Hamilton edges Vettel for sixth straight F1 pole in China

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Lewis Hamilton edged Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel to take his sixth straight pole position in Formula 1 after pacing the final stage of qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday.

After losing out to Vettel in Australia two weeks ago, Hamilton plotted his fightback perfectly in qualifying with a scintillating lap late on, posting a time of 1:31.678 to capture pole in Shanghai.

Vettel was left to finish 0.186 seconds behind in second place, splitting the Mercedes drivers once again after beating Valtteri Bottas by just one-thousandth of a second. Bottas was left to settle for third ahead of fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who ended the session fourth in the sister Ferrari.

Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth for Red Bull, 1.3 seconds off Hamilton’s fastest time, while Felipe Massa put in another impressive display for Williams to take sixth on the grid. Rookie teammate Lance Stroll also impressed, reaching Q3 for the first time en route to 10th.

Nico Hulkenberg was seventh for Renault, marking the Enstone operation’s first Q3 appearance since the 2015 Russian Grand Prix, while former Force India teammate Sergio Perez was eighth.

Daniil Kvyat led Toro Rosso’s charge in qualifying, reaching Q3 for the second race in a row en route to ninth on the grid. Teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. narrowly missed out on a place in the top 10, finishing 0.069 seconds shy in P11, with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen following close behind.

Fernando Alonso took his McLaren-Honda MCL32 kicking and screaming up the grid yet again in qualifying, securing P13 on the grid despite a significant speed advantage on the back straight. The Spaniard was followed by the Sauber duo of Marcus Ericsson and Antonio Giovinazzi, the latter failing to take part in Q2 after a sizeable crash at the end of the first session.

The back of Sunday’s grid will be packed with talent after a number of surprises in Q1, the biggest being Max Verstappen’s elimination. An engine software issue meant the Red Bull driver was left struggling for pace, ultimately qualifying 19th.

Stoffel Vandoorne was another driver left scrambling for pace as Honda’s engine woes continued, leaving the McLaren driver 16th on the grid. Giovinazzi’s smash ruined a number of late laps, including those of Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer, who qualified 17th and 18th respectively. Both are also set to face a grilling from the stewards for failing to slow for yellow flags shown for Giovinazzi.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon propped up the timesheets in P20 after being forced to abandon his final lap, with his first two sectors on a par with those of teammate Perez, who had easily made it through to Q2.

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Sunday.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”