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Bottas soaks up Hamilton pressure for Abu Dhabi F1 victory

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Valtteri Bottas closed out the 2017 Formula 1 season with victory after a controlled display in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, soaking up pressure from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton en route to his third win of the year.

Having not won a race since the Austrian Grand Prix in July, Bottas set his sights on ending the drought after taking pole at the Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday, heading up a front-row lock-out for Mercedes.

Bottas was able to convert pole into victory for the second time this season despite coming under heavy pressure from Hamilton for much of the race, signing off in style after an impressive first year for Mercedes.

A good start from Bottas saw him retain his advantage on the run to the first corner, leaving Hamilton to fend off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel from behind. The leaders settled down in their starting positions, with the only major incident coming further back as Kevin Magnussen spun off the track at Turn 3.

The sole attempted move on the opening lap came from Nico Hulkenberg on Sergio Perez, only for the latter receiving a time penalty for cutting a corner and gaining an advantage in an evident off-track move for position.

Bottas and Hamilton were able to pull clear for Mercedes in first and second as Vettel slipped a couple of seconds behind in P3. Even with his teammate running a fresher, more powerful engine, Bottas himself opened up a two-second buffer in the lead early on, retaining his advantage towards the first round of pit stops.

The main fight of note in the early part of the came from Romain Grosjean and Lance Stroll over P13, with the pair going side-by-side on a number of occasions. Grosjean was able to force his way past on Lap 11 with some canny defense at the end of the DRS zone, prompting Stroll to dive into the pits for fresh tires soon after losing position.

Max Verstappen was the first of the leading drivers to pit, coming in at the end of Lap 14 in a bid to get the undercut on fifth-placed Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari responded by pitting Raikkonen one lap later to cover Verstappen, bringing the Finn back out still ahead.

Daniel Ricciardo was able to retain P4 after making his pit stop four laps later, albeit after tapping the wall and losing a bit of bodywork. The Red Bull driver’s plight deepened soon after when a hydraulic issue caused him to slow on-track, forcing him to park up at the side of the track and retire from the race.

Bottas took advantage of the yellow flags to make his pit stop from the lead, handing over to Hamilton at the front. Mercedes opted against bringing the drivers’ champion in one lap later, who instead worked to find the overcut with a series of quick laps.

Hamilton ultimately came in for his sole stop at the end of Lap 24, emerging from the pit lane behind his teammate after a new fastest lap from Bottas ensured his early advantage was restored as he sat around two seconds clear.

Armed with fresher tires, Hamilton quickly put the hammer down and began to make inroads on his teammate at the front of the field, moving to within DRS range as the race passed half distance.

The Briton latched onto the rear of Bottas’ car with 25 laps to go to put himself within striking distance, only for a lock-up at Turn 17 to send him wide and cause him to drop back, relieving some of the pressure at the front.

With Renault looking poised to leapfrog Toro Rosso in the constructors’ championship, the team lost one of its bullets in the gun when Carlos Sainz Jr. was forced to retire after his left-front tire wasn’t attached properly. The Spaniard was fortunate not to crash in the pit exit tunnel, ultimately pulling over at Turn 3 and parking up.

The leading Mercedes drivers continued to trade fastest laps throughout the second half of the race, with Hamilton griping about the difficulty of following other cars at Yas Marina due to the circuit layout.

Hamilton had one final charge at Bottas with six laps to go after the Finn made a mistake at the first chicane, getting back within DRS range, only to drop back again through the final sector.

Bottas was able to cross the line 3.8 seconds clear of Hamilton for his third win of the year, signing off from his maiden season with Mercedes with a stylish display.

Hamilton’s championship year ended with a return to the podium after two races away, taking P2 to complete Mercedes’ fourth one-two finish of the season in the process.

Despite Bottas’ victory, Sebastian Vettel was able to clinch runner-up spot in the drivers’ championship by finishing third for Ferrari, albeit some 15 seconds back from Hamilton in front.

Kimi Raikkonen capped off a mixed season by finishing P4 in Abu Dhabi, rising above Red Bull’s Ricciardo in the final standings in the process. Max Verstappen took fifth in the sole racing Red Bull at the checkered flag, finishing less than one second back from Raikkonen.

Nico Hulkenberg finished as the top midfielder in sixth place despite his early penalty, ensuring Renault moved above Toro Rosso to P6 in the constructors’ standings. The Red Bull B-team was made to pay after failing to score points for the third race in a row, with Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly finishing 15th and 16th respectively.

Force India ended its best-ever F1 season on a high note with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon taking P7 and P8, while McLaren-Honda ended its partnership with a run to ninth for Fernando Alonso.

Felipe Massa bid farewell to F1 with a 10th-place finish for Williams, easily finishing clear of Romain Grosjean at Haas and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Magnussen recovered from his first lap spin to finish 13th for Haas ahead of Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein, with teammate Marcus Ericsson trailing the Toro Rossos in 17th. Lance Stroll was the last classified finisher in 18th for Williams after making three pit stops.

More to follow…

Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

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