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Bragging rights and money at stake in F1 finale

 

LONDON- The Formula One season winds up in Abu Dhabi on Sunday with both titles won, Lewis Hamilton aiming to close the year on a winning note and big money still at stake for those further down the paddock pecking order.

While four times world champion Hamilton’s Mercedes team mates can again look forward to healthy year-end bonuses, others are scrapping for crucial points that could swell their 2018 budgets.

Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas are just six points apart, with the difference between sixth place and eighth in the constructors’ championship equivalent to about $12 million when it comes to revenue distribution.

“This race is almost a championship in itself,” says Renault Sport F1 head Cyril Abiteboul, whose team are four points behind Toro Rosso and two clear of Ferrari-powered Haas.

There is extra needle in the showdown with Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso using the French manufacturer’s engines for one last time before switching to Honda.

At the top, Hamilton will be determined to grab a 10th win of the season — making it the fourth year in a row that his tally has entered double figures and giving him a warm glow through the winter.

“I‘m going to give it everything in Abu Dhabi,” said the Briton, who won his title in Mexico last month but has failed to make the podium in his last two races.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will also be looking for bragging rights by becoming the first non-Mercedes driver of the V6 turbo hybrid era that started in 2014 to finish in the top two of the championship.

The German is 22 points clear of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who can only finish runner-up if he wins and Vettel scores no more than two points.

FELIPE‘S FAREWELL

Ferrari have yet to win in Abu Dhabi but Vettel and Hamilton, who was given a hero’s welcome when he returned to the Mercedes factory this week, have both triumphed three times at Yas Marina’s floodlit circuit.

For Brazilian Felipe Massa, with Williams, Abu Dhabi will be a final farewell to the sport.

“I am looking forward to it and plan to enjoy every moment, to finish my Formula One career on a high note,” said the 36-year-old, who won 11 times for Ferrari in a career that will end after some 270 races.

It could also be goodbye for Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson, the German and Swede uncertain to be retained by a team whose engine partners Ferrari are keen to place their own young talent.

McLaren will also be saying ‘sayonara’ to Honda after an ill-fated three year partnership that promised much but delivered only failure.

The days of entirely open cockpits are also numbered, with 2018 set to usher in a new ‘halo’ era and the introduction of a head protection device whose looks will change the cars’ aesthetics.

This week will also see Formula One’s first virtual world champion crowned with the finals of the inaugural eSports series on Friday and Saturday.

(Alan Baldwin)

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F1 Malaysia: Verstappen tops rain delayed Opening Practice

Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing showed brilliant pace early on in the last Formula 1 weekend in Malaysia, topping the timing boards by a considerable distance in the first Free Practice session.

In difficult conditions, Verstappen’s time of a 1:48.962s was fastest by seven tenths, ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and a further seven-tenths ahead of McLaren-Honda F1 Team‘s Fernando Alonso.

The first 30 minutes saw no running whatsoever, as rain cascaded down at the Sepang International Circuit; with officials delaying the start of the session, and when the first cars did venture out under a continuously fine drizzle for their installation lap, all sported the full wet tyres, with Alonso testing a new haircut under his helmet and the impending halo on his McLaren.

Yet that wasn’t the most eye-catching feature, given Scuderia Ferraris newly sculpted air intake and an interesting appendage on the side of Charles Leclerc‘s Sauber F1 Team machine, believed to be nothing more than an intricate thermal camera.

With 40 minutes of the session remaining, Esteban Ocon gave everyone the first glimpse of intermediate tyres, yet only to come straight back into the pits, and with the track conditions still proving to be perilously greasy, a few seconds behind team-mate Ocon, Sergio Pérez slithered and wiggled his way round on the same compound.

The first lap in relative anger came from Ricciardo, a conservative 1:55.601s soon bettered by Sebastian Vettel by a shade over a second. However on his second attempt, Ricciardo resumed his position at the top of the timing screens.

Elsewhere on track, Nico Hülkenberg‘s deputy Sergey Sirotkin had a difficult start to his weekend, spinning his Renault Sport Formula 1 Team machine at Turn 2 – luckily staying on the tarmac and gaining no damage. There were also minor excursions for Vettel and Pascal Wehrlein, both in the slippery second sector.

Red Bull proved to be the strongest in the early runs, Ricciardo and Verstappen fighting over first , with the two Ferraris in third and fourth, Vettel ahead of Kimi Räikkönen and the two Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers, Lewis Hamilton ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who were split by the sixth placed Perez.

Having shown a bullish attitude in the build up, Lance Stroll proved his pace in the wet once again, moving as high as fourth as the order shifted, but the other side of the Williams garage told a different story – Felipe Massa sidelined by a hydraulics issue, failing to set a time and only recording a mere three laps.

Due to the sparsity of wet weather tyres available to the teams, that may prove to be a blessing in disguise for the Brazilian.

As the track dried, times inevitably began to fall – Ricciardo reasserting his and Red Bull’s speed, a 1:49.719s quickest by over a second from Verstappen, and over two seconds quicker by the now third Bottas.

With just over five minutes to go, Verstappen bettered Ricciardo’s time by seven tenths, whilst Hamilton improved to fourth after a steady start to his weekend, behind an out of place Alonso.

The best of the debutants on show proved to be Pierre Gasly in the Scuderia Toro Rosso, ending the session in a very credible ninth, ahead of both Renaults and over two seconds faster than Sean Gelael, driving in this session in place of Carlos Sainz Jr, in the other Toro Rosso.

Sirotkin rounded out the top ten, edging out Jolyon Palmer in the other Renault and Stoffel Vandoorne‘s McLaren, with Ocon, Gelael, Perez, Leclerc, Wehrlein, Romain Grosjean, Antonio Giovinazzi and Massa rounding out the times.

(James Eagles)

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Palmer wants six of the best to boost his F1 hopes

LONDON- Departing Renault driver Jolyon Palmer says he wants to end the Formula One season on a high after a breakthrough race in Singapore.

The Briton finished sixth under the floodlights for his first points of the campaign only two days after his team announced that Spaniard Carlos Sainz would be taking his place in 2018.

Some still suspect Sainz could be in the car before the end of the year but Palmer was adamant he would be staying until the last race in Abu Dhabi.

“The result this weekend is finally a bit of good luck. This result could have come earlier in Baku, Silverstone or Spa. I hope we can build from this in the next six races,” he told Sky Sports television.

“At the moment the news about Renault is quite fresh. From my side I want to go out with six of the best races. I want to stay in F1 and there are other options. I want to do myself proud in these six races.”

Palmer has limited options, with former champions Williams now the main focus for several drivers hoping to stay in the sport or return.

The four top teams have all confirmed their lineups while Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso are expected to replace Sainz with France’s 2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly, who is already contracted to them.

McLaren have Fernando Alonso yet to re-sign, but are confident of continuing with an unchanged lineup, while Sauber are forging closer ties with Ferrari and seem set to take current Formula Two leader Charles Leclerc.

That leaves Williams, and specifically the seat of Brazilian veteran Felipe Massa who almost retired at the end of last season.

Poland’s Robert Kubica, seeking to return after a 2011 rally accident that seemed to have ended his Formula One career, has emerged as one potential candidate and is being assisted by retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg.

Whether Palmer has a hope remains to be seen but he hoped at least his luck had turned, with German team mate Nico Hulkenberg suffering reliability problems instead.

“I’ve had a tough year, we’ve had reliability issues but I’ve made mistakes as well,” he said.

“The media were always questioning about my future. It’s made it a bit harder but I’ve learned to switch off and just focus on the driving.”

(Alan Baldwin)

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Hamilton takes big step towards fourth title

SINGAPORE- Lewis Hamilton took a huge stride towards his fourth Formula One title on Sunday by winning an incident-packed Singapore Grand Prix after Ferrari title rival Sebastian Vettel crashed out at the start.

The Mercedes driver now has a 28-point cushion over the German with six of the 20 races remaining.

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who also emerged from the opening lap carnage unscathed, was second for the third year in a row with Finland’s Valtteri Bottas completing the podium for Mercedes.

“God blessed me today for sure,” said Hamilton, who set a lap record on his way to a third win in a row, as he spoke from the podium on a night where everything fell into his lap.

“I came here today really thinking it was about damage limitation, and we’ve come out ahead. So I’m very grateful,” he said later.

“To come to a track that was potentially our weakest circuit, and come away with a win like this and those points, it’s really such a fortunate scenario…so I definitely have a skip in my step.”

The Briton cashed in after Vettel, Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s front row contender Max Verstappen smashed into each other as they raced off the wet starting grid and into the first corner.

Raikkonen had made a storming start from fourth, Vettel a less impressive one from pole position while Verstappen went for the middle ground and was caught in a Ferrari sandwich as they converged.
(Abhishek Takle)

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Red Bull’s Ricciardo shines in Singapore practice

SINGAPORE- Daniel Ricciardo put on a dazzling display under the floodlights as Red Bull laid down a marker on the opening day of Singapore Grand Prix practice on Friday.

The Australian, who had set a record lap time during Friday’s opening 90-minute session, ended the day with an even quicker effort of 1 minute 40.852 seconds.

That was over 0.556 seconds faster than second placed team mate Max Verstappen’s best.

“I’m sure it will tighten up tomorrow, but I still expect we will be able to stay where we are,” said Ricciardo, who has finished second in Singapore for the past two years with the fastest race lap on both occasions.

Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who is seeking his third successive victory, was third quickest ahead of Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas.

The pair were fourth and sixth respectively in the evening.

“We had a clean day and got through our sessions without problems. It was pretty hot out there, the conditions are pretty awesome to cope with, but the grip on the track is fairly good,” said Hamilton.

“We have still got some improvements to make with the car. Red Bull seem like they’re very strong and they’re thereabouts with Ferrari, so we’ve got some work to do. But nothing is out of reach.”

The Briton is three points clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with seven races remaining after leading Bottas to a one-two finish at the previous race in Monza.

The Singapore venue’s tight twists are expected to play to Ferrari and Red Bull’s strengths but the Italian team were off the pace.

Kimi Raikkonen, seventh in the evening, ended the day as the fastest Ferrari in ninth. Vettel, second in the opening session, was only 11th.

“I said the Ferrari could be a problem, and now it’s Red Bull,” Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda told Sky Sports television.

“Here, what I’ve seen today, Red Bull is outstanding. In the long runs they are one second quicker so they are really doing an incredible performance at the moment. For some reason Ferrari are slower, I don’t know why.”

Vettel hinted at the Ferrari’s potential speed when he briefly lit up the timing screens with the fastest first sector, but he aborted that lap after running into traffic and later nudged the wall.

He then focused on long-run race simulations.

Nico Hulkenberg went an impressive fifth-fastest for Renault, ahead of McLaren pair Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso.

McLaren and power-unit supplier Honda announced earlier that they were ending their partnership at the end of the season. The British-based team will switch to Renault next year, with Honda moving to Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso.

(Abhishek Takle)

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VERSTAPPEN LOOKING FORWARD TO BUDAPEST RETURN

Max Verstappen has said that he is excited to return to the Hungaroring – a circuit where he has a 100% scoring record – for the Hungarian Grand Prix next weekend, even if he is not fully confident about Red Bull’s chances there as a team.

“It’s a great track, especially in an F1 car,” the Dutchman said. “It’s always a bit too early to say how we’ll do in Hungary. We’re constantly improving, trying to get a better balance and more downforce on the car. Luckily there are not too many long straights.”

Indeed, the Hungaroring is notable for its tight and winding nature, to such an extent that it is sometimes described as “Monaco without the walls”. It has a tendency to punish small mistakes in much the same way as the Principality, and is equally as challenging for the drivers. Verstappen, however, seems to disagree with this comparison: “I wouldn’t say it’s Monaco without the walls,” he added. “But it’s definitely a bit more narrow than other circuits we go to.”

In terms of lap times, which fell significantly last time out at Silverstone thanks to the faster 2017 cars, Verstappen believes that we will not see such a big drop in Hungary – but also that there may be minimal changes in the ways the drivers approach each lap. “We do have more grip this year so maybe you have to do a few different lines compared to the previous year. But all in all that’s manageable and quite straightforward.”

Budapest does, of course, provide more than a tough test for the drivers; the city is a must-see location, and Verstappen is keen to experience as much of it as he can. “We’re always staying in the city centre for the race week,” he revealed. “We do get to see a little bit of Budapest.

“Unfortunately we never have time for a lot of sightseeing. But I’ll hopefully have one day to walk around and get to know the city a bit more after the race.”

(Mason Hawker)

Photo: Getty

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HULKENBERG PRAISES RENAULT STEP FORWARD AHEAD OF HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX

Nico Hulkenberg has been in buoyant mood ahead of this week’s Hungarian Grand Prix after an impressive performance at the British Grand Prix last time out.

Hulkenberg praised the new floor introduced on his Renault which saw a marked improvement in his fortunes, after two poor races in Baku and Austria. He finished 6th equalling his best race of the season and was also the best placed of all the midfield, finishing ahead of everyone outside of the three fastest teams.

He said ahead of Hungary: “I was happy with Silverstone, it was a very positive weekend, he new floor worked well and took the car a step forward. We managed to translate a good starting position into a strong finish. The pace was really good, we were faster than the midfield competition, [making us] best of the rest which is nice. We rewarded ourselves with some points which is important. Sixth is good for me, and good for the team who have been pushing hard. Now it’s time to reboot and go again in Budapest.”

He then went on discuss the physical demands of the Hungarian Grand Prix with the newer cars. He went on to say: “It’s a physical track, very hot too which is hard on us drivers, It’s a demanding circuit. You don’t get too many breaks on the lap, so it’s a Grand Prix which comes down to fitness, more so than others. It feels like all of the corners combine, one error means you will suffer in another corner; you need a good flow and harmony. I like Hungary, it’s a good Grand Prix, the track is cool and technical with lots of good corner combinations which come one after the other.”

(Sam Gale)

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RICCIARDO EYES CHANCES OF WINNING IN HUNGARY

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo has said he is looking to his 2014 victory for inspiration for another good weekend in Hungary

In 2014 he scored his second ever F1 victory in dramatic fashion taking the lead in the final laps after passing both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso with only two laps to go.

He is now eying another good result and perhaps his second win of this season, at a track where Red Bull are thought to be able to have a good race and get closer to the Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ than in most races due to the low power effect at the Hungaroring.

“Hungary 2014 was a cool victory,” he recalled. “Of course I love winning but that was an awesome race. In order to win I had to pass Hamilton and Alonso, pretty much the best two – so that was cool! I love that track and it has always been a good one for me. I’ve had some great weekends there even before Formula 1. The Hungarian Grand Prix is always at the point of the season where summer is approaching, so I’m always in a pretty good place and the car is normally getting better as well. It all kind of comes good by the end of July.”

He went on to discuss the nature of the track, with the higher downforce in this years car leading to a more physical race than usual this year. He went on to say: We’ve got lots more grip this year so it’ll be a bit more fun, the second sector is going to be amazing. That’s one of my favourite sectors in Formula 1, this track means elbows out for sure as there are three key places where you can overtake. I’ve made some good moves in turn 1 in the past. turn 2 you can go inside or outside, as both lanes work and the hairpin is fun too. If Sunday is hot it’ll definitely be a physically demanding race, so I can’t make the mistake again of eating too much meat on Saturday night!”

(Sam Gale)