F1: Lewis Hamilton looks for luck to change amid 3-way title fight

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Lewis Hamilton needs his luck to change in Azerbaijan.

Already nine points behind Sebastian Vettel, the defending champion has yet to win a race this year.

Baku’s emphasis on straight-line speed could favor Hamilton and Mercedes this weekend, but the British driver has struggled in both previous races held at the track. In 2016, he crashed in qualifying, while last year the seemingly trivial issue of a loose headrest forced him into the pits, where he lost valuable time. He finished fifth on both occasions.

“Baku has not been a particularly great hunting ground for me,” said Hamilton, who has gone six races without a win since the U.S. Grand Prix in October.

“This year is going to be tough,” he added. “I’m hoping I’ve got a car this weekend to really battle it out with Sebastian.”

Mercedes dominated the last four seasons but is in a three-way fight with Ferrari and Red Bull this year. Hamilton’s team leads the constructors’ standings.

“The others have definitely stepped up. I think we’ve made a step forward but they’ve made a big leap,” Hamilton said, but expressed hope Mercedes could match that pace. “It’s always easier to catch up than to be a pioneer.”

Mercedes has been trying to better understand how to get the most pace out of the soft tires, especially in qualifying.

Vettel said Mercedes remained the favorite but the differences are minuscule.

“We have three cars that are a match,” Vettel said. “Whoever gets all the small issues right will be out in front.”

Vettel arrives in Azerbaijan as the championship leader with two wins, but needs to bounce back from finishing eighth in China after a collision with Max Verstappen.

Baku’s contrasting features are its long seafront straight and twisty section around the city’s Old Town. That makes it crucial to find the right degree of downforce to produce enough speed but also grip in the slower corners.

The track is also very narrow in places, making it likelier the race will be stopped if there is crash debris. Last year, there were two safety car periods before a red flag restart. Tempers flared, with Hamilton and Vettel making contact behind the safety car.

Daniel Ricciardo, who won in Baku last year and is coming off a victory in China two weeks ago, said he wasn’t yet thinking of the title and that his team needed to show it could consistently challenge Mercedes and Ferrari. That’s also a factor in Ricciardo’s musings about a possible move to Mercedes or Ferrari next year.

“It’s still early but I think we proved if we’re there we can do a lot with (the car),” Ricciardo said. “Because we’re not winning every weekend, when you have a sniff of a victory that’s all the motivation and the hunger that I need.”

Besides the tendency of Verstappen to collide with his rivals, Red Bull is also struggling to match Ferrari’s qualifying pace. Neither Red Bull has qualified higher than fourth in the three races so far this season.

“I think Saturday we’ll probably not be there, but Sunday we can turn it around,” Ricciardo said.

At the other end of the grid, misery continues for Williams.

Nearly a year after Canadian teenager Lance Stroll earned a surprise third place in a chaotic race in Baku, Williams is well off the pace.

Stroll’s three 14th-place finishes are its best results so far this year and he’s not expecting much improvement this weekend. Speed is crucial in Baku – and Williams doesn’t have the pace.

“Those long straights were our strengths last year and unfortunately a bit of a weakness this year,” Stroll said. “With a really competitive and really good race, we are P14 or P13, and last year we were comfortably in the points many times.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.