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Vettel: Intention was always to stay with Ferrari despite Mercedes rumors

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Sebastian Vettel says he always intended to stay with Ferrari for the 2018 Formula 1 season despite being linked with a move to Mercedes, calling his signing of a new contract “a no brainer”.

Ferrari put an end to speculation that Vettel could leave at the end of the season by announcing a new three-year contract on Saturday, taking the German to the end of the 2020 season.

Speaking in Saturday’s press conference following qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, Vettel professed his love for racing for Ferrari, with the people involved being a key factor in his decision to stay.

“I love this team. I love the people that are working for this brand,” Vettel said. “I believe Ferrari has something unique, something I think other teams don’t have. If you talk and people talk about a legend, to me, it appears that this legend is still alive because the people that work for it day in, day out.

“If you walk down the streets in Maranello, the presence of Ferrari is huge, but if you see the people working at Ferrari, meet them, then it’s even bigger what they carry inside them, the passion for the brand.

“I think and I am convinced allowing every single one to go an extra step compared to other people, other teams, that’s my conviction and it’s extremely great to be part of that family.

“In a way it was a no-brainer to continue. We haven’t yet achieved what we wanted to achieve but things are looking pretty good. Obviously we have a long road ahead of us.”

Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda told British TV on Saturday that Vettel had “talked briefly” with the team about a move, but discussions never became serious or centered on a contract.

“I have been around in the paddock so I know people so it’s natural that you talk, but a bit more than chatting. Mostly about other stuff to be honest,” Vettel said.

“I’ve been talking for a while with Ferrari, as I said my intention was to stay. We haven’t succeeded so the mission is still going.

“I want to win in red. I talked about my inspiration early for Michael [Schumacher], he was mostly dressed in red, he won most of his races in red and his championships.

“I don’t want to step in his footsteps. I think the whole generation of the Ferrari team today wants to leave their own footsteps but certainly there’s a huge inspirations. Something that for me is now the biggest challenge, the biggest dream that I have and what I want to achieve.”

Vettel also confirmed that he signed the contract agreement within the 48 hours prior to the deal being announced, having said on Thursday that news on his future was unlikely for another two weeks.

“I didn’t think that it was probably the right time. I didn’t rush or push, but things were coming along together fairly quickly in the end,” Vettel said.

“We decided to go for it and make the call. I know it wasn’t the best in terms of one day and then the other, but that’s how it was.”

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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