© Getty Images

Prost: Rosberg would be worthy F1 champ for his resilience

Leave a comment

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Although four-time world champion Alain Prost rates Lewis Hamilton as “one of the best” Formula One drivers ever, he would be happy to see Nico Rosberg clinch the championship on Sunday as a credit to his resilience and mental strength.

“For one reason: He deserves it,” Prost said on Saturday. “Lewis is an exceptional driver, we all know that. Rosberg had to work hard to be close to him.”

Rosberg leads Hamilton by 12 points heading into Sunday’s title decider, with both winning nine races this year.

The German driver is odds on to seal his first world championship, needing only to finish the race third if Hamilton wins.

“Depending on how they start, it can be an easy race for Nico,” Prost said. “Maybe Ferrari or the Red Bull is much closer to the Mercedes and we have a fight with three, four cars. That would be a little bit different in terms of pressure.”

Prost cautioned Rosberg against racing too conservatively, as it could leave him open to getting caught in the middle of other drivers.

“The pressure is on his shoulders, not Hamilton’s. For Nico, it is difficult to push at the maximum, it’s better to be second and not risk too much,” Prost said. “That’s normal, you cannot reproach him that. The problem is that if you start to have (Sebastian) Vettel, (Max) Verstappen, (Kimi) Raikkonen, and (Daniel) Ricciardo beside you. The pressure is difficult.”

Should Hamilton upset the odds, the British driver will join Prost as a four-time F1 champion.

“He’s right at the top … I would never say `This driver is No. 1.’ But he’s one of the best,” the 61-year-old Frenchman said in the Yas Marina paddock area. “He’s an exceptional driver, so I would prefer to have him (getting four titles) because he deserves what he gets.”

Hamilton has won 52 races, one more than Prost in an outstanding career with McLaren, Renault, Ferrari and Williams.

Prost won his championships in 1985, `86, `89 and `93, and during his heyday was involved in red-hot tussles with Ayrton Senna.

The tension ebbed and flowed before reaching breaking point when they were rivals on the same McLaren team during the `89 campaign.

The flamboyant, charismatic, and thrilling Senna was much loved and a huge fans’ favorite with worldwide appeal, whereas the more stoic Prost was nicknamed “The Professor” for his meticulous, almost surgically precise approach to driving.

He was seen as the antithesis to Senna and sees this juxtaposition somewhat reflected in the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry.

“The media, the public, all think he (Rosberg) is very below Lewis Hamilton. Psychologically, it’s very difficult to manage that, especially when you fight against Lewis,” Prost said.

“In a way, I was in the situation in `89 when (everyone) was really behind Ayrton. It’s very difficult to manage that psychologically. I have sympathy with Nico, because he’s considered like this and I can understand how he can feel.”

While he considers Rosberg still to be “a little bit behind” Hamilton in terms of their driving ability, he thinks Rosberg does not get enough credit. A title win, Prost says, would have a liberating effect and might enable Rosberg to go up a gear next year.

“If Rosberg wins then maybe next year we have a different situation,” he said. “(Could) he be better if he had the support of everybody? We don’t know. That’s why, in a way I would like to see him champion because then we can see.”

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
2 Comments

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.