Lewis Hamilton wins third straight to push title fight with Max Verstappen to F1 finale

Hamilton Verstappen title fight
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The increasingly tense Formula One title fight between defending champion Lewis Hamilton and his formidable challenger, Max Verstappen, will head to the last race of the season with the fierce rivals level on points.

Next weekend’s Abu Dhabi showdown will see Hamilton crowned for a record eighth time — or Verstappen win his first title.

Hamilton’s nail-biting win Sunday at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was his third straight to pull him level with Verstappen on 369.5 points. The British veteran is within touching distance of title No. 8 to move one ahead of Michael Schumacher and stand alone among F1 greats.

Verstappen still leads by a hair’s breadth, only because he has more wins: 9-8.

“Of course it’s exciting,” said Verstappen, who won last year in Abu Dhabi. “We’re starting again like we started the season.”

Hamilton’s win in the heat and humidity of Jeddah saw him pass Verstappen with six laps remaining of a chaotic race, as the pair tangled again this season following high-octane crashes at the British GP and the Italian GP.

“It was clear that others around were willing to take it to all sorts of levels to overtake,” Hamilton said after the race, with Verstappen sat right next to him. “We’ve seen multiple incidents this year.”

Hamilton is in no mood to back down with the finish in sight, but Verstappen has drawn out the street fighter in him.

The race on the street circuit under the lights on the 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) coastal resort area in Jeddah will go down as one of the more memorable events of the season — if not the last several years. It saw three standing starts, a pair of restarts, multiple safety cars, and an intense back-and-forth between the title contenders including a minor late collision.

Red Bull was allowed to negotiate a penalty for Verstappen, Mercedes head Toto Wolff slammed his headset in rage, and Hamilton drove into the back of his title rival before ultimately passing Verstappen for the win.

Verstappen was dejected and incredulous after finishing second.

“What happened today is unbelievable,” he said. “I’m just trying to race. This sport is more about penalties than racing. So for me this is not Formula One but at least the fans enjoyed it.”

Verstappen is exasperated at some decisions that stewards have made this season

“Not just this race (but) in general, lately, (it’s) the trend in F1,” said Verstappen, whose father Jos was Schumacher’s teammate. “That’s not how I grew up watching Formula One.”

Hamilton, who won from the pole after Verstappen crashed on the last lap of qualifying Saturday. needed a few moments to recover after one of the most draining of his record-extending 103 career wins in the heat and humidity of the Middle East.

He sat on a chair next to his physical trainer, with his face buried into a towel as he waited for the podium ceremony.

“That was incredibly tough,” said Hamilton, who will be 37 next season. “I tried to be as sensible and as tough as I could be.”

Verstappen was penalized for going off course on the second restart, was later told to yield position to Hamilton, but Hamilton ran into the back of his Red Bull to damage the front wing on his Mercedes. The two differed on what happened, and Verstappen was summoned before the stewards postrace.

“I didn’t understand why all of a sudden he hit the brakes quite heavily then I moved into the back of him,” said Hamilton, who wasn’t told by Mercedes that Verstappen was going to let him by for the lead. “All of a sudden (Verstappen) slowed at a really rapid pace. I feel really grateful that I didn’t take us both out.”

Stewards ruled against Verstappen and gave him an additional 10-second time penalty. It did not change the standings as he had enough of a gap over third-place Valtteri Bottas.

“The sudden braking by the driver of car 33 (Verstappen) was determined by the Stewards to be erratic and hence the predominant cause of the collision,” the stewards’ decision read.

During the race, Hamilton used an expletive in describing Verstappen as “crazy” and called his driving “dangerous.”

“I definitely felt there were scenarios where that was the case,” Hamilton said after. “It’s not the first time I’ve had to avoid collision.”

Verstappen insisted it was Hamilton’s fault.

“I slowed down, I wanted to let him by,” he said. “He didn’t want to overtake and then we touched.”

Wolff has overseen seven straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships and is closing in on No. 8. Bottas pushed Mercedes closer by overtaking Esteban Ocon of Alpine near the line.

Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez were among five who failed to finish because of the messy restarts and the blind turns on the second-longest circuit on the calendar. It spans 6.2 kilometers (3.8 miles) with 27 corners and was only completed days ahead of the F1 debut in the country.

Once he passed Verstappen, Hamilton controlled the finish and stayed competitive in his postrace news conference.

When asked about rules for going too wide off track, Hamilton said “all the drivers understand it except one of us here,” clearly aiming that comment at Verstappen.

The Dutchman bit back.

“I find it interesting that I’m the one who gets a penalty when both of us run outside the white line,” Verstappen said. “We’re talking more about white lines and penalties than Formula One racing and that’s a bit of a shame.”

Next Sunday night, the time for talking will be over and one of them will be celebrating.

“It’s a straight-out fight as it has been for the entire year,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “We have one shot and it’s time to take it.”

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”