F1: Valtteri Bottas dominates season-opening Australian Grand Prix

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Though it may have been the Lewis Hamilton Show throughout Formula One practice and qualifying this weekend, it was Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who took the top spot on the podium after the Australian Grand Prix season opener Sunday.

The Mercedes driver started second and got off a great start, immediately racing to the inside of pole-sitter Hamilton on the run to the first corner to seize the lead of the race. He never looked back for the remainder of the race as his teammate, nor Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, could keep up.

“I don’t know what just happened,” Bottas said. “I don’t know what to say. It was definitely my best race ever. It felt so good and the car was so good”.

The win was the fourth of Bottas’ career and first since his victory in the season-finale Abu Dhabi GP in 2017.

Hamilton finished second in the Australian Grand Prix for the fourth consecutive season, holding off Max Verstappen, who took third and gave Honda its first podium since the 2008 British GP.

“I had to overtake [Vettel] to get the podium, which isn’t easy around here,” Verstappen said. “To start the season on the podium challenging Mercedes is very good for us”.

Rounding out the top five were Vettel in fourth, and teammate Charles Leclerc in fifth. Haas F1 driver Kevin Magnussen finished sixth, Nico Hulkenberg placed seventh in his Renault, and Kimi Raikkonen was eighth in his first GP driving for Alfa Romeo.

Lando Norris, 19, had a respectable finish of 12th in his first Grand Prix for McLaren.

Robert Kubica was the final driver to finish the race in 17th, three laps down. The Williams driver was making his first start since the 2010 season, having missed the last eight seasons because of a serious hand injury sustained in a rallying crash in 2011.

Of the three drivers to retire, the most notable was Perth, Australia, native Daniel Riccardo. The Aussie went into the grass off the start, losing his front wing. He pitted early to replace it but eventually retired on Lap 31 as a precaution.

Full results are below. The next race the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 31.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.