Lewis Hamilton dominates COTA F1 qualifying for third USGP pole

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Lewis Hamilton gave his chances of clinching a fourth Formula 1 drivers’ championship at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix a boost by charging to pole position on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas.

After leading all three practice sessions for Mercedes, Hamilton continued his domination of proceedings in Austin, Texas by posting the fastest time in each stage of qualifying, with each improvement delivering a new track record in the process.

Hamilton eventually turned in a best time of 1:33.108 in the final stage of qualifying to score his third USGP pole and 11th of the 2017 season, finishing two-tenths of a second clear of title rival Sebastian Vettel.

Ferrari’s Vettel recovered from a sluggish start to Q3 to split the Mercedes drivers by taking second on the grid, making Hamilton’s task of wrapping up the title in Austin as difficult as possible.

Valtteri Bottas was left to take third in the sister Mercedes after failing to improve with his final Q3 lap, finishing ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Max Verstappen wound up sixth in the second Red Bull, but will drop to the rear of the field due to an engine penalty, with the team getting him through Q2 on super-soft tires to prepare accordingly.

Esteban Ocon finished as the top midfielder in P7 for Force India, while Carlos Sainz Jr. made an impressive start to life with Renault, qualifying eighth.

Sainz’s impressive result marked the first time Nico Hulkenberg had been beaten on a Saturday by his teammate all season. Hulkenberg took no part in Q2 due to a grid penalty, taking 15th overall.

Fernando Alonso wound up ninth for McLaren ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, but both will gain a place thanks to Verstappen’s grid drop.

Felipe Massa narrowly missed out on a place in Q3 for Williams, finishing 11th ahead of Daniil Kvyat, who put in a solid display on his Toro Rosso return to take 12th.

Stoffel Vandoorne was unable to match Alonso’s efforts in the second McLaren, winding up 13th ahead of Romain Grosjean of Haas. Vandoorne will drop to 18th for the start on Sunday thanks to a grid penalty for an engine change.

Marcus Ericsson almost led Sauber through to Q2 for the first time since Baku, finishing just 0.007 seconds away from making it into the next stage of qualifying as he wound up 16th for the Swiss team.

Lance Stroll was left to settle for 17th after struggling with a deployment issue through Q1, as well as irking Grosjean by blocking him on a hot lap, forcing the Haas driver to take to the grass.

Toro Rosso debutant Brendon Hartley qualified 18th for his F1 debut, but was less than one-tenth of a second off a Q2 berth, marking an impressive first showing from the 24 Hours of Le Mans winner.

Pascal Wehrlein and Kevin Magnussen finished well off the pace in P19 and P20 respectively, although both will gain places on the grid due to penalties for Hulkenberg and Hartley.

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2pm ET on Sunday.

MRTI: Toronto digest

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Last year’s visit to the streets of Toronto for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires proved to be a pivotal point in the championship chase that year.

Kyle Kaiser swept both races in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and doing so gave him firm control over the championship, and he all but clinched it ahead of the season finale at Watkins Glen – Kaiser needed to only start that event to wrap up the title.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while Parker Thompson swept the weekend, Oliver Askew was caught up in a crash in Race 2. Combine that with a second place finish from 2017 title rival Rinus VeeKay – VeeKay also finished third in Race 1 – and it kept the championship within reach of VeeKay, who took it all the way to the finale at The Glen.

The 2018 visit north of the border will likely be remembered for a similar impact on the MRTI championships, both in Indy Lights and USF2000 and, maybe most significantly, in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

A look at big stories to emerge from a wild weekend on the streets of Toronto is below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia scored a much needed win in Race 2 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia’s championship hopes were teetering entering the weekend – he was 49 points out of the lead and had been vastly overshadowed by title combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta for most of the season. But, his Race 2 victory combined with a second place in Race 1 to close him to within 40 points of O’Ward for the championship lead. He’s still a bit of a long shot, but his chances look much brighter leaving Toronto than they did entering.
  • More significantly, Colton Herta’s title hopes may have taken an enormous hit. After crashing in Race 1 qualifying, just after grabbing the pole as well, Herta suffered a thumb fracture that he aggravated again after crashing during Race 1. It forced the team to recommend Herta essentially sit out Race 2 – he pulled off after running only a couple laps and finished sixth – and he dropped to 18 points behind O’Ward, who won Race 1 and finished second in Race 2. The margin is hardly a commanding one for O’Ward, but with the next stop at the ultra-physical Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Herta’s injured hand could remain a factor in the coming races and allow O’Ward to widen the margin.
  • One can’t help but feel bad for Victor Franzoni. Coming off the high of winning his first Indy Lights Race at Road America, Franzoni’s season took a turn for the worse. He crashed in Race 1 and then pulled off in Race 2 in order to conserve finances and resources – Franzoni detailed afterward that the budget is tight for him this year and crash damage from Race 1 does him no good. It would be a genuine shame if Franzoni’s season was derailed by funding issues, as the likeable Brazilian has made great progress all year and has the potential to make it as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver. He just needs the backing to get there.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay now trails Parker Thompson by only seven points in the Pro Mazda championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • No Mazda Road to Indy Championship was shaken up as much as Pro Mazda. Parker Thompson entered the weekend with a sizeable lead of 46 points over Rinus VeeKay. He exits the weekend only seven points ahead after finishes of eighth in both races – he was involved in a crash in Race 1 and made an unscheduled pit stop after thinking he suffered suspension damage in Race 2. Meanwhile, VeeKay dominated the weekend, winning from the pole in both races. It all means that what was once looking like a possible runaway has been all but reset. And we might see a genuine duel between them all the way to the season finale at Portland International Raceway.
  • There are few words to describe the relief everyone felt in seeing Harrison Scott walk away unhurt after his frightening airborne crash in Race 1. This was the first major crash test in a race for the Tatuus PM-18, and it aced it. And big kudos should also be given to the AMR Safety Team, who were already tending to Scott barely a few seconds after his car had come to a rest. Scott did start Race 2, but pulled off with a mechanical problem…which seems minor in comparison to what could have happened in Race 1.
  • Oliver Askew had his best race of the year in Race 2, finishing second to VeeKay for his second podium of the season. It’s been a tough year for Askew and Cape Motorsports after winning last year’s USF2000 title, and getting a podium under their belt could be just what they needed heading into the season’s stretch run.

USF2000

Kyle Kirkwood continued his USF2000 dominance on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • After another weekend sweep, Kyle Kirkwood has one hand on the USF2000 championship. He leads Kaylen Frederick by a staggering 131 points – that’s over four road course races worth of points. He may well leave Mid-Ohio as the USF2000 champion. And even if he doesn’t, it would take something unheard of to keep the championship from his grasp.
  • Kaylen Frederick sits second, only three points up on Igor Fraga. Fraga had his best race since Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, when he finished second, and he nearly outdueled Kirkwood for the win in Race 2. Both he and Frederick have caught fire of late, and their battle for second is very evenly matched.
  • Don’t count out Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second in the championship either. The Swedish driver is seven points behind Frederick and scored his third podium of the year by finishing third in Race 2 at Toronto. Second is well within his reach.

The Mazda Road to Indy is off this weekend before heading to Mid-Ohio, where Indy Lights and USF2000 again have double headers, while Pro Mazda will enjoy a triple header.

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