Formula 1: Hamilton wins chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Chaos was the name of game on Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with a slew of incidents late in the race dramatically shaking up the finishing order.

In the end, Mercedes AMG Petronas’ Lewis Hamilton survived the chaos and overcame early-race tire problems to take his first victory of the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season. Scuderia Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen finished second, a comeback drive for him after contact with Sahara Force India’s Esteban Ocon on Lap 1. The contact knocked Ocon out of the race, and forced Raikkonen to pit for a new front wing.

However, Sergio Perez gave Force India a reason to smile by claiming his first podium since 2016.

Behind them, Valtteri Bottas, who emerged in the lead after clever tire strategy and a timely Safety Car, suffered a terrible turn of misfortune when he ran over a piece of debris on Lap 47, resulting in a cut right-rear tire.

Prior to that, Sebastian Vettel tried a daring overtake on Bottas entering Turn 1 on a Lap 46 restart, but the Ferrari driver badly overshot Turn 1 after locking up his front tires. Bottas, Hamilton, and Raikkonen all got by at the time, with Perez passing him a short time later. Vettel eventually emerged in fourth after Bottas’ problems.

Red Bull Racing looked to be in for a strong result, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen holding fourth and fifth for much of the race, and engaged in a spirited battle for the position at that.

Ricciardo tried to pass Verstappen multiple times, with the young Dutchman holding firm every time, the two even touching wheels slightly at one point, before Ricciardo made his way around Verstappen on the outside entering Turn 1 on Lap 35.

However, everything went wrong on Lap 40. Ricciardo, who dropped back behind Verstappen after pit stops, tried to slipstream by Verstappen on the front straightaway, but his teammate swerved to block, and Ricciardo was left with nowhere to go but straight into the back the sister RB14.

Both crashed in the Turn 1 runoff area, ending their days on the spot and adding more tension to their already tense rivalry.

The Red Bull incident set the stage for the chaotic finish. Vettel had led from the start, while Hamilton ran second until he pitted early after his tires lost grip on Lap 22. Vettel pitted from the lead on Lap 30, but Mercedes left Bottas out in hopes that he could go long enough to put on ultra soft tires to end the race, or even catch a Safety Car and keep the lead.

Indeed, the Red Bull contact created a such a Safety Car, and Bottas pitted for ultra softs and was able to keep the lead, with Ferrari also pitting Vettel as Mercedes did the same with Hamilton.

The Safety Car was extended after a bizarre incident in which Haas F1 Team’s Romain Grosjean crashed under the yellow period while weaving his Haas VF-18 to keep temperatures in the tires.

Racing resumed on Lap 46, which saw Vettel make his aforementioned dive inside of Bottas for the lead, but to no avail.

One Lap later, Bottas suffered his puncture, allowing Hamilton through into the lead for good.

Behind the top four finishers of Hamilton, Raikkonen, Perez, and Vettel, Carlos Sainz Jr. finished fifth for Renault Sport F1 Team, followed by Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, who put in a fantastic effort to finish sixth and score the first points of his F1 career.

McLaren F1 Team’s Fernando Alonso came back from Lap 1 contact with Williams Martini Racing’s Sergey Sirotkin to finish seventh, while Lance Stroll finished eighth to give Williams their first points of 2018.

Alonso’s teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finished ninth, with Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley finishing tenth to score his first F1 point.

The victory puts Hamilton into the lead of the championship on 70 points, with Vettel four points behind in second. Raikkonen sits third on 48, eight points ahead of Bottas.

Results are below. The next Formula 1 race of the 2018 season is the Spanish Grand Prix on May 13.

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Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Combined speeds