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Haas F1 Team banks first double Q3 appearance in Suzuka

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Haas F1 Team has achieved an incredible accomplishment, by getting both its Haas VF-16 Ferraris into Q3 for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix (midnight ET on Sunday morning/9 p.m. PT on Saturday evening, NBCSN).

Romain Grosjean matched his car number and will line up eighth, while Esteban Gutierrez will start 10th in his No. 21 car.

It’s quite an accomplishment for the first-year team and comes following a series of mechanical issues – primarily with the brakes – that have prevented the team from fulfilling its potential in terms of results in recent Grands Prix.

Grosjean, who came third in the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix, didn’t say he was entirely comfortable but was still pleased with his result.

“It felt pretty good. Quali went pretty smoothly,” Grosjean told NBCSN’s Will Buxton. “There’s still a bit to improve. We used the new front wing today and it’s very positive for the future of the team. It’s going in the right direction. It translated into good aerodynamic performance. Quali went nice. Between seventh and eighth, and here we are.”

Asked whether he thought the brakes issue was sorted, he was non-committal, and instead noted that he’s struggled trying to get the balance right on the tires.

“I’m still not at my best yet! There’s a few things I’m not pleased with,” he admitted. “I’ve struggled with the tires. They can’t take much load. It just doesn’t work. So I have to find a fine balance.”

On the race prospects itself, Grosjean said, “Hopefully we get a good start and it’s not so easy to overtake. Once we have our pace, it’s a case of getting the best tire degradation.”

Gutierrez starts 10th in search of his first points this season – he’s finished just outside them in 11th on five occasions – and looks for his first points in F1 since his first and thus far only career score, seventh place for Sauber in that same 2013 Japanese Grand Prix.

“I’m quite happy today. It’s an incredible achievement for the whole team,” Gutierrez told Buxton. “We managed to put everything together. We have a fantastic starting position for tomorrow. We are trying to find ourselves the fine-tuning.

“We improve step by step, our level of knowledge is improving. We know how to recover on a weekend. We started with poor pace. We put in the best performance of the season.”

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

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History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.