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F1: Woes continue for Lewis Hamilton as qualifying run ends early

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HOCKENHEIM, Germany (AP) — Crouching down by the side of his Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton lowered his head and stayed perfectly still for several moments.

The British driver looked lost in thought, deep in contemplation, seemingly unable to believe what happened on Saturday. A hydraulic failure had just ended his qualifying run prematurely, dropping Formula One’s all-time record-holder for pole positions to 14th on the grid for Sunday’s race.

Hamilton’s hopes of winning a record-equaling fourth German Grand Prix – and matching Michael Schumacher- have been dented. And his woes are piling up as he duels with Sebastian Vettel – in a seemingly quicker Ferrari – for a fifth Formula One title.

July has been a bad month for Hamilton. He retired from the Austrian GP and got knocked off the track at the British GP. He recovered from last to finish second in Silverstone and faces another uphill struggle at Hockenheim.

Worse still, Vettel is going from pole.

“We didn’t know Ferrari would be so fast on the straights,” Hamilton said, ruefully.

After sliding off the track early in qualifying, Hamilton came back on. But because his power steering was failing he ploughed through rough grass and bounced over a kerb, sending the hefty-looking Mercedes momentarily airborne and down with a bit of a bump.

“It definitely wasn’t Lewis’ driving. A hydraulic leak caused a power steering failure,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said, seemingly keen to clear his star driver of blame. “We are unpicking how the problem happened. It was not caused by the driver.”

Hamilton even desperately tried to push his car back to the pits so he could continue qualifying.

“My first thought was to get the car back to the garage at all costs,” Hamilton said.

But even with the help of track officials he realized it was a futile effort. So he stopped and knelt by the side of his car, grabbing hold of it with one hand and lowering his head as if almost in prayer.

“I had just pushed a heavy car almost 100 meters. I was gathering my breath,” he later explained. “Sometimes it takes a second to realize what happened (and) then you have to accept it.”

Mercedes used to be the ultimate in reliability, dominating F1 with four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships. But the Silver Arrows team trails Ferrari by 20 points and Hamilton is eight behind Vettel.

Those gaps could increase after Sunday, the 11th race of 21 this season.

“We’ve got a severe warning today,” Wolff said.

However, warning signs have been glaring like a beacon this season. Mercedes has made strategy and communication errors , and Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas retired from the Austrian GP three weeks ago because of mechanical failure s.

“(Ferrari) haven’t had the problems we’ve had. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t,” Hamilton said. “These are times when we just have to work harder. There’s no excuse for these scenarios, and we don’t try to make them.”

Wolff acknowledges the team is searching for answers, an uncomfortable position after years of dominance.

“(There are) clearly lots of shortcomings on our side. We shouldn’t have a double DNF in Austria, where we were running solid 1-2,” Wolff said. “Lewis would have won the race; we would have scored 43 points, and would have been in the lead in both championships.”

Mercedes has much to work on, from the top down.

“We need to improve, all of us. We need to improve the reliability and robustness of the car,” Wolff continued. “We need to minimize strategic mistakes. We need to increase the output of the chassis and the engine in order to stay in the title fight.”

View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!