good start to hold onto his lead on the long run down to Turn 2, with Kimi Raikkonen battling his way past Valtteri Bottas for second place. Just behind, Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat diced for position much as they did in China, this time resulting in contact.

Vettel was punted from behind by Kvyat, sending him into the wall at Turn 3 and bringing his race to an early end. Daniel Ricciardo also got caught in the incident, leaving both Red Bulls requiring repairs, while Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierez tangled further back.

Having battled his way up to fifth amid the chaos, Hamilton was able to jump up to fourth when the race returned to green on lap four. Bottas was able to re-pass Raikkonen for second, with Hamilton quickly latching onto the back of the Finnish duo. The Briton quickly disposed of Raikkonen, but struggled to get close to Bottas thanks to the straight line speed of the Williams car, allowing Rosberg to escape up the road.

By the time Bottas pitted and released Hamilton into second place, Rosberg’s lead stood at 14 seconds, putting him in total control of the race. Mercedes reacted to Williams’ move by bringing in Hamilton one lap later, only for him to emerge from the pits once again staring at Bottas’ rear wing.

This time around, Hamilton wasted little time. After taking a lap to warm his tires up, Hamilton dived down the inside of Bottas at Turn 2 to move into net second place, leaving only Rosberg ahead once the pit stop cycle was complete. Raikkonen’s decision to go four laps longer paid off as he passed Bottas once again, while Rosberg was the last of the front-runners to pit, emerging with a lead of 12 seconds over Hamilton.

Hamilton refused to back down in the battle for the win though. With tire wear being low around the Sochi Autodrom, none of the leaders had to pit again, leaving Hamilton to try and catch Rosberg without gaining time through the pits. He duly delivered a set of blistering lap times to cut the gap down to just 7.5 seconds as Rosberg lost chunks of time through the first sector on each lap.

However, Hamilton’s charge was duly stunted when Mercedes informed him of a water pressure issue on his car with 15 laps remaining. From here, the focus became getting Hamilton to the finish, leaving Rosberg to manage his pace and his car at the head of the pack.

It proved to be a hassle-free end to the race for Rosberg, who crossed the line after 53 laps to score his seventh victory in a row, a feat only matched by three drivers in F1 history.

Hamiton was informed that the issue had stabilized later in the race, but Rosberg was already too far away, leaving the Briton to settle for second place at the checkered flag. After four races, the deficit to Rosberg now stands at 43 points, leaving Hamilton with a mountain to climb heading to the start of the European season in Spain later this month.

Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium for Ferrari after opening up a comfortable gap to Bottas after his pit stop, going some way to make up for Vettel’s retirement. Bottas led Williams’ charge in P4 ahead of teammate Felipe Massa as both continued their points-scoring streaks.

Fernando Alonso chalked up his first points of the 2016 season by finishing sixth for McLaren, keeping himself out of trouble while most of the midfield got tangled up at the first corner. Jenson Button made it a doubly delightful day for the team by finishing 10th after passing Carlos Sainz Jr. for P10 with four laps remaining, marking his first points of 2015.

The result marked a significant breakthrough for the team as it finally delivered on the promise it had shown in the early races, while it also ended a pointless run dating back to last year’s United States Grand Prix.

Kevin Magnussen was another driver to pick up a ‘first’ in Russia as he claimed Renault’s maiden points since returning to F1 as a constructor in 2016. A good start followed by a consistent pace allowed him to finish seventh, while teammate Jolyon Palmer missed out on his first F1 points in P13.

Haas returned to the points after one race away courtesy of Romain Grosjean, who was another beneficiary from the early drama. Canny tire management allowed the Frenchman to finish eighth after fending off a charging Sergio Perez in the final stages of the race, leaving the Force India driver to settle for P9 at the flag.

After being caught up in the first-lap drama and gambling on medium tires, Daniel Ricciardo fought his way back to 12th at the finish despite being forced into a second pit stop. Teammate Kvyat was hit with a penalty for causing the Vettel shunt, limiting him to a 15th-place finish behind Sainz and Marcus Ericsson.

Felipe Nasr crossed the line 16th in the second Sauber ahead of Esteban Gutierrez, who was also penalized for hitting Hulkenberg at the first corner. Pascal Wehrlein was the last classified finisher for Manor in P18. Max Verstappen and Rio Haryanto joined Vettel and Hulkenberg on the sidelines, failing to finish the race.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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