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Sebastian Vettel moved clear at the top of the world championship on Sunday when he claimed a well-judged victory for Ferrari in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 29-year-old four-time champion came home seven seconds ahead of three-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who made a late charge for victory after collecting a five-seconds penalty for a pit-lane misdemeanour.
Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished third, after starting from his maiden pole position, ahead of compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and fifth-placed Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
It was Vettel’s third win in Bahrain and the 44th of his career.
Lewis Hamilton boldly christened himself “brave warrior” after winning the Chinese Grand Prix but the three-time world champion will have more than just title rival Sebastian Vettel to contend with this week in Bahrain.
As Hamilton celebrated a third Shanghai victory in four years with his Mercedes team, he unveiled a new tattoo on the left side of his ribcage bearing the Chinese characters “Brave Warrior” and “Love”.
But the Briton’s thunder had already been stolen by a jaw-dropping drive from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who finished third behind Ferrari’s Vettel after starting near the back of the grid.
The 19-year-old Dutchman began in 16th after an engine misfire in qualifying and tore past nine cars on the first lap alone, suggesting fears that the sport’s new rules had made overtaking harder were premature.
Both Hamilton and Vettel, who himself produced two breath-taking passes, will be casting nervous looks in their rear-view mirrors at Verstappen.
“He is right up there with all the best drivers,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, who noted that Verstappen’s odds of reaching the podium after qualifying stood at 33-1.
“If it had not been insider trading, I’d have had a flutter. Max has a sixth sense in the wet. He is fearless. He explores all the boundaries of the track to find where the grip is.”
Verstappen’s aggressive approach has quickly made him a fan favourite and he has been compared with Formula One great Ayrton Senna, particularly after a seat-of-the-pants drive in Brazil last year when he stormed to third in pouring rain.
By the same token, he has ruffled feathers since making his F1 debut two years ago at just 17 with Ferrari’s Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both letting rip.
But Hamilton, who recognises a kindred spirit in Verstappen, retorted: “This young dude has been a real breath of fresh air for everyone.”
Wider cars and fatter tyres were supposed to make overtaking a dying art, but Verstappen and Vettel went some way to exploding that myth in China.
On a track still slick after morning drizzle, Verstappen pulled off an audacious piece of skill to pass Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, braking late to lunge inside on turn six.
Equally as impressive were Vettel’s pass on Raikkonen after early frustration, and his wheel-to-wheel clash in overtaking Ricciardo, which recalled the days before one team dominated the sport.
Mercedes have enjoyed a stranglehold over Formula One for the past three years, the German team winning all but two races in 2016.
Before that, Vettel won four successive titles with Red Bull on a streak so monotonous he was repeatedly booed on the podium.
But Formula One suddenly has a title race with Vettel and Hamilton heading to Bahrain tied on 43 points after the German’s stunning victory in the season opener in Australia.
Verstappen is placed third on 25, with Valtteri Bottas on 23 for Mercedes, Raikkonen on 22 and Ricciardo 12, adding spice to this week’s dust-up in the desert.
Lewis Hamilton, Formula One’s racing rock star who is a master of all conditions, has the edge over championship-leader Sebastian Vettel and remains favourite for this year’s title, according to former star Mark Webber.
Australian Webber, now 40, knows Vettel as a racer and a team-mate after their strained but glorious years together at Red Bull.
He believes the battle of the two multiple champions will be the centre-piece of the 2017 season as Ferrari and Mercedes slug it out in a development war with the ‘fatter and faster’ cars that made a record-smashing debut in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
“The CVs are getting similar aren’t they? That can re-fire the candle for Seb,” Webber told AFP.
“And don’t forget, Lewis can sometimes be a bit off it, not feeling quite right on a Friday.
“But ultimately, I think Lewis has more outright skill than Sebastian. He’s so good, so very, very good, in the rain and in all conditions.
“But if Seb gets a sniff of success, he can be frightening. I know about that! But for outright skill, it’s Lewis -– and Mercedes are the stable team, the team to beat.”
A veteran of 215 Grands Prix with Minardi, Jaguar, Williams and Red Bull, Webber was a team-mate of Vettel during the German’s four-year pomp as champion and close rival to the younger pre-Mercedes Hamilton.
This weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, where Hamilton seeks his first win of the season and his fifth at Shanghai despite the poor weather conditions, is expected to give a much more accurate guide to the year ahead than the race in Melbourne where, after dominating qualifying, Hamilton was held up in traffic and finished second.
Webber admitted it was Hamilton’s record-breaking charge to pole position that left the most serious impression.
“What we have seen is a supremely confident Lewis who, at 32, has been exceptional,” he said. “Remember, he hadn’t been there for 12 months and he went straight out there and he was just… exceptional!
“He was so confident. I think he looked like he was going to crash the car. He was that quick and that confident. He was on the edge straightaway.”
He was not, he said, surprised to see Vettel end Ferrari’s 18-month winless drought in Melbourne.
“I think Ferrari are going to win races, but a season? I think they’ve got Sebastian engaged again and that is crucial.
“The ‘marriage’ is back on, but if they are not winning consistently in the next eight months he will be looking over the fence.”
Webber, now working as an ambassador for Rolex amid other commitments, believes also that Vettel’s new life as a family man may have an effect on the battle with the Englishman.
“Sebastian, he is a very human guy,” he said. “He’s very private. We all love our families, of course — and I think he’s always had the big picture in his mind.
“Having said that, deep down, he is still a very tough competitor and he loves winning.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has backed Lewis Hamilton to exact swift revenge at Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix after a chastening defeat in Formula One’s season opener in Australia.
Sebastian Vettel’s comprehensive victory for Ferrari has put Mercedes on red alert ahead of the Shanghai race weekend but Wolff insists Hamilton has the steel to strike right back after finishing second in Melbourne.
“Lewis is the best Lewis that I’ve seen in the last four years — both on and off the track,” said the Austrian. “He’s become a pillar of this team and he proved that in Melbourne.
You need to be careful to manage your own expectations.
If you think you are going to cruise to victory in the future, based on a track record of success, you’ll be proven wrong very quickly. You need to put the finger in the wound, identify your weaknesses and then respond.”
Sebastian Vettel out-manoeuvred Lewis Hamilton and the world champion Mercedes team with a stunning victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.
Vettel won by almost 10 seconds from Hamilton and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in a commanding victory of tactics and superior speed around the Albert Park street circuit.
Ferrari hadn’t won in Melbourne since Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 victory and it was Vettel’s second triumph in Australia after winning the 2011 race with Red Bull.
It was also a major fillip for the fledgling season and the new generation of quicker cars after Ferrari’s superior pre-season test times as they chase their first world constructors’ title since 2008.
The victory was the German four-time world champion’s fourth for Ferrari and his first since Singapore in 2015 and his 43rd career win.
“A title challenge is a long way ahead. For now we are just over the moon at the start we have made here today,” Vettel said.
“I was not entirely happy with my start, there was a bit of wheel spin, but I was trying to keep the pressure on to give the message that we are here to fight.
“There was a bit of luck that Lewis came out in traffic.”
Ferrari got the better of Mercedes in the sole round of tyre changes which ultimately decided the race.
Hamilton’s early stop meant he rejoined behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen which allowed Vettel to open up a decisive gap at the head of the field.
“A big congratulations to Ferrari and Sebastian,” Hamilton said.
“In the race, I struggled with the tyres. I had to stop very early and I got stuck behind one of the Red Bulls, but that’s just the way it goes.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was fourth with Verstappen fifth ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa in the Williams.
Australia’s big hope Daniel Ricciardo had a heartbreaking day with gear box problems ending his race on the 29th lap after he was forced to start from pit lane when his Red Bull car broke down on the warm-up lap.
Hamilton, who went into the race on his fourth successive pole in Melbourne, got away safely and avoided trouble into the notorious right hander out of home straight.
But Kevin Magnussen in a Haas clipped the kerb and slid into the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson on the first turn. Both cars continued on in the race.
Hamilton grabbed a 1.5sec gap on Vettel after nine laps ahead of Bottas, Raikkonen and Verstappen.
Hamilton made his first pit stop after lap 17 to change to soft tyres on his Mercedes to hand the lead over to Vettel and rejoined the race in fifth spot behind Verstappen.
“Race critical that you pass Verstappen,” Hamilton was told over the team radio to which he testily responded “how do you expect me to do that right now?” as his pace slowed behind the Red Bull.
Vettel came into the pits to change tyres and rejoined the race just squeezing in ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton.
When Verstappen came into the pits Vettel had opened a six-second lead over Hamilton at mid-distance.
Ricciardo’s traumatic race came to a sorry end on the 29th lap with his Red Bull coming to a stop with lingering gearbox problems.
“Sorry mate – the car’s done,” the Red Bull team told the disconsolate Ricciardo over the radio.
Vettel extended his lead over Hamilton to over nine seconds after 41 laps with the triple world champion seemingly unable to reel him in.
Bottas was pressuring Hamilton and was only just over two seconds behind in third place with Raikkonen struggling in fourth place ahead of Verstappen.
Mercedes had no answer to the pace of Vettel, who posted a new fastest lap of 1:26.638 in the final laps of the race.
Lewis Hamilton was hailed as being “in a league of his own” on Friday as he burned off his rivals in the year’s opening practice sessions at the Australian Grand Prix.
The triple world champion bossed the field and held a half-second gap over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and his new Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the afternoon session.
Britain’s Hamilton followed up his field-leading fastest lap of 1 minute, 24.220 secs in the morning run with a blistering 1:23.620 in the late afternoon.
It was around one-tenth of a second off Vettel’s circuit record of 1:23.529, posted for Red Bull in qualifying ahead of his 2011 race victory.
“Hamilton is in a league of his own at the moment,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said.
“His one-lap pace was really good and he took the ultrasofts for 17 laps and was stable. I’m happy.”
Ferrari were expected to press Hamilton and the Mercedes team after superior times in pre-season testing, but on the evidence of the opening two sessions Hamilton is again the driver to beat in Sunday’s season-opener.
“I’m super-happy to be back in the car, particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 percent perfect,” Hamilton said.
“We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to. The tyres performed really well today too.
“I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to win this race.”
Hamilton’s time was more than three seconds faster than his best lap in last year’s corresponding free practice in Melbourne.
Finland’s Bottas slotted smoothly into the Mercedes team environment with a best lap of 1:24.176.
“I definitely feel like I can make a step forward tomorrow. It’ll be a busy evening for us looking through all the data to see where we can improve, but it’s a reasonable start,” Bottas said.
Ferrari improved markedly on their opening practice, with Vettel unleashing the second best lap time in FP2 with 1:24.167 while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was fourth with 1:24.525.
“We (were) very happy at testing — times looked good, but here is where it matters,” Vettel said.
“The car hasn’t changed much and it’s good to be back but we can still improve.”
The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were over a second behind Hamilton and half-a-second off Vettel’s Ferrari.
“We can still get more out of it. This morning was promising but we tried a few things this afternoon and they didn’t work as much as we’d like,” said Ricciardo, bidding to become the race’s first Aussie winner in 37 years.
“Mercedes sure are quick but it’s more Lewis than Valtteri. I think we can be up there. Pole (position) may be a stretch but we’re in that next little group.”
Verstappen missed out on the later long runs after damaging his car’s floor when running over the gravel on the exit of turn 10.
“I had a bit of understeer, so went off the track and damaged the floor,” Verstappen said. “We tried to find a better balance and we are just a bit too slow. We are where I expected us to be.”
The second session was stopped after a big crash for Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, who lost the rear of his car on the last corner and spun into the barriers.
“I’m fine,” Palmer told his team over the radio. The shunt damaged the car’s rear suspension, while the rear wing was detached.
Palmer missed the remainder of the session, in a blow to his preparations for the weekend race.
Brazilian Felipe Massa stopped his Williams car at Turn 11 after reporting he could not engage gears, and walked back to the team garage.
The troubled McLaren team had no on-track breakdowns on the opening day with Fernando Alonso finishing in a respectable 12th place.
Lewis Hamilton will look to put his stamp on the new Formula One season at this week’s Australian Grand Prix, as he seeks to regain the world title following the shock retirement of reigning champion Nico Rosberg.
Ten years after his F1 debut at Albert Park, Hamilton arrives at the downtown circuit as the leading light of a sport now under new management and featuring wider and faster cars.
Hamilton, 32, was beaten to last year’s title by Mercedes team-mate Rosberg, who quit the sport five days later citing the intense pressures of competing.
This year, Hamilton will be face renewed competition from Ferrari and Red Bull, who are expected to close the gap on dominant Mercedes, as well his new team-mate Valtteri Bottas of Finland.
Hamilton is revelling in the new generation of quicker cars, which coincides with American group Liberty Media’s takeover and the exit of long-time ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone.
“I’m finding the car is much more physical to drive than in the past,” said Hamilton, who is seeking his fourth world title after victories in 2008, 2014 and 2015.
“It’s so much faster in the corners. The force you feel on your body and on your neck is much higher. I’ve got bruises and bumps where I’ve never really had them before.”
An overhaul of technical regulations has ushered in wider cars with broader tyres, which are expected to be noisier and provide faster racing, but also put greater physical demands on the drivers.
“Having spoken to the drivers, these machines are violent — just like Formula One cars should be,” said Mercedes chief Toto Wolff.
“The target with these new regulations was to make this generation of F1 cars the quickest in the history of the sport.
“And looking at the results from testing, we’re well on the way to achieving that. It’s something that’s never been done before and that’s a radical change.”
Hamilton and Rosberg had a fractious relationship in the Mercedes garage, but Wolff said the Briton and Bottas were “in a great place”.
“They have a respectful and friendly relationship from what we’ve seen in our team briefings so far,” he added.
Bottas is yet to win a race but he is confident of improving on his best finish of fifth around the Melbourne circuit, for his former team Williams in 2014.
“It’s a big challenge and I’ll definitely need to prove myself to a lot of people and my team that I deserve the place,” Bottas said.
“But I see it very positively. It’s a great opportunity for my career to fight for the wins and even for the championship.”
While the Silver Arrows have dominated F1, winning the drivers and constructors titles over the last three years, pre-season testing pointed to other teams pushing hard.
Ferrari topped the timesheets at testing in Barcelona, with Kimi Raikkonen fastest ahead of team-mate Sebastien Vettel.
Ferrari last won at Albert Park in 2007 through Raikkonen, who went on to win the championship that year — the last time the Italian team lifted the drivers title.
“It’s impossible to predict anything,” said Ferrari’s Vettel, a four-time champion with Red Bull from 2010-2013.
“Even the tests in Barcelona only give a basic idea where you stand.
“It is only in the first race that you will know how well you and the others have worked over the winter. We will only get real clarity after three or four races.”
Daniel Ricciardo, attempting to become the first Australian F1 world champion since Alan Jones in 1980, believes Red Bull can loosen Mercedes’ grip on the titles.
But Ricciardo, who finished third behind Rosberg and Hamilton in last year’s standings, said it would be tough to win in Melbourne.
“Can we be the quickest? I think we can. Will it be by Melbourne? Probably not,” he said. “We haven’t quite been the fastest in testing so I would say we’re not the quickest as we stand here today.”
But he added that Mercedes would have a “target on them”.
“If we can get close to them and get a few wins and somehow end up in a championship fight towards the end of the season then that’s what I want.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen posted the fastest time on a track artificially soaked to test wet conditions as Lewis Hamilton’s first week of testing fizzled to a premature end on Thursday.
Raikkonen’s best time of 1min 20.872 came late in the day in Barcelona as the track dried out after trucks dumped water on the surface overnight and again during the lunch break.
The Finn was also fastest on Tuesday and is hopeful Ferrari’s pre-season pace will continue come race time later this month — unlike in 2016 when they failed to win a Grand Prix.
“I’ve got the feeling that we learned some lessons from last year and at the moment we can’t complain,” said Raikkonen.
Three-time world champion Hamilton didn’t even get out of the Mercedes garage as an electrical fault with his car prevented him from running as scheduled during the morning.
“Shame not to drive but it’s been a great few days. The guys have done an awesome job. Can’t wait to be back in the car next week,” Hamilton tweeted.
New Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas did manage to run in the afternoon, but was way down the timesheets in eighth fastest for his 68 laps.
However, Bottas’s time of 1min 19.705sec on Wednesday remained the fastest for the opening week of testing.
“Unfortunately the day was a little bit shorter than we were hoping for, but overall it has been a very good four days for us,” said the Finn, who has stepped in after world champion Nico Rosberg abruptly retired from the sport.
“As a team we really made the most out of this week. We’ve done a lot of mileage and I learned a lot.”
In a recurring theme over the first few days of pre-season testing, Red Bull were the best of the rest behind Ferrari and Mercedes as Dutch wonder kid Max Verstappen was second fastest.
“I think Mercedes might still have an advantage on us in terms of power at the beginning of the season but we’ll be catching up,” warned Verstappen.
British driver Jolyon Palmer was third quickest for Renault.
The beleaguered McLaren team had a more positive day in terms of mileage as Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne completed 67 laps, but F1’s fallen giants remain well off the pace.
Williams also called an early end to their first test after damage suffered to the FW40 in rookie Lance Stroll’s crash on Wednesday.
“A second chassis will be prepared at track this afternoon, as originally planned, with the team aiming to be back on track for the second test next week,” Williams said in a statement.
The second and final four-day test before the season-opening Grand Prix in Australia on March 26 also takes place in Barcelona, from March 7 to 10.
Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen showed promising signs for Ferrari by outpacing a Lewis Hamilton bruised by Formula One’s more powerful cars for the 2017 season in Tuesday’s second day of pre-season testing in Barcelona.
The greater speed afforded by radical rules changes showed when Raikkonen posted a best time of 1min 20.960sec for a lap at the Circuit de Catalunya circuit since 2013.
Even more encouragingly for Ferrari, Raikkonen’s time came on a slower soft tyre compound to the supersofts Hamilton used in posting his best effort of 1min 20.983sec.
However, Mercedes, who have won the last three drivers’ and constructors’ world championships, remained out in front when it came to mileage.
Hamilton managed 68 laps in the morning session before handing over the reins of the Mercedes W08 to new teammate Valtteri Bottas.
“I’m finding the car is much more physical to drive than in the past. It’s so much faster in the corners,” said Hamilton.
“The force you feel on your body and on your neck is much higher. I’ve got bruises and bumps where I’ve never really had them before.
“Physically I feel fine, though, as it’s only half a day of testing. I’ve trained enough over the winter to be ready for more.”
Bottas didn’t trouble the top of the timesheets with only the seventh fastest lap, but did log an impressive 102 laps in just a few hours.
The former Williams driver even shrugged off a minor spin to complete a full race simulation.
“I had a small off but it wasn’t anything serious,” said Bottas.
“I lost the rear end with a gust of tail wind that was quite sudden. This is testing – you need to find the limits.”
That sort of reliability is something the beleaguered McLaren-Honda team can only dream of as they suffered another day dogged by reliability problems.
Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne managed just 40 laps to add to the limited 29 former world champion Fernando Alonso completed on Monday.
Vandoorne also had to have the power unit completely replaced on his MCL32.
Only Williams suffered a more disappointing day as Canadian Lance Stroll registered just 12 laps before a spin into the gravel brought a premature end to his day before lunch.
Dutch wonder kid Max Verstappen had a quietly effective day for Red Bull with the third fastest time and 89 laps, albeit well over a second behind Raikkonen and Hamilton.
“For us it’s not about showing how quick we can be at the moment,” said Verstappen.
“It’s the first test week and the second day, so it’s much more important to get some mileage in and to check if all the parts are okay.
“The speed difference compared to the cars from last year is a good step; it’s definitely more enjoyable through the faster corners.”
Red Bull were the only team to deny Mercedes a clean sweep of 21 race victories last season as Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo claimed one won apiece at the Spanish and Malaysian Grand Prixs respectively.
And Ricciardo believes Mercedes can be beaten this season.
“We can beat them,” the Australian told Sky Sports. “We’ve got the same set of rules as everybody else so there’s no reason why we can’t across the course of the season.”
Nico Rosberg clinched his maiden world title on Sunday, finishing second in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix despite Lewis Hamilton ignoring team orders in his quest to foil the German.
The 31-year-old Rosberg concluded the longest season in the sport’s history with a nail-biting second place under intense pressure after leader and ultimate race winner Hamilton had slowed the field to create a difficult finish.
Hamilton reeled off his 10th win of the season –- the most by any driver not to win the title -– and the 53rd of his career, but his gamesmanship upset his team and his team-mate in the closing laps.
His final lap was nine seconds slower than the lap that carried him to pole and was clearly designed to push Rosberg into a vulnerable position as Sebastian Vettel closed in in his Ferrari.Hamilton ignored two instructions from the team to increase his speed at the front, but was unable to create a situation in which Rosberg could be attacked and passed.
Rosberg joined an exclusive club by becoming only the second son of a former champion to take the title, his father Keke having won the championship 34 years ago with the Williams team.
Briton Damon Hill did the same when he won the title with Williams, following his father Graham’s achievements, in 1996.
Rosberg also became Germany’s third champion.
The tension was palpable as the drivers headed for the podium after the race in which Vettel finished third for Ferrari ahead of Dutchman Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Rosberg celebrated by giving F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone a massive bear hug, lifting the diminutive octogenarian high into the air, as Hamilton stared glumly at the floor.
Rosberg reliving the final tense laps, said: “With the guys (Vettel and Verstappen) coming up behind me the end was not the most enjoyable.
“I’m very proud to have done the same feat as my Dad achieved.”
On the podium Hamilton’s good grace returned and he gave his former teenage go-carting companion a handshake and a hug.
“Big congratulations to Nico, good job man,” said Hamilton.
Of his own attempted spoiling tactics, Hamilton said simply: “We were fighting for the championship, I was in the lead so I control the pace…. That is the rules.”
Briton Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, and Brazilian Felipe Massa made emotional exits after competing in their final races of long and successful careers.
Button was forced into retirement after only 12 laps while Massa placed ninth.
As the sun descended at the end of a hot, dry and dusty day at the Yas Marina circuit, Hamilton made a perfect start from his 61st pole position to lead away from Rosberg.
In a frantic opening lap, Verstappen spun after touching the Force India car of German Nico Hulkenberg, dropping him to 17th as he rejoined and advanced through the pack.
After a series of pit stops and mid-field scraps Hamilton was left in control by lap 34 ahead of Rosberg by 1.3 seconds with Verstappen third and Vettel, setting fastest laps, climbing back to fifth to launch himself in pursuit of the two Red Bulls.
“Ok, Lewis, we really need to pick up the pace,” Hamilton is told by his team. “Vettel is a threat.” For the defending champion, it was the news he wanted to hear, even if for Mercedes it presented a dilemma.
With 10 laps remaining, it was obvious Hamilton was driving as cautiously as he could to compress the field and create a threat behind Rosberg.
“Ok, Lewis, this is an instruction – we need 45.1 – this is for a win, said the team on Hamilton’s radio on lap 46. “You should just let us race,” he replied.
Mercedes technical team chief Paddy Lowe followed on the radio. “Lewis, this is Paddy. We need you to pick up the pace to win this race. That’s an instruction.”
“I am actually in the lead right now,” said Hamilton. Lowe’s face on the pit wall fell in despair.
On lap 51, Vettel passed Verstappen for third with a bold move to increase the tension, leaving Hamilton backing Rosberg back towards the charging Ferrari, but he survived to take his title.
Lewis Hamilton enhanced his hopes of taking the title fight down to the wire on Saturday when he outpaced Mercedes team-mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg to grab pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The defending world champion Hamilton, who was suffering with a cold, must stop the German from winning on Sunday to take the title race to the final grand prix of the season, at Abu Dhabi in two weeks.
It was the perfect moment for the Briton to become only the third driver ever to secure 60 Formula One pole positions, behind Hamilton’s hero Ayrton Senna (65 poles) and Michael Schumacher (68).
The three-time world champion clocked a best lap in one minute and 10.736 seconds to pip Rosberg by 0.102 seconds as the pair duelled in the final seconds of a tense qualifying session.
“Honestly, I felt quite comfortable all through qualifying as I have all weekend,” said a cool and calm Hamilton, despite suffering from a cold.
“Nico’s been going quicker and quicker, but I’ve generally had it covered. This is the best I could have hoped for coming to Brazil.
“It’s always been a track I’ve struggled at so I’m glad to be up there at the front.”
Hamilton, who has never won in Brazil, said he was not worried by the forecasts of rain for Sunday at Interlagos.
“I don’t mind at all, I’m ready for whatever,” he said.
Rosberg has one hand on his first F1 title.
He took pole and won in Brazil in 2014 and 2015 and will secure the championship at last if he completes a hat-trick of wins.
“It was exciting and it was very close,” said Rosberg.
“Lewis was marginally quicker than me in the end. But that’s ok, pole isn’t always the guy who wins the race so I’m still optimistic for tomorrow.”
Behind the two Mercedes, Kimi Raikkonen produced an unexpected fast late lap to take third for Ferrari narrowly ahead of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen of Red Bull, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull.
“Well done mate, great job,” Ferrari told Raikkonen. “That’s a surprise because the first part of the lap was no good,” replied the Finn.
When his race engineer congratulated him, he added: “Thanks, I was pretty average!”
Frenchman Romain Grosjean was seventh for Haas ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and his Force India team-mate Sergio Perez, with two-time champion Fernando Alonso taking 10th for McLaren.
Heavy clouds had threatened rain as the Q1 session began with Hamilton heading the queue out of the pit lane ahead of Rosberg.
The Mercedes pair were soon setting the pace, Hamilton going top with a lap in 1:11.511, giving him an advantage of three-tenths on Rosberg’s first flying run behind him.
They stayed there while the rest slithered and scrapped for times, Jenson Button failing to make the cut for McLaren in a lowly 17th place.
Hamilton was out rapidly again for Q2 and Valtteri Bottas gave Williams a boost by going third temporarily before Felipe Massa, in his last home race, radioed in to say he felt that his Williams had a puncture.
“The front tyres aren’t working,” he said.
The session ended in drama as the home hero failed to make the cut along with team-mate Bottas, qualifying in 13th and 11th respectively.
For retirement-bound Massa, in his 13th and final Brazil race, 13th will be the worst grid position of his career for his home event.
Lewis Hamilton accepts he is more likely to lose the Formula One title than win it, even if he is giving it his best shot, but failure will hurt less than in 2007 when he missed out by a single point.
The triple world champion’s victory in Mexico on Sunday was the 51st of his career, putting him second equal on the all-time lists with France’s Alain Prost.
“I am not focused on the championship now, I am focused on trying to win these races, performing at my best,” said the Mercedes driver, 19 points behind team mate Nico Rosberg with two rounds remaining.
Rosberg will be champion for the first time if the German triumphs in Brazil, a race he has dominated from pole position for the past two years and that Hamilton has yet to win, next week.
Asked whether he was prepared to lose, Hamilton said he had been there before.
“I lost in 2007 and I know it won’t be as painful as then,” he said, referring to his rookie season with McLaren when he was pipped in the final race in Brazil by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
“I have lost many races and championships in my career so it is not like I haven’t experienced it. I am in a scenario now where there is more of a chance I will lose it than win it. It is hard to swallow but it is what it is.
“Life will move on, I will move on. I still have three (titles). I really hope next year I don’t have reliability problems.”
Rosberg finished second on Sunday and Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said there was now less pressure on the German.
“I think for Nico it’s maybe beneficial now because all this talking (about how) ‘you need to finish second in order to make it to the end’ is finished now,” Wolff told reporters.
“He has it in his hands. If he wins the race in Brazil, he’s winning the championship early.
“I think this is maybe a bit easier in terms of tackling the situation with a little bit less pressure because he still has another go in Abu Dhabi.”
Rosberg, the bookmakers’ favourite, has adopted the mantra of one race at a time and said that would remain the same.
“I’m not going to change my approach,” he said. “I’m going for the win in Brazil.”
Lewis Hamilton’s behaviour on and off the circuit will go under a sharp media microscope as he bids to keep his title challenge alive at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.
Back at the scene of his crushing title-winning triumph in 2015, when he scored a belligerent victory to end Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s challenge, the 31-year-old Briton this time faces a very different scenario.
It will begin on Thursday when, two weeks after his controversial Snapchat antics in Japan, he returns to appear before the international media at a mandatory pre-event news conference.
At Suzuka, he played on his camera and complained that the media session was “killing me” and the furore that followed resulted in him walking out of a team news briefing two days later.
That led to more media uproar that many believed undermined his concentration and led to his poor race start that saw him fall from second on the grid to eighth.
He can ill afford any similar slip this time as he goes into the first of the final four races of a roller-coaster season with a 33-point deficit behind Rosberg.
The defending three-time world champion may be seeking his 50th career win at one of his favourite circuits, but he knows that Rosberg wants revenge after being forced off track last year.
Rosberg, also 31, has the luxury, however, of knowing that he does not have to win again this season to clinch his first world title. Four second-place finishes behind Hamiltonwill be enough.
As to his media commitments, Hamilton has been confirmed, by his Mercedes bosses, as a participant in each and every one at the Circuit of the Americas despite suggesting, in Japan, that he might not answer any more questions from reporters.
All this and the news this week that he is to be a character in the next edition of the video game ‘Call of Duty’ — suggests that Hamilton is relishing his back-to-the-wall last-ditch bid for glory in a land where he feels at home and is widely popular.
As usual, it has been impossible for the Englishman to escape being the main story ahead of this race while Rosberg, winner of four of the last five races in which Hamiltonhas struggled, has been subdued.
“Every now and then I’ve seen people have an opinion about how emotional I get,” saidHamilton, who has three wins in four appearances in Austin.
“It’s like I should be more happy — even when I’ve lost.
“But I think people forget how heavily invested I am in this sport. It’s the same for anyone whatever they are doing, it’s about how much investment they have put in and my heart has been invested in this for 23 years.
“This has been part of my life since I was eight; it is an extension of my life and my body.”
As to the championship, Hamilton added: “We’ve got four races left to make the most of it and that’s exactly what I plan to do.”
Rosberg knows what he has to do in the title run-in and will be looking for something better than last year’s disappointment.
“Last year this race obviously didn’t work out so great for me, so I’m looking forward to getting back and doing my best to get it right this time,” he said.
Both men, however, will be mindful of the challenge from a much-improved Red Bull outfit and possibly Ferrari.
A nervy and tense weekend is in prospect.
Lewis Hamilton will have to dig deep to overcome the heartbreak of Malaysia as he heads into Sunday’s Formula One Japanese Grand Prix needing a third straight win at the Suzuka circuit to revive his flagging title prospects.
The triple world champion’s hopes of claiming a fourth title were dealt a heavy blow on Sunday at the Sepang circuit when he was forced to retire with a blown engine while holding a comfortable lead with 16 laps remaining.
That allowed Australian Daniel Ricciardo to score his first win of the year ahead of Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen in the team’s first one-two finish since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Had Hamilton won, scoring a landmark 50th career victory, he would have vaulted back to the top of the overall standings ahead of Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg.
Instead he heads to Japan needing to bridge a 23-point gap to the German, who finished third in Malaysia after being spun around and dropped to the back of the field by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the start.
Vettel will drop three grid places in Japan as punishment for tipping Rosberg into the spin.
“It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up,” Hamilton told reporters.
“If I can find strength from within to be able to come to these next races and perform like I’ve performed this weekend then, providing the car holds together, good things will come.”
Sunday’s engine failure was the latest in a spate of reliability issues that have plagued Hamilton’s 2016 campaign and prompted the Briton to hint at a conspiracy.
“Someone doesn’t want me to win this year. My question is to Mercedes. We have so many engines made but mine are the only ones failing this year,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing. It does not sit right with me.”
Hamilton turned a deficit of 43 points to Rosberg earlier in the season into a 19-point advantage over the German with a streak of six wins from seven races, but he is running out of time to mount another comeback with only five races left.
Rosberg, whose Finnish father Keke took the 1982 title, is keeping his focus squarely on Japan.
“I’m quite liking my approach of just seeing it as a weekend-on-a-weekend basis so don’t have such thoughts and just accepting the way it went today,” he said.
“Next is Suzuka where I want to try and win again.”
Mercedes can win the constructors’ championship on Sunday for the third year in a row.
McLaren will also be hoping to put on a strong showing in engine supplier Honda’s home race.
The former champions and Japanese manufacturer, who own the Suzuka circuit, renewed their once-dominant partnership last season but endured a bruising year.
Fernando Alonso criticised the engine as ‘GP2’ standard during last year’s race but the team have made steady progress this season and are optimistic about their chances of finishing in the points on home soil.
Mercedes are “beating themselves up” about Lewis Hamilton’s dramatic Malaysian Grand Prix engine failure but have vowed to come back stronger in Japan this weekend.
Team principal Toto Wolff was almost lost for words after leader Hamilton’s engine exploded 15 laps from victory Sunday at the Sepang International Circuit.
“It’s hard to know how to sum up a day like today,” Wolff said. “I just have no words for what happened to Lewis. We feel his pain.”
Hamilton was close to tears after the dramatic retirement dealt a severe blow to his chances of winning a third drivers’ championship in a row, as his teammate Nico Rosberg finished third to extend his championship lead to 23 points.
Immediately after the race, won by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, Hamilton lashed out at his team, accusing them of favouring their German driver Rosberg.
“My question is to Mercedes: we have so many engines made for drivers, but mine are the only ones failing this year,” 31-year-old Hamilton told BBC radio.
Wolff admitted he did not have the answer. “This is a mechanical sport, with so much technology, but sometimes you get blindsided by situations with no rational explanation,” he said. “It’s a freaky coincidence.
“Our guys will get to the bottom of what happened and learn from it. But I want to focus on how Lewis responded in the aftermath. We let him down today and we are beating up ourselves about it.”
Hamilton’s emotional outburst, said Wolff, was in the heat of the moment. But he praised his driver for afterwards making peace with the team and refocusing on the next race on Sunday.
“What Lewis said, it’s completely understandable. But he came back to the garage and shook the hand of every team member.
“We talked in a small group and we were all really down. Then he stood in front of the team and found the words to lift everybody and help us recover quickly for Japan.
“This is what the great drivers do, the true champions, and I must express my respect for how he conducted himself today.
“One of the greatest qualities of our group is how we come back from defeat even stronger than before. We will do that again now, in time for Japan next weekend.”
Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe was more forthright in describing what had befallen Hamilton.
“The word is ‘bollocks’ really,” said Lowe. “This is one of the more difficult races of the year and we approached the weekend knowing it would be tough to get a top result. And so it transpired.
“Lewis was well on track to secure the win. We’re all absolutely devastated for him.”
Lowe refuted any talk of conspiracy theories.
“One thing we had made a priority was to ensure an equal competition between the drivers,” Lowe said. “Unfortunately, we have failed in that objective today in brutal fashion.
“We will go away and analyse what happened today, aiming to arrive in Japan prepared to bounce back in the best way we can.”
Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix from the best place to try to grab the drivers’ championship lead back pole position.
Hamilton’s trouble-free running in practice and qualifying this week mark a timely return to form for the three-time world champion after his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg dominated the last three races to open up an eight-point lead in the drivers’ standings.
Victory for Hamilton means Rosberg will have to finish second to retain his championship lead, and then by only the slenderest of margins: one point. But Hamilton warned the best was yet to come after being consistently far quicker than his title rival all weekend.
“Today the car felt fantastic, I really enjoyed the lap,” Hamilton said. “It could have been faster. I don’t feel anything is going to stop us.”
Lewis Hamilton said he will give everything at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix as he looks to bounce back in the Formula One championship after losing his lead to a rampant Nico Rosberg.
The triple world champion lies eight points behind his Mercedes team-mate after the increasingly impressive Rosberg powered to a hat-trick of victories in the last three races.
The German triumphed in Belgium, Italy and in his 200th grand prix at Singapore 10 days ago where Hamilton, who finished third, was hit by mechanical problems.
With six grands prix left, Hamilton knows time is running out in a rollercoaster, 21-race season that has seen the Englishman trail by as many as 43 points at one stage and lead by 19 just three races ago.
“Singapore was a difficult weekend for me, so to come away with a podium in the circumstances was pretty good damage limitation,” Hamilton said this week.
“I have no idea if the momentum will swing back to me or when it might. I just have to keep giving it my all and hope for the best,” said Hamilton, world champion in 2008, 2014 and 2015.
“It’s going to take some good results to get back in front and stay there — but I’ve had plenty of those in the past, so there’s no reason to think they won’t come back to me again,” said Hamilton.
“Sepang is my first shot at it. It’s a track I usually go pretty well at.”
Mercedes can seal the constructors’ championship in Malaysia with a one-two finish, but Rosberg sounded a note of caution about their rivals.
“Red Bull and Ferrari are both pushing us really hard, so there will be some tough weekends ahead,” said the championship leader, who came third at Sepang in 2015 behind winner Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton.
“Malaysia didn’t work out perfectly for us last year, so if we can win it this time against such tough opposition that would be really awesome.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo pushed Rosberg all the way in a thrilling climax to the Singapore Grand Prix, closing a 30-second deficit to less than half-a-second at the chequered flag.
But the Australian admitted that Singapore was his best chance of registering a dry victory this campaign, so he now needs the weather gods to intervene to have a chance in Malaysia.
The race, which often sees rain and thunderstorms, has been moved from its traditional early-season slot to the middle leg of an “Asian swing”, sandwiched by the Singapore and Japan grands prix.
Ricciardo believes the calendar switch won’t affect his chances of a wet race, which would benefit the Red Bulls with their superior downforce.
“I checked the weather and it seems pretty constant all year round so that shouldn’t change much,” said Ricciardo.
A wet race would also interest Vettel, as he tries to bridge a 26-point gap to Ricciardo in third place.
Vettel drove superbly from the back of the grid to finish fifth in Singapore after a suspension failure in qualifying.
And he knows his way around Sepang, having won in Malaysia in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015, and is confident Ferrari can finish the season on a high.
“I think if we get everything right then we know we have a strong package, for sure,” Vettel said.
He added that Ferrari, 15 points behind Red Bull, would battle all the way for second place in the constructors’ championship.
“I think going forward we have confidence. We’re here to fight and that’s what we’re going to do,” the four-time world champion said.
A happy Lewis Hamilton humbled his rivals on Saturday as he joined two of motor racing’s legendary drivers in the record books by securing a dominant pole position for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
The series leader and three-time defending champion was in untouchable form during a coruscating performance in qualifying as he outpaced Mercedes team-mate and title rival German Nico Rosberg by almost half a second.
Ferrari, with new updated power units, were also left gasping in pursuit with four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel, who was third ahead of team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen, admitting “those guys ahead look like they’re in a world of their own”.
Rosberg’s face and his struggle to explain the size of Hamilton’s advantage was telling evidence of the 31-year-old Briton’s supremacy as he drew alongside Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna as a five-time pole-sitter at the famous old Autodromo Nazionale.
“Lewis did some good laps and that was it,” said Rosberg. “I had a good weekend until now – I just wasn’t quick enough… Lewis had his best qualifying for a long time.”
Hamilton has now taken three successive Italian poles, five in all to equal Argentine Fangio and Brazilian Senna and 56 in his career as he seeks to complete a hat-trick of Monza victories and to register his 50th career victory in Sunday’s race, the last in Europe this season.
“I feel very proud and honoured to be up amongst people like Fangio and Senna,” said Hamilton.
“They are such incredible drivers and I never thought in a million years that my name would be mentioned in the same breath as them.
“I came with my A-game today, particularly that last lap and it just felt incredible. What this team has achieved is phenomenal and we are so fortunate to drive a car like this as it was today.
“This is a great track with great fans and today I was right in the sweet spot with the car and I got an exceptional time out of it.”
Hamilton’s best lap in one minute and 21.135 seconds was not only nearly half a second faster than Rosberg, but also more than 2.2 seconds quicker than the pole lap time he clocked last year.
Hamilton and Rosberg’s front row lockout was Mercedes’ 41st and enabled them to equal the record of dominance set by Red Bull pairing German Sebastian Vettel and Australian Mark Webber in their heyday.
Hamilton leads Rosberg by nine points in the title race and will start on Sunday as favourite to enlarge that cushion because the last six Italian races, at the high-speed Monza track, have been won from pole.
Finn Valtteri Bottas was fifth for Williams ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo and his Red Bull team-mate Dutch teenager Max Verstappen.
“That was my best lap of the week,” said Bottas.
The under-scrutiny Verstappen, 18, who was criticised for his aggressive driving in Belgium last Sunday, said he had enjoyed his session.
“I thought we’d be further behind Ferrari and you never know about a race podium,” he said. “We are usually stronger in the race.”
Mexican Sergio Perez was eighth ahead of his Force India team-mate German Nico Hulkenberg with Mexican Esteban Gutierrez taking 10th for Haas on his first appearance in the top-ten shootout.
A happy Lewis Hamilton bounced back to top the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Friday’s second free practice for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
The championship leader and defending three-time world champion, who leads Rosberg by nine points in the title race, was second behind him in the opening session, but re-booted his title bid with a strong showing in the afternoon.
On a hot late summer’s day at the old Autodromo Nazionale in Monza’s former royal park, the 31-year-old Briton clocked a best lap in one minute and 22.801 seconds to outpace German Rosberg by 0.193 seconds.
Hamilton is seeking to complete a hat-trick of successive Italian wins and to claim his 50th Formula One victory in Sundayâs race.
“It’s been a really good day,” said Hamilton.
“Monza is an amazing track to drive and the fans always come out to show their support. We made good progress through our programme across the two sessions and our long run pace felt good.
“We split the tyre compounds between Nico and myself, so we could learn as much as possible going into qualifying and the race and we’re looking quite strong.
“We’ve still got some work to do this evening to analyse the data and prepare the car, but I’m confident we can take the fight to the rest of the grid.”
Rosberg said: “The car felt pretty good during P1, but we need to work on the balance overnight as the one lap pace didn’t feel 100 per cent.”
Sebastian Vettel was third fastest ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the Italian team closing the gap behind the Mercedes to less than half a second as they made use of their latest upgraded power units.
“It is a pretty small step and we wouldn’t put anything in the car that wouldn’t improve our performance,” said Raikkonen.
“It’s just a normal progress. We try to improve all the areas and that’s one of them. It’s a small thing, but it’s the right direction…”
“We have decent speed,” Vettel added. “The car feels good, but we need to make it feel good in every corner. The first impression is positive.
“Weâve had worse Fridays, but Mercedes are looking very strong, similar to last year. They seem to be very competitive. We need to focus on ourselves and then we can be a lot closer.”
Under-scrutiny Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who was given a gentle warning about his aggressive style of driving by the FIAâs Race Director Charlie Whiting earlier, was fifth ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo said: “Position-wise, we are more or less where we expected… At least I expected Ferrari to be behind Mercedes here, but I didn’t expect the gap to be as big as it is.”
Former Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso was seventh for McLaren ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Williams with Romain Grosjean of Haas and Jenson Button, in the second McLaren, completing the top ten.
Verstappen and the Red Bull team manager Jonathan Wheatley met Whiting before the morning practice to discuss Verstappenâs performance at last Sundayâs Belgian Grand Prix.
After the meeting Red Bull team chief Christian Horner told reporters that Whiting had told Verstappen he risked disqualification if continued with the aggressive style that prompted criticism from both Ferrari drivers and others.
He said: “Charlie was keen to show him a video of Spa. It was a gentle warningâ¦ Like any 18-year-old, the criticism (from other drivers) seems to be going in one ear and out the other. He really doesn’t care.”
Verstappen said he had little to say about the meeting with Whiting.
“We had a chat about what happened at Spa and I prefer to do it there, with Charlie, instead of in the media, or in the drivers’ briefing. Spa is now gone and we are in Monza now so we focus on Monza.”
Felipe Massa, who on Thursday announced his impending retirement from F1, was 11th in his Williams and Dane Kevin Magnussen, who limped away from a high speed crash in his Renault in Belgium last Sunday, was 19th.
Lewis Hamilton said he has no qualms about missing out on any available Mercedes engine upgrades later in the season even if team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg is given them.
The defending three-time world champion added that he feels it “is surreal” for him to be one win away from his 50th victory in Formula One as he bid to complete a hat-trick of successes in Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
“It is very surreal to think that I am embarking on (my bid for) a 50th victory,” said Hamilton on Thursday.
“Honestly, for me it doesn’t matter where it is, but what matters is the actual accolade.
“I do love it here and obviously it is a difficult time in Italy right now (after the earthquake).
“Last weekend (in Belgium) was an important race for me and I got what I needed from it and more.
“The penalties are done, the free weekend for the opponent has past and hopefully from now I can fight and it will be a race from here.”
Hamilton took three new power-units at the Belgian Grand Prix and started the race, with multiple penalties, from the back of the grid, yet stormed through the field to finish third.
Rosberg won to trim Hamilton’s world championship lead to nine points.
If he wins Sunday’s race, Hamilton will be the first man since Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950’s to complete a Monza hat-trick.
As to upgraded power units, which Mercedes may introduce later in the season, Hamilton said he is confident of winning races with the three that he has now.
He would be given further penalties if he took more power units, but Rosberg has capacity in hand.
“Most upgrades are mainly about reliability and I’m not worried about it,” he said. “I’m confident I can do the job with what I have.”
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