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Mercedes’ F1 weekend turns from perfect to painful in one hour

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What seemed like a perfect race weekend for Mercedes at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday turned into its worst showing in Formula 1 since 2016 in less than an hour.

Having started from the front row of the grid, both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas failed to finish due to mechanical issues, the first race without a Mercedes seeing the checkered flag since the Spanish Grand Prix two years ago.

But it was a poor strategy call by the team that left Hamilton fuming.

“We can’t throw away points,” said the four-time world champion, who ended a series of 33 consecutive races in the points. “The car has been quick all weekend, we were the quickest.”

History repeated itself for Hamilton as another strategy mistake cost him a potential victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in March.

“We have got to understand how we went wrong,” Hamilton said. “Ultimately, we have to take positives where we can.”

When Bottas went out on lap 14 after losing hydraulic pressure, Red Bull and Ferrari were quick to take advantage of the reduced pace on the track during the Virtual Safety Car period and got all their cars to the pits for a tire swap.

But Mercedes didn’t call in Hamilton, who had been leading the race from the start. And when he completed his unavoidable pit stop 10 laps later, he returned only in fourth place…on a track with limited possibilities for overtaking.

Mercedes’ chief strategist, James Vowles, took the blame and was quick to say “sorry” to Hamilton over the radio.

“The strategy was not perfect,” Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda said. “We have to look into this, and take the consequences.”

According to Lauda, the wrong call happened as Bottas’ exit left the team baffled for a moment.

“The team did not make the right decision right away,” Lauda said, adding that “those two, three seconds made the difference” as the virtual safety car period was already over by the next chance for Hamilton to enter the pit lane.”

After the mishap, Hamilton damaged his tires as he attempted to gain ground, and after pitting again, had to retire with a loss of fuel pressure seven laps short of the finish. The race was won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Failing to score points, Hamilton lost his championship lead to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel again. The German finished third to take a one-point lead going into the British GP at Silverstone next weekend.

“Both retirements have cost us all the points,” team principal Toto Wolff said. “With just the strategic mistake, we could still have got P4 or P5.”

It was a bitter end for Mercedes to a weekend that started brightly.

A week after a delayed engine upgrade helped Hamilton win the French GP, Mercedes introduced several aerodynamic adaptations to the chassis of their cars. Hamilton and Bottas dominated two of three practice sessions and finished clearly on top in qualifying, with Bottas earning his first pole position of the season.

“I already said it before the race: It is super to start 1-2 but it is better to finish 1-2,” Wolff said. “This was a truly grueling day for us.”

Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

Road to Indy
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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

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