Red Bull’s Horner: Sebastian Vettel “worn out” after run of world titles

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It’s hard getting to the top. And it can be even harder to stay there.

Yet going into this current Formula One season, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing had been able to stay the World Champions for four consecutive seasons.

That reign is likely to end this year. With F1’s new package of technical regulations, Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are now fighting out this year’s championship in the most dominant cars on the grid.

And Vettel is being out-hustled by new teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who’s earned two wins at Canada and Hungary in his first year with the Red Bull “senior” team.

To Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, part of that comes down to Vettel simply being a bit exhausted from constantly defending his crown.

“When you have fought for the title for five years, it does wear you out a little bit,” Horner told Germany’s Auto Bild Motorsport. “But that is not the fundamental problem.”

The biggest cause of Vettel’s decline in Horner’s eyes is coping with the brake-by-wire braking system, which Horner says has robbed the German of some of his feeling with the car.

It also didn’t help that the RB10 overall wasn’t necessarily great at the start of the season.

“The driveability was really bad, so Seb could not look after the tires in the way that he always has done,” he said of Vettel.

But as Red Bull and engine manufacturer Renault have made progress in improving the car, Horner thinks Vettel is finding his way once more.

“His pace in Hungary showed he is getting the feeling for the car back again,” Horner said. “And we can’t forget how many mechanical problems Sebastian has had – many of them just little things that have disrupted his flow. So he has had less time to adapt his driving style.”

Vettel’s been knocked out early in three races this season at Australia, Monaco, and Austria.

At the most recent race in Hungary, he started on the front row but finished a sub-par seventh after a mis-timed pit stop under a safety car period and then a spin on track.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.