Red Bull seeking a setup balance in Spain

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The Spanish Grand Prix will see the 11 Formula 1 teams introduce a raft of upgrades for their cars for the first time this season, and the race also marks the first real chance for defending world champions Red Bull to cut the gap to current leaders Mercedes.

Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo have both ran well so far this season to place Red Bull second in the constructors’ championship, albeit some 97 points behind Mercedes. However, both drivers are aware that a well-balanced setup will be key to a good performance at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya next weekend.

“The circuit is varied with 180 degree bends, fast, sweeping corners and elevation changes,” Vettel explained. “There isn’t much opportunity to overtake, so getting a good start position in qualifying will be crucial.

“The long, fast curves of Montmelo mean that it will suit a car with highly efficient aerodynamics. The track is very challenging on the tires because of the same very fast corners, so lots of pit stops are likely in the race.”

Teammate Daniel Ricciardo is also focusing on a balanced setup between speed and cornering, saying: “It’s a good track to defend on, but one that demands a lot of concentration and the right setup.

“The trade-off is that you need fairly low downforce on the long main straight but that compromises the rest of your lap and makes the car difficult to control. Finding the right balance isn’t simple.”

The track is a favorite for testing as it does challenge every aspect of a car, although it is not suited for overtaking. Tire wear will unquestionably be a problem for all of the teams, and it would be unsurprising if it requires another four-stop strategy to win the race as used by Fernando Alonso last year en route to victory.

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.”