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.

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.

Results are below. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama rolls off at 3:00 p.m. ET.