Lewis Hamilton’s F1 legacy still growing

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MEXICO CITY (AP) The checkered flag is two days away, yet the underlying expectation at the Mexican Grand Prix is that Lewis Hamilton’s fourth career Formula One championship is on course for the inevitable.

Whether it’s this week or next month, Hamilton’s nearly insurmountable lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has him facing constant questions about his legacy in the sport and where he stands among Formula One’s greatest drivers.

Hamilton tries to steer the conversation toward winning a single race, but it always returns to measuring his place in F1 history. He can win the title if he finishes as low as fifth. He’ll shoot to finish first.

“I’m trying to win,” in Mexico. “It would be cool if we did and I plan to,” Hamilton said.

If he wins the championship Sunday, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez would be the fourth city where Hamilton gets to celebrate a title, joining Sao Paolo, Brazil in 2008, Abu Dhabi in 2014 and Austin, Texas in 2015.

And with its confetti and sombreros in front of tens of thousands packed into the enormous grandstand, Mexico City provides one of the biggest podium parties of the F1 season.

A fourth world championship would put the 32-year-old Briton in some elite company. He would set the championship record for British drivers, join Vettel and former champion Alain Prost as four-time winners, and trail only Michael Schumacher (seven) and Juan Manuel Fangio (five) for the most all-time.

He also would pass his idol, Brazilian driving great Aryton Senna, who was killed in a crash in Italy in 1994 and is generally considered to be the most elegant and skillful driver in F1 history.

“Aryton’s life was cut short. If he had the chance to race in safe conditions, he would have won more,” Hamilton said. “I feel very proud to have my name mentioned with his.”

Formula One is full of disputes over who were the top drivers of different eras, and how they would fare against each other. Hamilton won his first title with McLaren, but his most dominant years have come with a Mercedes team that has had no peers in the hybrid engine era. Of his 62 career victories, a mark second only to Schumacher’s 91, 40 have come since 2014.

“He’s a champion of this generation,” said McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, himself a former two-time champion. He and Hamilton were teammates for one tempestuous season in 2007 when the rookie Hamilton upstaged Alonso and finished second in the championship by a single point.

“He won races when the car was good, and when it was not so good,” Alonso said.

Williams driver Felipe Massa, who Hamilton beat to the title with a final-lap dash in Brazil in 2008, this week already put Hamilton on the level with Schumacher and Senna.

“He’s there,” Massa said.

“It’s really made me happy to hear nice things from other drivers,” Hamilton said. “They know how hard it is to be consistent and perform.”

Hamilton has neared the 2017 title by chasing down Vettel over the second half of the season. That’s a sharp contrast to the past three years, when Hamilton’s biggest rival was former teammate Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes garage. Those tension-filled seasons fractured a childhood friendship.

Part of Hamilton’s legacy will be his persona off the track. He’s a global star for Formula One as he leads a rock star’s lifestyle with world travels, hobnobbing with other celebrities and a social media presence that draws millions of followers. After the Mexico race, he and friends plan to visit the ruins of the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Rosberg’s quest for the F1 title left him exhausted by season’s end and he abruptly retired. Hamilton seems ready to keep winning. He considers himself a wiser, better racer with more still to accomplish.

“In 2008, I had all the natural talent I have now but I don’t have the experience,” Hamilton said. “It’s been more enjoyable (now). I’m more comfortable in my own skin.”

How long before he retires?

“Definitely don’t want to be here at 40,” Hamilton said. “I anticipate a couple more years.”

 

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.