Filling in for Lewis Hamilton, George Russell paces Friday practices for the Sakhir GP

F1 season opener Bahrain
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SAKHIR, Bahrain — George Russell, the replacement Formula One driver for Lewis Hamilton this weekend, set the fastest time Friday in both practice sessions for the Sakhir Grand Prix.

Russell, given his chance with Mercedes after Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19, completed a lap of the desert track under floodlights in 54.546 seconds during the first session. Driving the No. 63 instead of Hamilton’s familiar No. 44, Russell’s time was 0.176 seconds faster than Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and 0.265 ahead of Alexander Albon.

In the latter session, Russell was 0.128 seconds ahead of Verstappen and 0.153 seconds ahead of Sergio Perez in third.

Hamilton, who already has clinched his seventh championship, is self-isolating for 10 days and could also miss the year’s final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

Russell, 22, has bigger feet than Hamilton and had to squeeze into Size 10 racing boots rather than his usual Size 11.

Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who is fighting to hold off Verstappen for second in the championship, was fourth quickest, 0.322 behind Russell.

Drivers are again racing at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, but on a smaller, high-speed outer track.

Russell has been touted as the future of Formula One by Hamilton, and has the opportunity to showcase his talent in Sunday’s race.

“It means a huge amount to me that Mercedes gave me this opportunity, a lot of effort went into making this deal happen,” Russell said at a news conference Thursday. “I’m not putting any additional pressure on myself. No targets (set) or expectations from Mercedes.”

Russell was told by Mercedes’ head of motorsport Toto Wolff that he was replacing Hamilton in rather unusual circumstances.

“I got a phone call from Toto at 2 a.m. I was in the bathroom, which was slightly awkward,” Russell said. “Toto told me ‘We want you to drive.’ Obviously a bit of a sleepless night. I had 64 phone calls on Tuesday.”

Two weeks ago, Hamilton heaped praise on Russell, whose failure to score a point in 36 career races so far is more related to driving an uncompetitive Williams than a lack of ability.

“He really is the future,” Hamilton said. “I have no doubt that he has the potential to be a future champion.”

He has shown glimpses of his potential speed in beating teammates Nicholas Latifi and Robert Kubica 36-0 in qualifying over this season and last.

Highly rated at Mercedes having come through its junior program, Russell was reportedly under consideration to replace Valtteri Bottas this season, but Williams would not release him.

Russell’s move creates added pressure on Bottas, who has again been dominated by Hamilton this season and is fighting to hold off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for second in the championship.

Hamilton has won 11 races and taken 10 pole positions; Bottas has two wins and four poles. The Finnish driver, prone to making mistakes under pressure, trails Hamilton by 131 points and leads Verstappen by only 12 — even though Verstappen has a slower car.

Now he faces the grim prospect of being beaten by someone who never has raced in a Mercedes F1 car.

“If he beats me, for sure it wouldn’t look so good,” Bottas, who already has re-signed for next season, said Thursday.

Winner Josef Newgarden earns $3.666 million from a record Indy 500 purse of $17 million


INDIANAPOLIS — The first Indy 500 victory for Josef Newgarden also was the richest in race history from a record 2023 purse of just more than $17 million.

The two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, who continued his celebration Monday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earned $3.666 million for winning the 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The purse and winner’s share both are the largest in the history of the Indianapolis 500.

It’s the second consecutive year that the Indy 500 purse set a record after the 2022 Indy 500 became the first to crack the $16 million mark (nearly doubling the 2021 purse that offered a purse of $8,854,565 after a crowd limited to 135,000 because of the COVID-19 pandemic).

The average payout for IndyCar drivers was $500,600 (exceeding last year’s average of $485,000).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske, whose team also fields Newgarden’s No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet, had made raising purses a priority since buying the track in 2020. But Penske but was unable to post big money purses until the race returned to full capacity grandstands last year.

The largest Indy 500 purse before this year was $14.4 million for the 2008 Indy 500 won by Scott Dixon (whose share was $2,988,065). Ericsson’s haul made him the second Indy 500 winner to top $3 million (2009 winner Helio Castroneves won $3,048,005.

Runner-up Marcus Ericsson won $1.043 million after falling short by 0.0974 seconds in the fourth-closest finish in Indy 500 history.

The 107th Indy 500 drew a crowd of at least 330,000 that was the largest since the sellout for the 100th running in 2016, and the second-largest in more than two decades, according to track officials.

“This is the greatest race in the world, and it was an especially monumental Month of May featuring packed grandstands and intense on-track action,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “Now, we have the best end card possible for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500: a record-breaking purse for the history books.”

Benjamin Pedersen was named the Indy 500 rookie of the year, earning a $50,000 bonus.

The race’s purse is determined through contingency and special awards from IMS and IndyCar. The awards were presented Monday night in the annual Indy 500 Victory Celebration at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.

The payouts for the 107th Indy 500:

1. Josef Newgarden, $3,666,000
2. Marcus Ericsson, $1,043,000
3. Santino Ferrucci, $481,800
4. Alex Palou, $801,500
5. Alexander Rossi, $574,000
6. Scott Dixon, $582,000
7. Takuma Sato, $217,300
8. Conor Daly, $512,000
9. Colton Herta, $506,500
10. Rinus VeeKay, $556,500
11. Ryan Hunter‐Reay, $145,500
12. Callum Ilott, $495,500
13. Devlin DeFrancesco, $482,000
14. Scott McLaughlin, $485,000
15. Helio Castroneves, $481,500
16. Tony Kanaan, $105,000
17. Marco Andretti, $102,000
18. Jack Harvey, $472,000
19. Christian Lundgaard, $467,500
20. Ed Carpenter, $102,000
21. Benjamin Pedersen (R), $215,300
22. Graham Rahal, $565,500*
23. Will Power, $488,000
24. Pato O’Ward, $516,500
25. Simon Pagenaud, $465,500
26. Agustín Canapino (R), $156,300
27. Felix Rosenqvist, $278,300
28. Kyle Kirkwood, $465,500
29. David Malukas, $462,000
30. Romain Grosjean, $462,000
31. Sting Ray Robb (R), $463,000
32. RC Enerson (R), $103,000
33.  Katherine Legge, $102,000

*–Broken down between two teams, $460,000 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, $105,500 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports