LEWIS Hamilton banked a classy win for Mercedes under changing conditions at the Chinese Grand Prix, dominating Ferrari’s first round winner Sebastian Vettel and leaving the pair locked together at the top of the 2017 Formula One world championship table.
Hamilton’s win completed a rare perfect weekend – along with the race victory he took pole position, led every lap after another excellent start, and set the fastest lap of the race.
“I'm really happy with my starts right now so I want to keep that up,“ said Hamilton afterwards.
“During the race I needed to keep my composure in some really tricky conditions out there. After the pit stop under the safety car the speed was low and the tyres were very cold, so it would have been very easy to make a mistake, so I'm just grateful that I didn't.
“In those final 20 laps Seb and I were just pounding around as fast as we could, exchanging fastest lap times… that's what racing is all about.”
Most of the grid started the 56-lap race on Pirelli’s intermediate tyres after a wet start to the day.
Vettel was threatening early, but a strange call to pit under an early virtual safety car cost the Ferrari driver track position he could not reduce.
His fighting overtake on Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo at turn seven was a highlight, the two rubbing tyres in the hard but fair fight.
Closing the line, Vettel exclaimed to his team over the radio: “Grazie a tutti! I think we were a bit unlucky. It felt like we were the quickest, man. We couldn’t prove that today but next time we will.”
Max Verstappen produced another fantastic drive from 16th on the grid, making up 10 places on the opening lap and eventually fighting off fast-finishing Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo for third.
“That was a very special race,” exclaimed Verstappen. “When I woke up this morning I never expected to be on the podium.”
Ricciardo who copped a strange post-race reprimand for failing to be on time for the Chinese national anthem, had been as high as second to Hamilton early. He then lost a place to Verstappen in a predictably lively duel before looming up behind the Dutchman as the laps ran down.
Never one to pass on opportunity, Ricciardo took an adventurous shot at Verstappen on the final lap but had to settle for fourth.
“I have mixed emotions – it’s obviously disappointing to miss out on the podium as it was so close today but as a team it’s a good result to finish third and fourth,” Ricciardo said.
“I lost a lot of time in the first stint as I struggled to keep my front tyres alive and that pretty much put us out of a podium position.
“After the first pit stop I had good balance and speed which meant I could claw some time back and close the gap to the leaders. Towards the end of the race I could see that Max was struggling with his tyres but as soon as I got close to him I also began to struggle with mine,” he said.
“The team let us race but even though I was in the DRS zone I was not really close enough to pull off a convincing move. I had a look but the inside lines were still quite slippery into the hairpin and I was honestly never really close enough to make a move stick.”
Riccardo suggested that it was noticeable that the DRS effect was way less helpful on the 2017 cars, making overtaking even more difficult.
“As a team we should be pleased with the result and we learnt a lot today but we still have some work to do to close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari,” Ricciardo added.
Close behind the Aussie were Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), who fell back after a spin on cold tyres under a safety car intervention in the early laps.
Seventh was Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas eighth. The two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon completed the top 10.
Fernando Alonso fought hard to run inside the top 10 until his McLaren Honda failed on lap 33.
A wet track caused havoc early, especially with rookie drivers.
The virtual safety car was deployed on lap one after Lance Stroll spun off in his Williams. A bit later, the real-world safety car was activated after Antonio Giovinazzi slammed his Sauber into a barrier.
Hamilton and Vettel (43 points) hold the joint lead in the Drivers' Championship, followed by Verstappen (25 points), Bottas (23 points) and Raikkonen (22 points).
Just add water to Supercars and unpredictability follows
DJR Team Penske struck back with a vengeance in the Supercars Championship round at Symmons Plains yesterday with Fabian Coulthard and teammate Scott McLaughlin notching a resounding one-two result to confirm it poses a huge threat to the dominant Triple Eight camp this season.
Coulthard said it was great to get the team’s first championship win of the year, after both he and McLaughlin finished runners-up to Shane van Gisbergen at Adelaide’s Clipsal 500, the opening round of the 2017 campaign.
Reigning champion van Gisbergen was in hot water with stewards after tangling with Todd Kelly.
He was related to the back of the field after a pit lane penalty but typically forced his way back to ninth, doing enough to hang on to the championship points lead.
Coulthard and McLaughlin ultimately held sway on a damp track that brought a number of drivers into trouble including Chaz Mostert, who led for much of the first half of the race during a weekend of rain in northern Tasmania.
Six-time Supercars’ champ Jamie Whincup took third for Triple Eight. It was his first podium of the year.
After a murky, disastrous Saturday for many teams on Saturday, it was a relief for all involved to get some serious racing happening on Sunday, albeit with a continuation of wet ‘n’ wild weather.
Still there were plenty of dramas on Sunday, though mercifully not of the same magnitude of the previous day when a dozen cars were involved in a frightening high-speed pile up on the main straight, a shunt resulting in Will Davison spending the night in a Launceston hospital where he was released last night with a suspected broken vertebrae.
After a lengthy delay to clear the circuit, the Saturday race ended under yellow flags with no points allocated.
Remarkably, all but four damaged cars were repaired for the Sunday action.
Pole winner Whincup held the lead early in Sunday’s race, jumping off the line in front of McLaughlin before the safety car was deployed during the fifth lap when Jason Bright went into the barriers.
When the race resumed, Whincup and McLaughlin duelled door-to-door before the young Kiwi squeezed past the Holden star to move into second.
Coulthard, who started sixth, jumped into contention from nowhere after a safety car closed up the field.
A mistake from Mostert and clever strategy by his team gave Coulthard a chance to pinch the race from his teammate.
“I didn’t think a win was possible after qualifying,’’ Coulthard admitted later
“On the dry it [his Falcon] was a jet but I didn’t think I was as quick as Scotty in the wet.’’
Coulthard did cop a 35-point penalty for playing a role in Saturday’s multimillion-dollar fender bender, possibly one of the most expensive in Supercars history.
McLaughlin gave credit to the race winner and the team. “They have worked so hard to get here. And for Fabian it is great too. He did the hard yards last year and I have just walked in here when thing have turned. This is very deserved for him.’’
Whincup wasn’t too unhappy with third. “Maybe I have to step it up a bit in the future. But all in all I am happy with having a clean weekend in difficult circumstances. We had a wet set-up and it ended up pretty dry. I am now looking forward to Phillip Island in a couple of weeks.’’
WRC: Neuville and Hyundai take Tour de Corse
Hyundai and Thiery Neuville claimed a maiden victory of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship at the Tour de Corse-Rally France.
What a tumultuous start to the season it’s been. Neuville is the fourth winner in a different car in the opening four rounds of the season.
The Belgian won the four-day tarmac event – the so-called Rally of 10,000 Corners – by 54.7sec in a Hyundai i20 Coupe, with defending world champion Sebastien Ogier second in a Ford Fiesta.
Ogier recovered from a final-morning electrical problem to overtake Hyundai’s Dani Sordo on the final stage to extend his championship lead.
Sordo finished 1.3sec further back in another Hyundai.
Citroen’s Chris Meeke dominated Friday and much of Saturday until the Northern Irishman coasted into retirement with a damaged engine.
With Ogier struggling with handling issues, Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul leapfrogged into the lead from third place. They took Sunday’s penultimate stage, a 54-kilometre test over winding and narrow mountain roads, to set up their event victory.
The win somewhat eased the pain of having controversially tossed away near-certain wins in Monte Carlo and Sweden.
“The feeling is amazing,” Neuville said. “Special thanks to the team; they have always believed in me and kept pushing me after Monte Carlo and Sweden. I struggled a bit in the opening day and I wasn’t sure we could win this event, but we came back and turned it around.”
While Neuville eventually finished Corsica with a comfortable gap, the fight behind continued to the end. Ogier conceded second place to Sordo on the penultimate stage then won it back in the Power Stage finale by just 1.3sec.
Victory on the event-closing Power Stage allowed Jari-Matti Latvala to cling to fourth by just 0.1sec – after 317km of competition and a determined last-minute attack by Citroen’s Craig Breen.
New Zealander Hayden Paddon was sixth at the wheel of the third factory Hyundai, still coming to grips with competing on tarmac.
An outstanding seventh outright and first in the WRC2 went to 2016 Rally Australia winner Andreas Mikkelsen in a factory Skoda Fabia R5.
With different winners on the first four events in starkly different conditions – icy tarmac in Monte-Carlo, snow in Sweden, high-altitude gravel in Mexico and ever-twisting tarmac in France – and faster cars built to new technical rules, the WRC is enjoying its most open season in many years.
Unlike the past four seasons of Volkswagen domination, none of the current manufacturer teams – Hyundai, Citroën, Toyota or M-Sport (Ford) – seem set to run away with the competition, promising it will continue until the season finale at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast from 16-19 November.
In the WRC standings, Ogier sits on 88 points ahead Latvala (75) and Neuville (54).
MotoGP: Vinales wins in Argentina
Yamaha rider Maverick Vinales has continued his magical start to the 2017 season , taking his score to two wins from two starts after thriving and surviving a crash-marred Grand Prix of Argentina.
The brilliant Vinales was followed by teammate Valentino Rossi, who came through from seventh on the grid to complete a crushing one-two for Yamaha, with Cal Crutchlow claiming the final podium spot for Honda.
Alvaro Bautista prevailed after an alarming fight over fourth with MotoGP rookie Johann Zarco to be the first independent to finish.
The defending champion Marc Marquez disastrously crashed out early after making an early break from pole position and immediately opening a lead. Stretching the gap too ambitiously, he went down on lap four, one of seven crashers, another being Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa.
Vinales then took up the front running from Crutchlow and Rossi.
With seven laps remaining the Italian legend slipped into second, but there was no catching the young Spaniard.
Jorge Lorenzo’s Ducati miseries continue. His race was over by the first corner when he clipped the rear of Andrea Iannone’s Suzuki.
Australia’s Jack Miller bagged a good points haul with ninth place on his Honda.
Aussie Remy Gardner’s unlucky start to his 2017 Moto2 World Championship continued in the Argentine GP aboard his Tech3 Moto2 Mistral machine; the #87 rider taken out on the opening lap for the second consecutive race and sustaining a broken ankle in the fall.