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Home favorites Perez, Gutierrez struggle in Mexican GP qualifying

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Of the 100,000-plus fans that packed into the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City on Saturday for Formula 1 qualifying, many will have been cheering for local drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez.

However, neither of Mexico’s favorite sons could impress during qualifying as both were left disappointed after falling short of their own targets.

Gutierrez was the first driver to fall, suffering a Q1 knock-out after spinning on his final lap that left him 17th on the grid.

The Mexican driver is racing in front of his home fans for the first time in F1 this weekend, and said that the support helped to lift his spirits after qualifying.

“It’s been quite a challenging weekend for us. Heading into qualifying, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I really gave it my best,” Gutierrez said.

“I was driving over the limit trying to put everything together for the team and for the fans – they have been incredible.

“I had to try to be aggressive as I knew the lap at the beginning of the run may not have been enough. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t, but at least I know I gave it the maximum.

“When I got out of the car, I wasn’t very happy, but walking along the pit lane everybody was cheering, and it was an amazing feeling just to see their support.

“They’ve made a huge difference to our motivation and I really want to thank them all.”

Perez was Mexico’s best hope of a starring role in qualifying, but he failed to make it through to Q3, finishing down in 12th place.

“It’s a shame to miss out on Q3 today, but I’m optimistic we can recover some positions in the race with a strong strategy,” Perez said.

“In Q2 we went out on the soft tires to see if we could progress to Q3, but for my second run we switched to the supersoft tires.

“Unfortunately I made a small mistake on my final lap, which ended my chance of qualifying inside the top ten. I just locked up the front tires going into turn one and ran wide. I apologize for the mistake, but I hope I can give all my fans some happiness in the race tomorrow.

“The good news is that we made some progress with the car in between final practice and qualifying: our race pace looks competitive and I think we can come away with a good result tomorrow.”

The Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBC from 2:30pm ET on Sunday.

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.