F1 Preview: 2016 European Grand Prix

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The first back-to-back of the 2016 Formula 1 season is arguably one of the most brutal in the sport’s 66-year history.

Following an intriguing Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday in Montreal, the paddock had to swiftly jet across the Atlantic and over western Europe to get to Baku, Azerbaijan for this weekend’s European Grand Prix.

The intention to hold a grand prix in Baku was stated back in 2014, and it will finally become a reality on Sunday on a circuit comprising the streets in the heart of the city.

The Baku City Circuit is set to be the fastest street course on the F1 calendar, but also features one of the most challenging sections drivers have seen at Turns 8, 9 and 10 – tight, uphill and a blind exit could catch out many.

Lewis Hamilton arrives in Baku on a roll after two straight wins in Monaco and Canada, but can championship leader Nico Rosberg stop his streak and become Baku’s first winner?

Here are a few talking points ahead of the European Grand Prix weekend.

2016 European Grand Prix – Talking Points

Baku-na matata

There was a certain degree of scepticism surrounding the race in Baku when it was announced given the absence of racing history in Azerbaijan. The falling price of oil also raised concerns about the viability of the event, but the initial feedback from the paddock on Wednesday and Thursday has been overwhelmingly positive.

While it may seem like an injustice that nations such as France lack a grand prix despite having a rich racing heritage, new events can succeed without it. Abu Dhabi and Singapore are two examples, and Baku will hope to follow suit.

No margin for error

Since the first images of the planned layout in Baku were released earlier this year, the tight complex around the historic part of the city always seemed somewhat ambitious. The layout has been kept, meaning there will be zero margin for error.

“I think there’s a few people that are going to write off some chassis on Baku weekend – hopefully not me though!” quipped Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

“I can’t think of anything like Baku that’s currently on the calendar. It’s tough because there are a lot of third-gear corners, so you want a bit of downforce for those, but then you’ve got a 2.5 km straight, over 20 seconds of full throttle.”

Hamilton eyes the championship lead

In the space of two races and three weeks, Lewis Hamilton has gone from trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 43 points in the drivers’ championship to being only nine away. The reversal in fortunes is one that the Briton himself finds hard to fathom, yet he appears to have rediscovered his mojo.

Rosberg needs to respond quickly. He admitted in Canada that he felt “massively pissed off” with Hamilton for his Turn 1 move in the heat of the moment, but knew there was little to complain about – it’s racing.

Even a second place finish would be something for Rosberg in Baku. He may have won the first four races, but without a podium since Russia, the German is in a make-or-break phase for his championship.

Ferrari hopes to keep up Canada pace

Ferrari’s long-awaited engine update in Canada offered a significant uptake in pace, allowing Sebastian Vettel to run Hamilton close for victory. The battle between them is one all too rare in F1 given they are the two defining drivers of this decade.

Vettel’s charge to second will have filled Ferrari with confidence, even if the results leading up to it left much to be desired. He and teammate Kimi Raikkonen will know that Baku presents another opportunity, even if Red Bull and Mercedes should both be strong.

A three-way fight at the front could be on the cards – and what a place for it to happen.

Opportunity knocks for lower-midfield and backmarkers

The tight nature of the Baku City Circuit means that retirements and safety cars are likely on Sunday. As a result, there is an opportunity to be had for the teams in the lower-midfield and the backmarkers.

The likes of Haas, Renault, Sauber and Manor will all be hopeful of captializing on any opportunities that come their way. In Sauber’s case, a breakthrough score is desperately needed, while Haas will want to end its scoreless run since Russia.

For Renault, the race of attrition poses another challenge given it is reportedly arriving in Baku short on parts and without a spare chassis for either of its drivers after shunts in Monaco and Montreal.

And Manor? Races like this always bring back memories of Jules Bianchi’s charge to the points in Monaco two years ago. Pascal Wehrlein’s pace thus far has been massively impressive, so it is not out of the question.

2016 European Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Baku City Circuit
Corners
: 20
Lap Record: N/A
Tire Compounds: Medium/Soft/Super-Soft
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T20 to T1); T2 to T3

2016 European Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 6/17
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 9am ET 6/17
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 6am ET 6/18
Qualifying: NBCSN 9am ET 6/18
Race: NBCSN 8am ET 6/19

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.