Vettel produces champion’s drive to claim seventh straight win

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Sebastian Vettel has secured his seventh straight victory after winning today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a scintillating performance that saw him finish over thirty seconds ahead of teammate Mark Webber.

Webber had started on pole position but made a poor start to allow his teammate into a lead that he never relinquished. Nico Rosberg had been running in second place before losing out to the Australian driver, but he managed to bring his Mercedes home in third ahead of Romain Grosjean as the battle for the runner-up spot in the constructors’ championship hots up.

Off the start, Webber failed to make the most of pole position once again as Vettel moved up the inside at turn one to move into the lead. Nico Rosberg followed his compatriot past Webber who soon found himself fending off a fast-starting Romain Grosjean. Lewis Hamilton dropped behind Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg before recovering the position, but Kimi Raikkonen’s race lasted just one corner. The Finn, starting from last place after being excluded from qualifying, made contact with one of the Caterham drivers and was forced him to pull over and retire. Fernando Alonso made up two positions off the line to lie behind his teammate whilst Pastor Maldonado found himself on the outskirts of the top ten before an early pit stop on lap five.

Chasing a seventh straight win, Vettel soon set about doing what he does best: fastest laps. By lap seven, the German driver was already six seconds ahead of second-placed Rosberg, and the outlook was bleak for his challengers. Pole-sitter Mark Webber found himself being hounded by Romain Grosjean for third place, and this was taken to the pits where Red Bull proved why they hold the record time for a pit stop to keep the Australian driver ahead. He made light work of Esteban Gutierrez, but Grosjean could not follow suit and had lost three seconds to Webber by the time he passed the Sauber. At the front, Vettel made his soft tires last longer than his rivals, and his fellow long-runners – notably the two Ferraris – managed to sustain a pace on par with the fresh medium runners. The German driver eventually stopped on lap fourteen for fresh tires, coming back out in the lead.

Romain Grosjean’s pursuit of Webber was hindered when he got stuck behind Adrian Sutil, needing two attempts to make a move on the Force India stick. Lewis Hamilton had a similar problem with Esteban Gutierrez. The superior straight line speed of the Sauber meant that Hamilton could not find a way past, allowing Hulkenberg to close on the Briton. However, Hamilton was given some respite when Felipe Massa came out ahead of the German driver after his first pit stop. Paul di Resta was the last of the soft runners to stop, and the Scot rose to as high as P2 ahead of Rosberg as a result. The Mercedes driver could not find a way past, allowing Webber to close and eventually pass to move up into second place when di Resta pitted on the same lap.

Hamilton was given the call to push in order to create a gap to the Massa as Ferrari looked to bring themselves into play. He soon found himself stuck behind Sutil in fifth place, allowing the Brazilian to close along with Hulkenberg and Alonso. Hamilton managed to edge ahead of the Force India heading down to turn nine, but Sutil responded and found himself side-by-side with the Mercedes. This allowed Felipe Massa to pull off a brilliant overtake on Hamilton and easily pass Sutil one lap later. By the time Hamilton eventually passed him, the Brazilian driver was almost three seconds down the road and looking set for a good haul of points. The Briton soon made his second stop in an attempt to exercise the undercut on his rivals, but Hulkenberg was no longer a concern after the German driver received a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release in the pits.

Despite enjoying a three second lead over his teammate at one point, Felipe Massa soon found himself under pressure from Fernando Alonso for fifth place. However, a slow stop for the Brazilian allowed Hamilton to come back out ahead of the Ferrari as Alonso went deeper in the race to try and also pass his teammate, and he managed to do so when he came out with nine laps remaining. However, with Jean-Eric Vergne ahead, the Spaniard had to take a very bumpy route across the kerbing to get ahead of the Toro Rosso, warranting an investigation from the stewards after the race.

Meanwhile, Vettel’s lead grew to over forty seconds ahead of his second stop, prompting his engineer to keep reminding him to save his tires for fear of a mechanical failure. However, he remained a class apart at the head of the field as Webber, Rosberg and Grosjean settled into their positions behind the four-time world champion.

Paul di Resta was one of the few drivers to eventually risk a one-stop strategy, but it worked well for him as he found himself in fifth place with five laps remaining. However, he soon came under pressure from Hamilton and Alonso. The Spaniard made light work of the Mercedes before passing di Resta one lap later. However, Hamilton could not follow suit, and was forced to settle for seventh place in the end.

At the front though, there was no stopping Sebastian Vettel. He crossed the line over thirty seconds ahead of the rest of the field, and even had the nerve to perform some more donuts for the fans after taking the checkered flag.

Red Bull rising into the form expected when the season began

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Young “Mad Max” Verstappen had plenty to be angry about for the first half of the Formula One season. After his breakout season in 2016, this year had been little more than a rash of retirements, crashes and clashes with other drivers.

But a late burst over the last two races delivered his second career victory and a second-place. Those results have Red Bull rising and looking more like the fast and muscular team it was expected to be.

Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo now look primed to keep pushing for the front over the final four races of 2017, starting this week at the U.S. Grand Prix. Do that and the prospects for a 2018 title fight grow brighter.

“We’re definitely going the way we need to be going,” Ricciardo said. “If we start on the front foot, I genuinely believe we can fight for the title if we start closer. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Verstappen’s win in Malaysia demonstrated a perfect marriage of the young Dutchman’s driving skill and his improving car when he beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with a head-to-head pass early. He was on the podium again a week later in Japan. The champagne spray at both races was a tasty but dry reminder that Red Bull wanted – and expected – so much more this season.

While Ricciardo has been a workhorse with nine podiums and one victory, Verstappen’s season was crippled by reliability issues with his car or crashes.

“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results,” team principal Christian Horner said this week. “Credit to him that at such a young age he hasn’t let frustration boil over … when it comes right for him, it’s going to come right in a big way. And that’s exactly what happened in Malaysia. He drove a great race there, with no issues.”

Some of the “issues” created internal tension.

The first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix was a disaster for Red Bull. Verstappen tried to overtake Ricciardo and hit him, knocking Ricciardo out of the race while Verstappen finished fifth. Ricciardo lashed out at Verstappen as “immature” and criticized the “amateur” maneuver.

Verstappen said he can’t think about what happened early in the season.

“That frustration I put behind me,” Verstappen said. “It happened. You can’t change it anymore. You’re just happy that it’s going well again and we had some good results.”

Ricciardo has carried Red Bull to the podium time and again but his broad smile hasn’t beamed from the top spot since Azerbaijan in June. Despite his run of strong finishes, he’s stuck at fourth in the driver’s standings and needs a boost to overtake Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for third.

The Circuit of the Americas has been good for both Red Bull drivers in the past. Ricciardo finished third here in 2014 and 2016. Verstappen had an attention-getting drive in 2015 when he finished fourth in his Toro Rosso after sloshing his way through the field on a wet track.

Verstappen had a wild race in 2016 when he challenged for the lead early, came in for a pit stop when the crew wasn’t ready and yelled to his garage: “I’m not here to finish fourth!” He didn’t finish at all when his car was knocked out with a gearbox problem on lap 32.

Verstappen was 17 when he joined the F1 grid as the youngest driver in series history and he still jokes about his age. Austin is known for its live music and nightlife, but he’s limited as to how much he can party away from the track.

“I’m only 20. I can’t drink,” Verstappen said. “If I’m on the podium (Sunday) I won’t care.”