Fernando Alonso: 'Unthinkable' to make pole shootout (May 22, 2017)
Lewis Larkam [ Source: ESPN UK ]

Fernando Alonso. Sutton Images

Fernando Alonso says reaching the 'Fast 9' qualifying shootout for the Indy 500 was an "unthinkable" achievement when he arrived in the U.S. at the start of the month.

The McLaren-Honda Andretti driver set a four-lap average of 230.034mph to conclude the first day of qualifying seventh and progress to Sunday's fight to claim pole position for the historic oval race on May 28. As a result, Alonso has become the first rookie driver since Carlos Munoz in 2013 to secure a spot in the top nine on 'Pole Day'.

When asked by reporters how he would have reacted if he was told that he would make the 'Fast 9' group after his first test day, Alonso replied: "Bye bye! Because it was unthinkable probably. Not because you don't trust yourself or whatever, but there are many little ingredients here which you need to put together to find the right recipe.

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 May 20, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Mario Andretti and Fernando Alonso and Gil de Ferran wait in line during qualifying for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso qualified for the Indy 500 on Saturday as Ed Carpenter produced the day's top speed.

Alonso, making his Indy debut, was seventh fastest with a four-lap average of 230.034 mph (370.204 kph) with Carpenter taking top honors at 230.468 mph.

Carpenter, who has clinched pole twice previously, and Alonso will join seven others in an nine-car shootout on Sunday to battle for pole to the May 28 race.

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James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fernando Alonso is prepared for what he expects will be "the most horrible laps" of his career as he takes part in qualifying for the Indy 500 this weekend.

After five days of practice, the Spaniard will attempt to qualify for the May 28 event this weekend. The Spaniard will do so in a McLaren-Andretti Autosport entry powered by Honda.

The final of those five days of practice is Friday, dubbed 'Fast Friday' because it sees teams run their cars in qualifying trim. Despite running competitively on the oval this week, finishing fourth on Wednesday and Thursday, the Spaniard expects a big challenge when every lap counts.

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Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Andy Hone/LAT/Sutton ImagesDespite a remarkably cordial start to this year's championship battle, Lewis Hamilton said his relationship with Sebastian Vettel would have been very different if their light contact at the Spanish Grand Prix had been a heavier collision.

Hamilton and Vettel experienced their first wheel-to-wheel battle of the season at the Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday, rubbing wheels on lap 38 as the Ferrari exited the pits just ahead of the Mercedes. Hamilton's immediate reaction over team radio was to say "that was dangerous", but by the time he had passed Vettel for the lead six laps later and arrived in the post-race press conference as the winner, his opinion on the incident had mellowed.

So far this year, Vettel and Hamilton have maintained a good relationship outside their cars, congratulating each other after races and joking in press conferences. But Hamilton said a different outcome to the wheel-to-wheel racing in Spain would have changed the dynamic between the two.

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Red Bull insists its gap in performance to the top two teams in Formula One is not as big as it looked at the Spanish Grand Prix.

The team's highly-anticipated aerodynamic upgrade arrived in the paddock ahead of the race weekend and was being billed as a solution for the team's disappointing start to the year. It coincided with big visual changes to the Mercedes as well as improvements on the Ferrari, but in qualifying appeared to close the gap to the front as Max Verstappen achieved Red Bull's smallest margin to pole position this season.

However, Verstappen's race lasted less than a lap after he was taken out in a first corner collision with Kimi Raikkonen, leaving teammate Daniel Ricciardo to take third place after Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas retired with a mechanical issue midway through the race. It was Ricciardo's first podium of the season, but the celebrations were bitter-sweet as the Red Bull driver finished the race with a massive 72 second gap to race winner Lewis Hamilton.

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Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Sutton Images

Sebastian Vettel says the good-natured atmosphere between himself and main 2017 title rival Lewis Hamilton is down to the "common passion" the pair share for racing.

Vettel and Hamilton have won seven of the last nine world championships, but this is the first year they've been able to go head-to-head properly. After four races of battling by proxy the two men went wheel to wheel in Spain, with Vettel aggressively defending the lead at one point with a wheel-banging move on the Mercedes driver.

Though they disagreed over the incident after the race, they did so with a laugh, and Vettel says the two men have a mutual respect from their love of what they do.

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Lewis Hamilton says his battle with Sebastian Vettel at the Spanish Grand Prix was the "rawest fight" of his recent Formula One career.

After being beaten off the line by Vettel, Hamilton and Mercedes flipped its strategy around and were able to catch and pass the championship leader in the final stint. The fight included a wheel-banging moment at Turn 1 before Hamilton's pass as the two men thrilled the Barcelona crowd.

Despite being in championship contention for the past three seasons alongside former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, Hamilton cannot remember the last time he had such a pure battle for a win.

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