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A year on from Malaysia misery, all is well with Hamilton

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SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) One year ago, Lewis Hamilton was questioning whether some people inside his own team actually wanted him to win.

Now all is harmonious within Mercedes as Hamilton heads into this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix with a 28-point lead in the title race.

“I’m loving and enjoying racing more than I ever have before,” Hamilton said Thursday.

When asked if he’s in the best form of his Formula One career, he added: “Feels like it, yeah.”

It’s a far cry from last year when a furious Hamilton demanded answers from his team after a sudden engine failure late in the Malaysian GP cost him victory on the Sepang circuit. The blip handed former teammate Nico Rosberg a 23-point lead. Rosberg went on to win the championship, denying Hamilton a fourth title and deepening the rift between them.

Hamilton’s frustration was such that he pointed the finger at his own team, hinting at foul play and stopping just short of accusation.

“Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing. It does not sit right with me,” a dejected and confused Hamilton said after the 2016 race. “Someone doesn’t want me to win this year.”

He hasn’t failed to finish since – a run of 19 races.

“When you arrive on weekends knowing reliability is good, it’s a great feeling,” Hamilton said in the Mercedes motorhome on Thursday. “I’ve just got to make sure I keep performing as I have been.”

With Rosberg now out of Hamilton’s way, there is a much more relaxed aura to Hamilton this year. He has spoken in glowing terms of his new teammate Valtteri Bottas, the Finnish driver who replaced Rosberg after he suddenly retired days after winning the title.

The drivers have shown admirable sportsmanship toward each other this season.

Hamilton gave up third place in Hungary in July to let Bottas pass him, as a return favor after Bottas had earlier let Hamilton overtake him in order to chase down the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, who finished 1-2. It cost Hamilton valuable points.

“I felt like I made the right decision, but even if I’d stayed ahead I think he would have understood,” Hamilton said. “That decision only made things better. But I don’t think if it was the other way round it would have gone sour. It’s a very good working relationship.”

Such a return of favor would have been unthinkable between Hamilton and Rosberg.

Their relationship degraded from a friendship forged in their teenage karting years, to one of hostility and near enmity in the three years they spent together challenging for the title with Mercedes. Hamilton rarely speaks about Rosberg these days.

Without Rosberg around, Hamilton’s focus is clearer because it is geared toward an external rival in Vettel, rather than an internal opponent – making for a far healthier and manageable rivalry.

Earlier this month, Hamilton said he was expecting to extend his contract with Mercedes beyond 2018, when it runs out.

It remains a key decision as the 32-year-old British driver weighs up his future, with his many interests outside of F1 extending into music and fashion.

“I’m quite happy where I am. But I still contemplate what decisions I’ll take,” said Hamilton, who recently spoke of wanting to start a family. “The longer I delay my departure from the sport, the longer my next life is delayed. It’s just trying to weigh up the balances. But at the moment I’m here to stay.”

Having won the last two races, he has put Mercedes back on top and favorite to secure the drivers’ and constructors’ championship for a fourth straight year.

“It’s not a bad time to negotiate. I’m in pretty good form,” he said. “You always want to negotiate when you’ve got two wins in your pocket.”

One domain he will not enter into, after his eventual retirement, is politics.

“I don’t have the greatest understanding of it and I absolutely hate politics,” Hamilton said.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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