Bottas edges Vettel for Brazilian GP pole after early Hamilton crash

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Valtteri Bottas pipped Sebastian Vettel in the final stage of qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Saturday at Interlagos to take the third pole position of his Formula 1 career in a day of mixed fortunes for Mercedes.

Early drama struck in Q1 when world champion Lewis Hamilton crashed out on his first flying lap, losing his car mid-way through Turn 6 and slamming into the barrier at high speed.

While Hamilton was unhurt, the crash marked the end of his session, as well as his resulting first Q1 exit since the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix, where he opted to take no part in the session due to a penalty.

The Mercedes driver will start P20 tomorrow, having technically failed to qualify for the race and therefore starting behind any drivers who have grid penalties.

Hamilton’s crash meant the battle for pole boiled down to Mercedes teammate Bottas and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with the pair going toe-to-toe in the final stage of qualifying.

Bottas laid down the first benchmark in Q3 to take provisional pole for Mercedes, only for Vettel to go eight-hundredths of a second faster and grab P1 for Ferrari after the opening runs.

After returning to the pits for a fresh set of tires, Bottas and Vettel ventured out in search of improvements despite light rain starting to fall.

A mistake under braking at Turn 1 saw Vettel fail to improve his time on his final flying lap, giving Bottas the chance to sneak in and go faster with a lap of 1:08.322, finishing 0.038 seconds clear at the checkered flag.

The result leaves Mercedes’ cars at either end of the grid, with the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen set to line up second and third on the grid.

Red Bull failed to enter the fight at the front as Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth and fifth respectively, with the latter set to drop 10 places on the grid due to an engine penalty.

Sergio Perez led the midfield runners in P6 for Force India ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, with the Renault duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. following in eighth and ninth respectively.

Felipe Massa qualified 10th in his final home qualifying in F1, but will take to the grid from P9 by virtue of Ricciardo’s penalty.

While Perez led Force India’s charge by making it through to Q3, Esteban Ocon suffered his first Q2 elimination since Singapore after a scruffy final lap left him P11 overall.

Haas got both its drivers through to Q2, with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen taking 12th and 14th respectively, with the pair split by McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne. Brendon Hartley took 15th for Toro Rosso, and opted against setting a time in Q2 due to pending penalties.

Pascal Wehrlein narrowly missed out on Sauber’s first Q2 appearance since Baku, falling half a tenth shy of a berth in P16. Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly followed in 17th ahead of Lance Stroll and Marcus Ericsson, with Hamilton propping up the order in P20.

The Brazilian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 10am ET on Sunday.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”