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Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll add Formula 1 flavor to Roar Before the Rolex 24

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Given that the Rolex 24 takes place in January, when most other racing series are in their off seasons, it often draws in drivers from a number of championships outside of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. While most one-off drivers come from INDYCAR or NASCAR, and the various series they sanction, other series also are represented, such as the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Yet, one series is consistently unrepresented in terms of its full-time drivers making the trek over for the Rolex: the Formula 1 World Championship. While many drivers on the grid have Formula 1 experience on their resume, rarely do current drivers on the F1 grid make an appearance at the 24-hour endurance race.

However the 2018 iteration sees a change in that vein as a pair of full-time Formula 1 drivers, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and second-youngest ever podium finisher Lance Stroll, are set to enter the event, Alonso with United Autosports and Stroll with Jackie Chan DC Racing, with both scheduled to be at this weekend’s Roar Before the 24.

In terms of fanfare, Alonso arrives with possibly the most among any of the drivers entered in this year’s Rolex. His entry at the Rolex 24 is a continuation of an American odyssey that began last May when he made a surprise appearance at the Indianapolis 500, kicking off his personal journey to complete the triple crown – victories at the Monaco Grand Prix (of which Alonso has two), the Indianapolis 500, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Although Alonos’s Indy 500 effort ended on lap 179 with an engine failure, he endeared himself to many by simply making an attempt, and he handled every challenge with dignity, humility, and even humor, and he quickly became a fan favorite.

Now making the jump to sports cars, Alonso’s Rolex 24 entry is widely regarded as a tuneup of sorts for a possible venture to this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. United Autosports confirmed Alonso’s Rolex entry in October, and the 36-year-old completed his first outing with the team in a November test.

Alonso’s transition has appeared seamless and has undoubtedly helped the fact that the United Autosports team co-owner, Zak Brown, also serves as executive director for the McLaren Technology group, the parent company of McLaren F1 Team, with whom Alonso competes in Formula 1. Brown lauded Alonso’s initial test with United Autosports, calling his effort “awesome.”

Alonso will share the No. 23 Ligier LMP2 Gibson with Phil Hanson and Lando Norris, newly named as the McLaren F1 test and reserve driver.

While Alonso may receive a lot, if not the most media attention of all the drivers, his full-time F1 counterpart Lance Stroll is not to be forgotten. The irony here is that Stroll, who is 17 years younger than Alonso, is actually the more experienced of the two when it comes to the Rolex 24.

Canada’s Lance Stroll will join fellow Formula One driver Fernando Alonso in this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 (Getty Images).

Stroll previously contested this event in 2016 with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing in a Daytona Prototype. Though his apprenticeship wasn’t exactly smooth sailing that year – he crashed at that year’s Roar test – Stroll did eventually finish fifth overall with co-drivers Alexander Wurz, Brendon Hartley, and Andy Priaulx.

Stroll enters this year’s Rolex 24 with Jackie Chan DC Racing, which operates in a partnership with JOTA Sport. Stroll is slated to partner Felix Rosenqvist, Daniel Juncadella, and Robin Frijns, with all four include on the entry list for the Roar.

Outside of Alonso and Stroll, there are other drivers currently aligned with Formula 1 teams who will appear at the Rolex 24, beginning with this weekend’s Roar. One is the aforementioned Lando Norris, a McLaren junior driver who recently claimed the FIA European Formula 3 championship along with being named McLaren’s test and reserve driver. Norris will share the No. 23 United Autosports entry with Alonso, as previously described.

Additionally, 2017 Williams test and reserve driver Paul Di Resta will also feature at the Rolex 24, in the sister United Autosports No. 32 entry, and is entered at the Roar entry list alongside Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer, and Bruno Senna.

Of note, Di Resta is in for a busy January, as he will also be a part of the FIA Formula E rookie test next weekend in Marrakesh before returning to the U.S. for the Rolex 24.

The opening practice for this weekend’s Roar Before the 24 kicks off at 11:00 a.m. EST on Friday.

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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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