Lewis Hamilton takes sixth USGP win to stand on brink of F1 title (VIDEO)

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Lewis Hamilton fought back from a sluggish start to claim his sixth United States Grand Prix victory on Sunday at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, putting himself on the brink of a fourth Formula 1 world title win.

Hamilton entered the race weekend requiring a 16-point swing over Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel to clinch the drivers’ crown in Austin, the site of his most recent success back in 2015.

While he was unable to finish the job on Sunday as Vettel finished second, Hamilton’s ninth win of the season makes a title win likely next weekend in Mexico City, with his points lead growing to 66 ahead of the final three races.

A slick getaway from P2 on the grid saw Vettel dive up the inside of pole-sitter Hamilton on the steep run up to Turn 1 at COTA, forcing his title rival out wide and cutting him off to seize the lead of the race.

Daniel Ricciardo attempted to follow Vettel’s lead by also passing a Mercedes in the shape of Valtteri Bottas for P3, attempting dive-bomb moves on consecutive laps, only for some astute defense from the Finn to force the Red Bull racer to settle down in fourth after a tight wheel-to-wheel battle.

Hamilton was able to stay in sight of Vettel at the front through the opening laps before closing up with some help from DRS. After a series of quick sectors, Hamilton was able to tuck in behind Vettel and make a pass on the back straight on Lap 6, taking to the inside and defending well to seize the lead from his championship rival.

Further back, Max Verstappen had been quietly picking his way through the order after starting 16th due to a grid penalty for engine changes on Saturday. The Dutchman was predicted by Red Bull to take P6 at the checkered flag, but was able to run that high after just 11 laps at COTA, completing his rise past the midfield runners with a slick pass on Esteban Ocon.

Verstappen gained another position when Red Bull teammate Ricciardo pitted early, taking on a set of super-softs and pumping in a series of quick times to try and get the undercut on the front-runners. However, the Australian’s hopes were dashed on Lap 16 when he suffered a loss of engine power, forcing him to park up at the side of the track and retire from the race.

Despite there being no safety car, Ferrari opted to bring Vettel in just moments later, fitting the German with a set of soft tires that would take him to the end of the race. Like Ricciardo, Vettel pushed hard to try and get the undercut on Hamilton at the front and claw back some of the four-second deficit as Mercedes kept its title hopeful out for an extended stint.

The strategy worked wonders for Ferrari to bring Vettel back into contention, with Hamilton’s lead being cut to less than a car length when he emerged from the pits after stopping at the end of Lap 19. Hamilton was able to quickly pull clear again, but asked Mercedes why they had allowed Vettel to get so close. Vettel, meanwhile, vented his frustration after running wide at the final corner, potentially costing him the net lead.

Vettel had a sniff of challenging for the lead again five laps later as Hamilton tried to pass Verstappen, who had risen to the front thanks to his long first stint on the super-soft tire. Despite the Red Bull driver’s best efforts to keep Hamilton back, the Briton was able to make a clean pass through the final sector, regaining the lead once again.

Verstappen pitted soon after losing the lead from Hamilton, moving onto a set of soft tires as he emerged back out in fifth place with 30 laps to try and catch Raikkonen some nine seconds up the road.

The race to top the midfield at COTA took a twist at half-distance when Fernando Alonso was forced into a frustrating retirement after an engine issue. The McLaren driver had been poised to end a points drought dating back to Hungary, and made no secret of his annoyance over team radio.

As Hamilton continued to dominate up front and pull out a healthy lead over Vettel, Ferrari was started to get nervous as its title contender started losing time to Bottas and teammate Kimi Raikkonen behind, with the pair catching and closing to within a couple of seconds. Vettel asked Ferrari to think about “plan B”, but the team kept him out as he pulled out a gap over the battling Finns again.

Verstappen continued to put pressure on the trio by catching rapidly, with Red Bull then taking the bold call to bring the Dutchman in for a second stop at the end of Lap 37, trying to force the cars ahead into pitting again.

Ferrari did not wish to take any risks, pitting Vettel just one lap later, yet Verstappen was able to close right up on the German with a rapid out lap, leaving less than a second separating them on-track. Vettel was able to open up a gap once again, with both setting their sights on the leading trio, all of whom opted to stay out.

Both were gaining time on Bottas and Raikkonen as they scrapped for position, with the latter sliding up into second with a tidy move at the end of the back straight on Lap 42, splitting the Mercedes drivers at the front.

Vettel and Verstappen continued to make inroads on the Finns in second and third, but neither had any hope of catching Hamilton at the front, who crossed the line after 56 laps to secure his sixth United States Grand Prix win, five of which have come at COTA.

The victory also confirmed Mercedes as F1 constructors’ champions for the fourth consecutive year, with the German marque moving into an unassailable lead in the teams’ standings with three races to go.

Vettel was able to fight his way back up to P2, passing Bottas with a classy move around the outside of Turn 1 before then easing past teammate Raikkonen, ensuring the title fight will continue to the next race in Mexico.

Verstappen completed the podium for Red Bull after passing both Bottas and Raikkonen late on, with his final move for P3 coming on the final lap after riding across the kerb in the final sector. As bold as the move was, the stewards quickly handed the Dutchman a five-second time penalty, stripping him of the podium and leaving him fourth behind Raikkonen.

Verstappen was therefore classified ahead of Bottas in fifth, the latter making a late stop due to fears about his tire life. Nevertheless, the result was enough for Mercedes to wrap up the constructors’ title.

Esteban Ocon finished as the top midfielder in P6 for Force India following a late fight with Carlos Sainz Jr., who delivered one of the drives of the season on debut for Renault en route to seventh. The highlight was an overtake around the outside of Sergio Perez through the long right-hander in the final sector, with the move likely to feature in many a showreel come the end of the season.

Perez held on to eighth despite coming under pressure from Felipe Massa late on, leaving the Brazilian to settle for P9. Daniil Kvyat picked up a point on his return to F1 after two races away, taking 10th for Toro Rosso.

Lance Stroll crossed the line 11th for Williams ahead of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, while Brendon Hartley took 13th on his F1 debut with a solid display.

Haas had a difficult home race as Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finished 14th and 16th respectively, the latter losing places late on after a tangle with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who split the temamates in 15th at the checkered flag.

F1 returns next weekend with the Mexican Grand Prix at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Rossi remains ‘The Story’ in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”