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How has Vettel been so good? NBC F1 team attempts to answer


It’s been the story of the year, on track, in Formula One: how has Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull been so dominant?

A viewpoint form NBC’s Formula One analyst David Hobbs, himself a former driver:

“Sebastian Vettel is an outstanding young kid, from the time he was winning go-kart championships,” Hobbs said during today’s teleconference leading up to this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“He was fortunate enough to be picked up by Red Bull. Then he was the youngest polesitter and youngest winner. Then he joined Red Bull and Adrian Newey.

“I’m not convinced Newey has brought Vettel up. I think Newey has used his genius and coupled it with Sebastian’s genius – somewhat like Colin Chapman, Jimmy Clark did 60 years ago. He used it to suit Sebastian’s driving style. Now he’s winning the championship by 200 points nearly.”

From Steve Matchett, fellow analyst and a former mechanic for the Benetton F1 team (now Lotus) when Michael Schumacher won the first of his two World Championships:

“The sport always throws up an incredible talent, be it a (Alain) Prost, (Juan Manuel) Fangio, Michael Schumacher again, and we now have another one,” Matchett said. “I worked with Schumacher, (Ross) Brawn at Benetton. That was 10-plus years ago. Now he’s come along in a heartbeat; now the sport’s ready for another incredible talent.

“He’s taken a lot of good advice from Michael. How to become a part of the team; become an intrinsic part. Schumacher did it with Benetton and Ferrari, and Vettel is doing exactly the same with Red Bull. The car is tailored toward his style – why wouldn’t they?”

Will Buxton, NBC’s F1 insider and pit reporter, sees Vettel on the ground at every event. He’s a humble individual out of the car, and unflinchingly focused in it.

“What makes him such a superstar? He’s humble, funny, engaging who’s enjoying every facet of life outside the car. And he’s a ruthless operator in the car,” Buxton said. “He’s likeable outside it. But he’s unflinching in his determination to obliterate the competition. He’s physically on top, mentally unchallenged, and from a driving perspective, a joy to behold week in and week out.”

Perhaps Hobbs and Matchett’s booth mate can sum it up best.

“It’s a question only Red Bull and Sebastian can answer,” NBC Sports Group lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey surmised. “Steve used the Tiger Woods analogy. How does Sebastian put two seconds on the field after every lap? How does he win by 31 seconds? Is he that much better? The car? The team? That’s the allure and attraction, and people are in amazement.”

Vettel seeks his eighth straight win – which would be the most in a row in a single season (the all-time mark of nine, set by Alberto Ascari, was done over two seasons from 1952 to 1953) – this Sunday in Austin. It would mark his first win at the track and end Lewis Hamilton’s run of back-to-back USGP victories.

You can see him go for it starting at 1 p.m. ET on NBC on Sunday, with an hour pre-race, and lights out at 2 p.m. ET.

Verstappen heads up Red Bull 1-2 in final USGP practice at COTA

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen closed out Formula 1 practice for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas at the top of the timesheets, finishing two-tenths of a second clear of the field at the Circuit of The Americas ahead of qualifying.

Verstappen headed up a Red Bull one-two in FP3 as Mercedes failed to get in a qualifying simulation for either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg, leaving them fourth and fifth respectively in the timesheets.

Verstappen put in a fastest lap time of 1:36.766 with over 10 minutes remaining in the session, although the Dutchman did appear to exceed track limits at both Turn 19 and Turn 20 in the process.

Nevertheless, Verstappen’s time stood, giving him P1 come the end of the session despite a late charge from Hamilton.

The Briton crossed the line to start his final flying lap with one second left on the clock, but backed off through the final sector and told his team it was “really poor timing”.

Rosberg also failed to get in a flying lap, setting the fastest middle sector of any driver before abandoning his effort and coming into the pits with a minute left.

Daniel Ricciardo finished the session second for Red Bull, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was half a second off Verstappen in third place. Teammate Sebastian Vettel followed the Mercedes duo in sixth place.

Nico Hulkenberg continued his streak of top-10 finishes in practice at COTA, ending FP3 in seventh place ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. The McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10.

The session was red flagged after 20 minutes when Pascal Wehrlein’s Manor snapped off the track at Turn 19, becoming beached in the gravel. The German waited for the marshals to arrive at his car in the hope of being pushed back onto the track, but was ultimately forced to switch his car off and end his FP3 running.

Carlos Sainz Jr. was another driver to hit trouble in final practice, suffering two separate punctures in the hour-long session that limited him to just six laps in total.

The qualifying show for the United States Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12:30pm ET today, including a full re-run of FP3.

Mercedes’ Suzuka protest over Verstappen down to ‘miscommunication’

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo locks a wheel under braking as he tries to overtake Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff has revealed that the team’s brief protest over Max Verstappen’s second-place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix was the result of a “miscommunication”.

Mercedes contacted the FIA following the race at Suzuka on October 9 to lodge a protest against Verstappen, believing his on-track defence from Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps to have breached the sporting regulations.

Verstappen finished less than a second clear at the checkered flag, meaning a time penalty would gain Hamilton a position and three extra points in his bid for the drivers’ championship.

The FIA stewards informed Mercedes that a decision could not be made at Suzuka as both Hamilton and Verstappen had already left the track, postponing a hearing to the United States Grand Prix weekend in Austin.

Mercedes withdrew its protest not long after, making the result of the race official and leaving Verstappen in second place with Hamilton third.

Ahead of this weekend’s race in Austin, Wolff explained what caused the mix-up over the protest, saying that Mercedes had to make a split decision before leaving Japan.

“It was a miscommunication,” Wolff said.

“When we left the circuit, I said that the Verstappen manoeuvre was a hard manoeuvre but probably what we want to see in Formula 1. He’s refreshing and I think that the drivers need to sort that out among themselves on track.

“And we decided not to step in and then it was an unfortunate coincidence that we took off, we left. The team had a minute to decide whether to protest or not and that’s what they did.

“Once we were able to communicate again, which was 30 minutes after take-off, we decided to withdraw the protest.”

WATCH LIVE: FP3 into USGP qualifying, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – The third and final free practice session and qualifying for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix are on tap from Circuit of The Americas in Austin, and you can watch coverage of both on NBCSN and streaming via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App.

A mega-show will run on NBCSN covering both sessions, from 12:30 to 4 p.m. ET.

Coverage of FP3 can be seen live online at NBCSports.com (f1stream.nbcsports.com) and the NBC Sports App for participating cable providers at 11 a.m. ET, and will run until 12 p.m. ET.

That FP3 coverage will then lead off the NBCSN show at 12:30 p.m. ET, and run for an hour. A half-hour pre-qualifying show then runs from 1:30 p.m. ET into the start of LIVE qualifying at 2 p.m. ET. Qualifying runs for an hour until 3 p.m. ET.

From 3 to 4 p.m. ET, there will be a post-qualifying show from Austin.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are in the commentary booth with Will Buxton patrolling the pits and paddock for today’s coverage.

Again, that’s 11 a.m. ET for the live stream of FP3, then 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN for TV coverage of FP3, and LIVE qualifying from Austin.

Full times and details for the weekend are linked here.

Ecclestone: ‘Difficult’ to get more F1 races in the United States

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone walks in the Paddock  during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone believes it will be “difficult” to get more races in the United States despite a renewed drive to grow the sport in the American market.

The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas plays host to the United States Grand Prix for the fifth time this weekend, with track chairman Bobby Epstein predicting its second-highest attendance.

Following a recent takeover of F1 by American company Liberty Media, a renewed drive on developing the sport’s presence in the USA is expected.

New F1 chairman Chase Carey has expressed a desire to grow the American fanbase, leading to questions about holding multiple races in the United States.

However, Ecclestone is unsure that getting another race in the USA would be possible, having tried to get the Grand Prix of the America in New Jersey off the ground in recent years.

“I think it will be difficult to get more races [in the U.S.]” Ecclestone told Reuters.

“I tried in New York. The trouble with the Americans is you want to do a deal with them and they want guaranteed profit before they start.

“I said if I knew that was going to happen, I wouldn’t need you.”

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff would like to see more American races added to the calendar, believing it to be an important market for the German manufacturer.

“It’s great to be in such a great place like Austin. Every year we are coming here, it’s really a fantastic venue,” Wolff said.

“Having more grands prix in such an important market for Mercedes, it would be good and wherever we can help, we will do that.”

However, Epstein expressed caution when talking to NBC Sports earlier this month about adding more U.S. races to the calendar, with the cost of hosting a grand prix being a huge stumbling block.

“The ability to support a number of multiple races in the U.S. is going to depend largely on the size of the fanbase,” Epstein said.

“It’s kind of a chicken and the egg equation. If you put on more races, it will create more fans, not just in the first year but over time hopefully it does.

“As much as anything, promoting the sport on TV and having races on our timezone over five to 10 years will build more fans.”