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Hamilton relishing Verstappen, Alonso involvement in F1 title fight

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Four-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton is relishing the prospect of Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso joining the fight for the title at the front of the field in 2018.

Hamilton saw off a tough challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to capture his fourth F1 crown in 2017, hitting some of the best form of his career as a result of the added pressure.

Red Bull showed signs of entering the battle at the front towards the end of the season as 20-year-old Max Verstappen took two dominant wins, beating Hamilton after a straight fight in Malaysia.

Speaking to British broadcaster Sky Sports, Hamilton said Verstappen had everything required to be a title contender in 2018 given his performances this year.

“Of course he can be a title contender. His driving at its core, his abilities are fantastic,” Hamilton said.

“We’ve all seen that come to light with the great car he’s racing in and the great team he’s racing in.

“He’s having great opportunities with some of the failures where he’s started at the back and had to wiggle his way through.

“That’s generally where you get a chance to shine.”

Hamilton is also eager to see former team McLaren return to the front of the field led by two-time champion Alonso, having spent the last three years toiling in the midfield amid struggles with engine parter Honda.

“I’m hoping McLaren with the new engine on board, hopefully, finally they can rise from the drought to have that other world champion in the mix,” Hamilton said.

“That’s probably the most exciting thing: myself, Sebastian and Fernando. That’s what’s at the top of my mind.”

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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