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F1: Hamilton hopes Spanish GP a turning point for Mercedes

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Lewis is hopeful that a Mercedes AMG Petronas 1-2 in the Spanish Grand Prix will be a sign of things to come for the team that has won every constructor’s and driver’s championship since 2014.

Scuderia Ferrari appeared to have an early-season edge, with Sebastian Vettel scoring a pair of victories and three-consecutive poles entering Spain.

While Hamilton took a fortuitous win at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he knew that Ferrari still had somewhat of an upperhand.

And his victory also came at the expense of teammate Valtteri Bottas, who suffered a cut tire while leading in the final laps. Consequently, Hamilton was a bit muted in celebration.

The Spanish Grand Prix was a completely different story, however, as both Hamilton and Bottas started on the front row, and Hamilton dominated on the way to victory. Bottas, to his credit, finished second to give the team a 1-2.

“This is when we are going to start trying to continue to apply the pressure,” Hamilton said in the post-race press conference. “A 1-2 for the team. We have the Mercedes board here with us who have been supporting us from day one, so it’s great to have them all here and see that true force within the team – strength in depth. So I hope we can continue.”

Still, while he and the team are getting better with every race, and are developing a more thorough understanding of the W09, Hamilton is aware of how quickly things can change, and he isn’t putting the cart before the horse.

“I think it’s obviously a little bit early to say but I would like to hope that it could be part of a turning point,” he explained. “There is… race by race we’re understanding the tires more, which is a bit battle for everyone. We could just as easily go to the next race and struggle getting our tires working and be nowhere. So, it’s a little bit early to say. We do after the five races now have a much, much better understanding of the car, of what we need to do to get the car to be working – but we still have learning to do, improvements to be made. We still need to add performance to the car throughout the year, so that’s what we’re going to be continuing to be working on.”

Hamilton now leads Vettel by 17 points in the driver’s championship, while Mercedes leads Ferrari by 27 in the constructor’s.

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”