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F1: Hamilton Takes Title To The Wire

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Lewis Hamilton sporting an Ayrton Senna tribute helmet
(Photo from: www.ukbuzz.wordpress.eurosport.com)

Lewis Hamilton ensured that the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship would go to the wire, as claimed a dominant victory in treacherous conditions which saw the race stopped twice and multiple incidents. With current championship leader Nico Rosberg finishing second it means that there are 12 points between the pair heading into the final race.

Hamilton controlled the weekend throughout and took his tenth pole of the season ahead of teammate Rosberg. Kimi Räikkönen and Max Verstappen were on row two followed by Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. Behind the top three teams, Romain Grosjean was the best of the rest in seventh with the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez behind as Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10.

Qualifying was held in glorious sunshine however come Sunday and the conditions had changed dramatically as the blue skies had been replaced by clouds and heavy rain. The decision was made to start the race under the safety car, initially after a 10 minute delay. However Romain Grosjean was unable to take the start as he crashed out on his instillation lap heading round to the grid.

On lap 7 the race got under way and immediately there was a change for position as Verstappen dived up the inside of Räikkönen at turn 1 for third. The order continued to change as on lap 8 Räikkönen became the first front runner to pit for intermediate tyres as the track began to see the cross overtime achieved.

The following lap saw many more in for intermediates including both Williams’ drivers who made a double stop. A lap later and the action continued as Sebastian Vettel aquaplaned at turn 12 before pitting himself for intermediates. The spin cost Vettel a lot of time and he lost a lot of track position on his rivals. However all the time lost was made up as on lap 13 Marcus Ericsson became the first casualty of the race as he crashed at the final bend, eventually coming to a stop in the pitlane entrance. It caused some hairy moments for those trying to enter, including Max Verstappen, who had to swerve round the stricken Swede. The pitlane was closed and the safety car deployed to remove his car however Riccardo did not see the light signifying the pitlanes closure and encountered a 5 second penalty for changing tyres during this incident.

As the rain continued to fall the safety car came in on lap 20 however it was quickly redeployed as Kimi Räikkönen aquaplaned down the pit straight, crashing scarily in front of a spray blinded pack. Fortunately everyone avoided the Ferrari as the race was red flagged to wait for the weather to improve.

After a 35 minute delay the race got going again, albeit behind the safety car, however the race was red flagged once more on lap 29 as following a call from race director Charlie Whiting who was looking at reports of further heavy rain. There was a further 27 minute delay and another three laps behind the safety car but on lap 32 the green flags were out once more.

Similar to the first start of the race, Verstappen was on the move and executed a fantastic move around the outside of Nico Rosberg at turn 3 to move up to second and began his chase of Hamilton. However the Brit was never troubled and while pushing a little too hard on lap 39 Verstappen had a half spin at the final bend. Incredibly he was able to hold the car, avoiding the barriers and remarkably he kept hold of his second position.

Five laps later and he was in for inters once more, following Ricciardo’s strategy who had pitted a lap earlier. The Dutchman rejoined fifth, falling behind Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz, while behind the wet weather had caused some unconventional positions such as Felipe Nasr in sixth and Esteban Ocon in tenth.

Two laps late and Nico Rosberg also found himself half spinning in the same spot as Vettel which cost the German time to his teammate however on lap 48 there was heartbreak for local hero Felipe Massa who crashed in his final home Grand Prix. Similar to Ericsson, he aquaplaned and was unable to do anything about the accident, coming to a stop in a similar place to the Sauber.

The pits were closed to retrieve the Williams leaving Massa to walk up the pitlane to an emotional response from his adoring home fans. As Massa walked passed, pit crew from Mercedes and Ferrari were out to applaud the Brazilian before he returned to his pits in the company of his family, one of the finest moments in the recent history of the sport.

However the race must go on and after a safety car period, in which Verstappen and Riccardo pitted for wet tyres, the race resumed on lap 55, and in doing so, ensured full points could be awarded. Verstappen began his charge, overtaking countless opponents on his way to third, the final move of many on Sergio Perez on lap 70.

Though at the front no one could touch Hamilton, who took his ninth win of the season to equal Rosberg’s tally for 2016, who also completed another 1-2 for the team. Verstappen completed the podium places ahead of Perez, Vettel and Sainz, with the second Force India of Hulkenberg in seventh, Ricciardo in eighth and Felipe Nasr and Fernando Alonso rounding out the top 10.

It was one of the wettest races in the history of F1 as well as one of the longest however it was full of action from start to finish, with the race directors making important, and right, calls throughout. It all goes down to the final race and although Rosberg is the clear favourite, Hamilton will know it is never over until it is over.

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Grading 2018′s New Driver/ Team Pairings – Alex Bowman/ Hendrick Motorsports

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Undeniably the apple of an entire nation’s eye for over two decades, Dale Earnhardt Jr poignantly announced in the spring of 2017 he would step away from driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season.

 

Once the initial shock value wore off, reality set in. Who could possibly fill the shoes of the sport’s most popular driver? Dale Jr’s lasting impression on legions of fans young and old is unparalleled. Ultimately the conundrum of the century would centre around who might fill the gargantuan shoes little E would leave behind.

Dale Jr’s departure from Hendrick Motorsports left one the sport’s most coveted rides up for grabs. Immediately the rumour mill was set ablaze with potential candidates loyal Dale Jr supporters fancied.  Following three months of intense speculation, Rick Hendrick would reveal Dale Jr’s replacement in late July 2017.

 

Next man up for the #88 team a tall lanky fella from Tucson Arizona.  Chances are y’all probably remember him as the kid that subbed for Dale Jr while he recovered from concussion-like symptoms that kept him from the seat of the Nationwide Chevrolet in the fall of 2016.

 

Certainly no stranger to the Monster Energy Cup Series (Made 81 Career starts from 2014-2016), Alex Bowman makes his triumphed return as a full time driver on the circuit for the first time in nearly two years. Driving the #88 car for Hendrick Motorsports axiomatically elevates Bowman from enchanting underdog to proverbial impact player. No longer a low man on the totem pole expeditious results at HMS would give credence to an emerging young star hoping for a rebirth following past failures with BK Racing & Tommy Baldwin Racing.

 

Thrust into a precarious position at the age of 21, Alex Bowman exhibited incredible poise in the face of adversity. Visibly Alex was not equipped for the competitive environment that cup racing bestowed upon him back in 2014. One quality season (2013 – 2 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s 2 poles, 11th in the driver standings) in the Xfinity Series cannot enumerate impending success on the other side.

Instead of licking his wounds Bowman bided his time wisely eventually earning the opportunity to sub for Dale Jr in the fall of 2016.  What could have easily morphed into catastrophic gaffe #3 for Bowman positively altered his career saving him from infinite anonymity.

 

In the 10 races (2016) Alex piloted the #88 car he made quite an accounting for himself (3 top 10’s, 1 pole) earning the respect and confidence of both Mr. Hendrick and Dale Jr.

 

The simple formula for success in 2018 relies squarely on the shoulders of Alexander Bowman.

Bowman’s familiarity with crew chief Greg Ives and the entire #88 team perpetuates some of the chemistry established back in 2016.  A contingent of smart fans out there including myself firmly believe Alex Bowman was on his way to capturing the checked flag at his home track(Phoenix) in November of 2016. On this day Bowman dazzled, starting the race from the pole ultimately leading 194 laps on his way to a career best 6th place finish.

 

Even though the former self-proclaimed bad luck Bowman left the desert without the checked flag, indisputably he walked away a winner.  Bowman’s courageous showing converted the cynics into believers. Without this fine performance in the bag Bowman could have found himself easily lost in the shuffle never to be heard from again.

Perseverance spearheaded the rise of Bowman mania. The whimsical wave of momentum Bowman’s been on since that race at Phoenix spilled over into 2017. Bowman turned heads in February finishing third in the Clash at Daytona, once again piloting the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet. He would also capture his first career Xfinity Series victory at Charlotte in the fall of 2017 driving for Chip Ganassi.

 

Perceptibly this young buck is completely equipped for the fate that awaits him once the green flag drops on the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series at Daytona in February.

Rick Hendrick has all the confidence in the world in Bowman’s capabilities. Mr. H could have taken the high road and hired an established veteran driver, instead trusting Bowman’s youthful exuberance lets the entire racing world know he’s committed for the long haul.

Alex Bowman has the credentials to resuscitate Rick Hendrick’s anaemic #88 team from the ashes. Fresh blood can unite an entire nation of fans that are starving for a breath of fresh air.

 

Don’t Be Dale Jr, Be Alex Bowman. That’s paramount.

 

Alex Bowman has an entire nation on his side. So watcha  gonna do when Bowmanmania runs wild on you?

 

Final grade – B

 

Photo courtesy of Autoweek

 

 

 

 

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Recap of the Go Bowling 400

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For the second time in as many races at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr flexed his muscle and totally outclassed his comrades leading 104 laps of the scheduled 267 run on Saturday night.

Positive karma was certainly on the side of NASCAR’s resident Jersey boy on Saturday night as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the closing laps of the race. After letting one slip away at Kansas last season there’s no way Truex Jr would be denied on this night.  Once Martin finally cleared Ryan Blaney who arguably had the fastest car of the evening on lap 249 there was no going back.   The race was in the bag despite a few late restarts that Turex Jr ultimately controlled down the final stretch.

Saturday night’s victory was the seventh since 2015 for the powerhouse combination of Martin Truex Jr and Furniture Row Racing. Who are clearly primed for another deep playoff run once the chase starts in the fall of 2017.

 

While the Furniture Row Racing team celebrated in the winner’s circle the entire NASCAR community was overcome with deep despondency.  Overshadowing Furniture Row’s jubilation was one of the most vicious wrecks in recent memory. On lap 201 Joey Logano’s car got loose and sent Danica Patrick hard into the  wall in turn 1, in the process collection an oncoming Aric Almirola.  The Richard Petty Motorsports driver would take the hardest lick of the three drivers involved in the wreckage.

After several tense moments Almirola with the assistance of the Kansas Speedway safety crew would be cut from his car, and air lifted to a local medical facility.   Richard Petty Motorsports released a statement early Sunday morning that Aric Almirola suffered a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra. He returned home to North Carolina Sunday and his driving status at this time has yet to be determined.

As for Danica Patrick, Saturday night’s carnage was the cherry on top of a melted sundae that is the queen of speeds hellacious 2017 campaign.

Heading into next weekend’s Coca Cola 600, Danica Patrick sits 33rd in the driver standings, making this the worst start to her five year Monster Energy cup career.

Danica’s slow start has many speculating 2017 could indeed be the final year we see the popular driver turns laps on Sunday afternoons.

One of these weekends Ryan Blaney is going to put it all together and capture his first career Monster Energy Cup series victory.  If it weren’t for bad luck Ryan Blaney would have no luck at all in 2017.  With that being said the second generation driver put some of the bad karma behind him at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night. Ryan Blaney looked untouchable for a better part of Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 before Martin Turex Jr passed him and put of bow on the race.

Moral victories don’t count however bringing home a 4th place finish after several weeks of unfortunate misfires is a step in the right direction for the Wood Bros and young Ryan Blaney.

Momentum breathes confidence.

Despite the fact Blaney should have scored 3 victories by my account this season, putting these failures in the back of the ol memory bank makes this guy one of the most intriguing drivers to keep an eye on as the summer months roll on.

 

Although Ricky Stenhouse Jr failed in his bid to go back to back fresh of the heels of his first career cup win, he and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Trevor Bayne continue their meteoric rise to the top of the heap in the Monster Energy cup series.

The Roush Fenway Racing drivers finished 10th & 11th respectively in Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400.  If the chase stared today both drivers would be firmly in the thick of the title picture.

While Stenhouse Jr is working on a career year ( 1 win, 3 top 5’s, 5 top 10’s, 1 pole) though the first 11 races, his teammate Trevor Bayne continues his vast improvement finishing inside the top 20 in 8 of the 11 races run this season.

 

Daniel Suarez is one incredible driver. Is he not?

The 2016 Xfinity series champion continues his march towards the winners circle just 11 races into his cup series career.

Suarez tied his career best finish of 7th on Saturday night.

In a time when Joe Gibbs Racing looks completely out of sync, Daniel Suarez represents a beacon of hope for an organization in desperate need of a pick me up.

Despite being unexpectedly trust into the role as driver of the #19 Toyota weeks before the Daytona 500 and working with two different crew chiefs this season Suarez has completely shattered all expectations while looking like a seasoned pro instead of a green horn.

 

 

 

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F1: Russia Preview

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2017 is what we have been wanting for years
(Photo from: www.bleacherreport.net)

Three rounds down, and 2017 is already shaping up to be a classic season in the making with little to choose between two of the best drivers in the world, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Between them they have won seven of the last eight world championships, dating back to 2010 when Vettel won his first of four.

Now with Ferrari he is hoping to end Mercedes’ dominance of the hybrid era by taking his fifth crown and become only the third driver to achieve this feat. He will face tough competition throughout though from Hamilton who will be hoping to add to his three titles and become the only British drivers to win four World Championships.

After three fly away races, Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend for the Russian Grand Prix. First held in 2014 around the Winter Olympic park in Sochi, the circuit has become popular amongst fans, who cheer on local hero Daniil Kvyat. Although the circuit has been praised by drivers, it has often played host to rather monotonous races, due to the low degradation surface, which ensures drivers are able to often complete the race with only one pitstop.

However, the race has already to some championship defining moments such as in 2015 when Nico Rosberg’s throttle developed problems and forced him to retire, effectively ending his championship aspirations.

Leading up to this weekend there have been many stories breaking regarding the drivers and the sport’s governing body, the FIA.

The latest piece of news which has broken this morning (Thursday) is that the FIA will begin to enforce old rules regarding the size of a car’s number and driver name, ensuring that fans will be able to see who is who out on circuit, effective from Barcelona. In a letter composed by race director Charlie Whiting will state that “We feel that to be clearly visible the numbers should be no less than 230mm high, have a minimum stroke thickness of 40mm and be of a clearly contrasting colour to their background.”

Whiting also confirmed that if these requirements are not met then the car in question could be deemed ineligible
to race.

The FIA also announced this week that changes in dimensions will ensure that T-wings and shark fins are banned for 2018. These design features have appeared and reappeared this season following a loophole in the regulations after the area opened up for development around the car after changes were made elsewhere in the regulations.

From 2018 onwards the rules now state that bodywork above the engine cover is now banned.

The next piece of news is regarding the Sochi circuit as speed bumps have been added to the exit of turn 2 in an attempt to stop drivers from gaining an advantage if they run wide and miss the turn 1 apex. In previous seasons, we have seen multiple incidents where drivers have missed the first bend or been forced of the circuit and returned to the circuit with a much larger gap than they had previously.

If the changes have the desired affect then we could see an interesting race this weekend. What happens though, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are destined to be close.

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