Vettel faces uphill struggle to win tenth straight GP

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Defending Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel has admitted that he and Red Bull have a big task ahead of them next weekend in Australia, as the German driver faces an uphill struggle to win his tenth straight race.

Vettel won the final nine races of the 2013 season, equalling Alberto Ascari’s sixty-year-old record for consecutive victories (although the Italian’s feat is hotly disputed). Upon winning the final race in Brazil last November, attention soon turned to the Australian Grand Prix where Vettel could become the first driver to make it ten in a row.

However, after a very troublesome winter testing period and a number of problems with the RB10 car, Vettel has conceded that he faces an enormous task if he is to win at Albert Park.

“We didn’t do as much running as we would have liked in testing this year, so we have work to do in Melbourne, but it will be good to get to the first race,” Vettel explained. “It’s hard to know where we are; it’s fair to say that we’re not the favorites to win and we have to catch up with others that have completed more mileage, but we’ll do our best with the great people that we have working for the team.”

Throughout testing, the Renault-powered teams struggled with the new engines whilst those with Mercedes engines excelled. In Bahrain, all eight of the Mercedes-powered drivers finished in the top ten on the final timesheets, whilst Red Bull languished down the pecking order – quite the turnaround from five months ago.

Nevertheless, Vettel remains positive: “We have achieved a lot together and I know everyone is working flat out as normal. It’s a good event to start the season and there’s always a great atmosphere. Formula 1 racing is something that I love and I can’t wait to get going.”

Given Red Bull’s tendency to improve across the course of a season, it is far too early to write off the team’s title aspirations for 2014. However, Vettel may have to focus on damage limitation in the first few rounds of the year, picking up points and capitalizing on others’ misfortune.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”