Lewis Hamilton takes Spanish GP pole as Alonso stars at home

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Lewis Hamilton edged out early Formula 1 championship rival Sebastian Vettel in qualfying for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix to take his third pole position of the season.

Hamilton arrived in Barcelona trailing Vettel by 13 points in the drivers’ championship, but took a big step towards cutting his lead with a charge to pole in Q3.

The Briton’s first Q3 lap of 1:19.149 was good enough for pole, with Vettel’s final effort in qualifying saw him fall 0.051 seconds shy, leaving the German to settle for second place.

Vettel’s qualifying very nearly ended in Q1 when Ferrari told him to stop on-track after an engine issue, the team having replaced the power unit in his car following final practice.

Vettel was able to resolve the problem in the car and went on to set some quick laps, allowing him to outqualifying Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, the Finn ending Q3 in third place. Kimi Raikkonen followed in P4, 0.29s off Hamilton’s time.

Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo took P5 and P6 for Red Bull, but one of the stand-out stories of qualifying was Fernando Alonso’s charge to P7 for McLaren.

Amid ongoing problems with the Honda power unit used by the team, Alonso dug deep and was able to beat Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Esteban Ocon, who rounded out the top 10.

Haas’ updates for the VF-17 car failed to give it the boost in one-lap pace the team had hoped for as Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified 11th and 14th respectively. Grosjean’s final run was lost when he went off-track in the final sector, spurning the chance to get up into Q3. Carlos Sainz Jr. qualified 12th for Toro Rosso ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.

Sauber managed to get one of its cars through to Q2 as Pascal Wehrlein qualified P15, edging out teammate Marcus Ericsson by just 0.005 seconds to leave the Swede 16th on the grid.

Jolyon Palmer and Lance Stroll struggled to match their respective teammates at Renault and Williams, finishing 17th and 18th, while Stoffel Vandoorne’s Q1 misery continued as he was eliminated at the first hurdle for the fifth race in a row, qualifying 19th. Daniil Kvyat propped up the order in P20 for Toro Rosso.

The Spanish Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am 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.”