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.”

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”