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Lewis Hamilton’s absence looms large at ‘F1 Live London’

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Whether by bad timing or bad planning, Lewis Hamilton was the only active driver on the 2017 Formula 1 grid who wasn’t at today’s “F1 Live London” event in Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. And his absence loomed large over an otherwise successful debut event as organized by Liberty Media, F1’s new owners.

The three-time World Champion has had back-to-back tough races since winning the Canadian Grand Prix a month ago. He had his infamous contact with Sebastian Vettel at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, and then had to overcome a gearbox change triggering a five-spot grid penalty last week at the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg, recovering to fourth place in the race.

Following the Austrian race, Hamilton announced on social media he was planning to go on a two-day break prior to his home race, the British Grand Prix this weekend (weekend times here).

The announcement came at the same time as the “F1 Live London” event was announced on Tuesday, and although the event got announced last-minute, the optics looked bad because the remaining 19 drivers in the field were all there.

When Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull team bosses Toto Wolff, Maurizio Arrivabene and Christian Horner took the stage for a round of interviews before the car parade, Hamilton’s absence was an unfortunate elephant in the room.

“It’s quite nice for the drivers to be here… or most of them,” Horner deadpanned, clearly noting Hamilton’s absence.

Wolff explained the reason for Hamilton’s absence. “Lewis feels he is in such a tough championship fight he needed the days off after Austria…  but you can see him in Silverstone,” he said, with the crowd reacting in Trafalgar Square with a mix of mild applause and a smattering of boos.

It was interesting, then, to note the reaction of those fans interviewed in the crowd later. At least two Vettel fans were interviewed in the audience, one of them saying “Vettel’s my favorite… so much more than Hamilton,” before another fan echoed that assessment.

The 1996 World Champion Damon Hill also addressed Hamilton’s absence as well, but in a more circumspect manner hoping to rally his countrymen to cheer him on at the weekend. Hamilton has won the last three British Grands Prix and four overall, his 2008 win having been one of the finest drives of his career.

“Well there’s one person who’s not here… that hasn’t made an appearance,” Hill said. “I think that person might well be a potential holder of the trophy. If we all say, we believe, we think Lewis Hamilton will win the British Grand Prix.”

Even Nico Rosberg, who joined Hill as only the second son of a World Champion to also win one himself last November, chimed in on the absence, but again played to the crowd.

“Lewis is a fantastic driver… and I’m surprised to see so many Sebastian fans here, but fair play to all of you! May the better one win this weekend,” the 2016 World Champion opined.

After Rosberg spoke, 20 drivers were introduced to the fans. It was the remaining 19 drivers, plus Rene Arnoux deputizing as a third member from the Renault team, in throwback overalls.

For Hamilton, it’s a potentially fascinating scenario he faces in Silverstone.

He needs the win to reassert his championship prospects as Vettel’s beat him three out of the last four races. Silverstone is a place Hamilton usually thrives.

But will the fans be as willing to support him now that he wasn’t at a rare, new and well-executed fan-focused event in his home country? That’s the question mark heading into this weekend.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

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.