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Super-sub di Resta impresses on F1 comeback in Hungary qualifying

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At 5am, Paul di Resta was already wide awake, ironing his shirt ahead of his planned commentary duties on British TV for Formula 1 qualifying in Hungary.

Ten hours later, the Scot had emerged as an unlikely star of the very session he was due to be recapping after being drafted in to replace the unwell Felipe Massa at Williams.

When Massa came down sick midway through FP3 on Saturday morning, Williams was quick to call on reserve driver di Resta to step up and enter the rest of the race weekend, marking his first F1 appearance since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Despite having never driven the 2017 Williams FW40 car before, di Resta put in an impressive display to not only finish well inside the 107 per cent time required but even qualify ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.

Di Resta lapped eight-tenths of a second off regular Williams racer Lance Stroll, completing a display that left the entire paddock impressed.

“I’m super happy with what we’ve accomplished as I never would have expected it, to be so close and equally be as comfortable with it,” di Resta told NBCSN.

“I’d only sat in a mockup until this morning, done an extraction test just to make sure I could get out of the car in time, and honestly everyone at Williams has been great. I’d been the test driver for the last year and a half hoping like something this arises.

“I was nervous, anxious, scared to get in the car this morning to be honest, because on a grand prix weekend before the summer break, everyone is on top of their game. There’s nowhere to hide.”

One of the biggest challenges di Resta faced was getting to grips with the 2017-spec F1 car, which is radically different from anything he has previously raced.

“I’d done 10 laps in a 2014 car earlier this year but by all means I’ve not driven a proper car since 2013. So nothing shocks me or scares me,” di Resta said.

“In the simulator at Barcelona, I thought: ‘These are a bit extreme’. It’s never easy to jump in straight away especially using Felipe’s settings, steering and position, but that’s the job. That’s the task.”

Di Resta will take the start in Hungary from 19th on the grid tomorrow, the race live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET.

Dutch Grand Prix becomes fourth Formula 1 race canceled this season

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ZANDVOORT, Netherlands — The Dutch Grand Prix became the fourth Formula One race canceled this season because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, after organizers decided Thursday they didn’t want to play host to an event without spectators.

It was to be the first Dutch GP since 1985, but F1 wants to start the season with no spectators at races.

“We would like to celebrate this moment, the return of Formula 1 in Zandvoort, together with our racing fans in the Netherlands,” race director Jan Lammers said in a statement. “We ask everyone to be patient. I had to look forward to it for 35 years, so I can wait another year.”

The race in Zandvoort was set for May 3 and initially postponed. Fans who bought tickets can use them next year.

The coastal circuit has been redesigned, with some corners banked to facilitate faster racing.

The other races canceled this year were the season-opening Australian GP on March 15; the Monaco GP on May 24; and the French GP on June 28.

Another six have been postponed.

F1 organizers still hope to reschedule those and hold 15 to 18 races this season, starting in July with back-to-back races at the Austrian GP.