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Verstappen takes Mexican GP victory, Hamilton clinches F1 title

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Max Verstappen dodged an incident-strewn first lap and concerns about his Renault engine to take his third Formula 1 victory in Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix, as Lewis Hamilton clinched his fourth world title in unexpected circumstances.

A clash between Hamilton and F1 title rival Vettel saw both sustain damage and drop to the back of the field early on, scuppering hopes of a fight between them to settle the championship race.

Despite being lapped for the first time in over four years, Hamilton was able to battle his way back to ninth come the checkered flag. With Vettel finishing fourth, the result was enough to confirm Hamilton as champion for a fourth time.

The start saw Vettel make a good initial getaway before having both Hamilton and Verstappen hot on his tail on the long run down to Turn 1, with the trio going three-abreast into the first corner.

Verstappen muscled his way around the outside of Vettel with a side-bump to seize the lead, with Hamilton attempting to follow the Dutchman through. However, his rear-right tire made contact with Vettel’s front wing, leaving him with a puncture and to slow down on-track.

Hamilton was able to nurse his car back to the pits, while Vettel also dived in for a new nose and front wing, leaving the title contenders occupying the bottom two positions after the opening lap.

Vettel and Hamilton fitted soft tires to take themselves to the end of the race, and were quickly handed a position when Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was forced to retire after just five laps due to a turbo issue, having risen from P16 to eighth in the opening stages.

Tensions continued to flare further down the pack as Hamilton asked the Mercedes pit wall if Vettel’s first-lap move had been deliberate, which the stewards did investigate but deemed no action to be worth taking. Vettel, meanwhile, fumed over a strong defensive move by Felipe Massa when scrapping for P15.

Verstappen was able to quickly get his head down and forge an early lead over Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon, who had risen into the podium positions through the first-lap chaos.

Ocon was able to hold on to P3 through the pit stop cycle despite seeing rivals Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez get the undercut and close the gap in the race for the podium. Hulkenberg’s hopes of finally ending his rostrum drought were soon ended though when he suffered a power issue, forcing him to park up at the side of the track and retire from the race.

Hulkenberg was joined on the sidelines just before half-distance when Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley suffered an engine failure – Renault’s third of the race – forcing him out of the race. A Virtual Safety Car was called to allow his car to be recovered, prompting the front-runners to seize the opportunity to pit.

Verstappen emerged from the pit sequence some seven seconds clear of Bottas at the front of the field, with Kimi Raikkonen taking advantage of the VSC to get the jump on Ocon in P3. Vettel (P8) and Hamilton (P16) also came in to ditch their soft tires, taking ultra-softs and super-softs respectively for the second half of the race.

Verstappen’s pace remained relentless at the front despite concerns on the Red Bull pit wall after the trio of Renault engine failures, prompting the engineers to ask the Dutchman to slow down and simply match Bottas’ pace, with his lead now standing at 15 seconds.

By Lap 50, Vettel had battled his way up to seventh for Ferrari with his sights set on Perez and Lance Stroll up the road. Hamilton was still outside of the points, but on-track to clinch the title so long as his rival did not finish in the top two.

The pair continued to make up ground in the laps that followed, with Vettel making slick passes on Perez, Stroll and Ocon, leaving him fourth at the checkered flag behind Ferrari teammate Raikkonen.

However, with Verstappen taking his third F1 victory in style and Bottas finishing P2, Vettel had fallen short of the required result to keep the title race alive, confirming Hamilton as champion.

For good measure, Hamilton also scored the points he needed had Vettel finished second, fighting his way back up to ninth come the checkered flag.

Force India clinched fourth place in the constructors’ championship for 2017 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished P5 and P7 respectively, the pair split by Williams’ Lance Stroll in sixth.

A late scrap in the lower midfield ended with Kevin Magnussen taking an admirable eighth-place finish for Haas on a weekend that saw the American team struggle for the most part, drawing it closer to Renault in the constructors’ standings.

Fernando Alonso was left to go wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton through the closing laps, ultimately losing the position with just three laps to go after a tight battle through the opening sequence of corners, leaving the Spaniard P10 at the flag.

More to follow…

Steinbrenner brings winning tradition to IndyCar Victory Lane

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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AUSTIN, Texas – Opening Day for the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball is Thursday against the hapless Baltimore Orioles. But the Steinbrenner family can already celebrate a big-time, major league victory in 2019.

George Michael Steinbrenner, IV is the 22-year-old son of Yankees co-owner and co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner. He is the grandson of the legendary Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose fiery tenure at the helm of the Yankees restored the team to the prestige and pride it continues to enjoy as the most successful professional sports franchise in the world.

Steinbrenner, IV, is co-owner of Harding Steinbrenner Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series and the youngest team owner in IndyCar history.

When his grandfather was ruling the Yankees, excellence wasn’t expected; it was demanded. Those are traits that define the Steinbrenner family.

On Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, young Steinbrenner became an IndyCar winner in just his third race in the series in the INDYCAR Classic. It was also historic as his driver, Colton Herta, became the youngest driver in history to win an IndyCar race at race at 18 years, 11 months and 25 days. Graham Rahal was 19 years 3 months and 2 days when he won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2008.

“Break up the Yankees” was a popular battle cry around baseball in the glory days of the boys in pinstripes, from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter and A-Rod.

What makes the latest Steinbrenner winner so stunning, is how quickly it happened.

“We didn’t think this was possible so soon,” Steinbrenner told NBC Sports.com from the team’s pit stand seconds after the checkered flag waved for Herta’s victory. “What a drive by Colton and what a job by the crew. They did everything they could to keep us ahead of the 2 car (Josef Newgarden) all day. Wow, I can’t believe it.”

Steinbrenner has the Yankees in his blood and DNA, but his passion has always been IndyCar racing. He was just 16 when he met then 12-year-old Herta at a Skip Barber race at Lime Rock, Connecticut. The two became friends and joined together to begin their climb to IndyCar.

“I interned at Bryan Herta Rallysport for the 2016 season, learning the top to bottom of how a race team operates during the week and during the weekend,” Steinbrenner recalled. “When Colton and I decided that we’d start this crazy journey together in Indy Lights, being able to partner with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights was huge. They’re a buttoned-down organization, do everything right. To be able to learn from the folks there was a huge jump-start, the perfect jump-start I could have hoped for, for INDYCAR ownership.”

For two years, they joined forces with team owner Michael Andretti in Indy Lights. Andretti helped broker a deal for Steinbrenner and Herta to step up to IndyCar by joining a team owned by Indianapolis paving company owner Mike Harding.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing was announced last summer with tremendous fanfare at Yankee Stadium before a New York Yankees game.

Andretti is still part of the operation as Andretti Technologies supplies engineering and crew support to Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

“None of this would have been possible without Michael Andretti,” Herta said. “I’d like to say thank you to Michael and his team. He elevated us to the top really quick and without them we wouldn’t be here.”

When Steinbrenner announced his goal of taking Herta to the IndyCar, it was a long-term commitment. Herta’s first victory at an 18-year-old could be the start of something great, beginning another winning tradition for the Steinbrenners.

“We’ve had a pretty good start here,” Steinbrenner said. “This is huge, to get this win off our belts. We showed the IndyCar world what we could do.”

Herta qualified fourth and raced his way to third in a race that Will Power dominated. The Team Penske driver led the first 45 laps from the pole while he was pursued by Alexander Rossi.

The two front-runners planned on being the last two drivers in the 24-car field to make their final pit stop.

That plan was foiled, however, when James Hinchcliffe’s Honda ran into the back of Felix Rosenqvist’s Honda, sending it into the barrier in Turn 20. That was the only caution in the 60-lap race. Power and Rossi would go from the top two to 14thand 15thafter making their pit stops.

Power’s race ended on pit lane when a broken half-shaft kept his car from engaging in gear and he went from first to worst in the 24-car field.

That put Herta in the lead under caution. Right behind him was the intimidating sight of the No. 2 Chevrolet driven by Team Penske’s 28-year-old Josef Newgarden, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion and the winner of the 2019 season-opener at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“We knew we got on the right side of the pit strategy and had the pace to stay ahead of two extremely fast guys behind us,” Steinbrenner said. “It was a matter of Colton staying out in front and nursing it home.”

When the green flag waved to restart the race with 10 laps left, the 18-year-old was calm and cool as he was able to get a great restart and pull away from Newgarden.

Back in the pit area, Steinbrenner stood on the timing stand in the pits alongside co-owner Mike Harding and team president and race strategist Brian Barnhart. Because COTA is a 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course, it takes a while to complete a lap. Herta had the fastest lap in the race on Lap 54 and it was 108.9853 seconds.

The long course added to the tension as the 60-lap race neared its conclusion.

Steinbrenner, who bears a resemblance to 1980s actor Fisher Stevens, remained cool on the timing stand.

When Herta’s Honda came out of Turn 20 on the final lap to the checkered flag, Steinbrenner could finally celebrate, pumping his fist in the air.

“I was very concerned,” Steinbrenner admitted. “Most of the guys in the paddock, you are concerned with in a situation like that, especially a former champion. It was nerve-racking.

“Wow. It’s a dream come true.”

Steinbrenner got his first win in IndyCar before the New York Yankees.

“Not too far apart, but a couple of days in front,” Steinbrenner laughed.

For a Steinbrenner, there are always more goals to achieve. Sunday’s first victory is like a “regular season” win to the Yankees. That team’s goal is to win the World Series.

Steinbrenner, IV’s goal is to win the biggest race in the world – the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26.

“I think there’s a pretty big race in May,” Steinbrenner said. “I think for us, that’s the next big goal.

“I grew up with two passions: baseball and racing. I thought my family had one pretty well covered. We’ll go and chase another one.”

When a Steinbrenner sets a goal, don’t bet against it.