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Ferrari chairman: ‘Driver error’ played role in F1 title defeats

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Ferrari’s defeat to Mercedes in both Formula 1 championships this year was down to a combination of “technical issues and driver error”, according to CEO and chairman Sergio Marchionne.

Ferrari entered 2017 hopeful of ending its eight-year championship drought, and made a strong start to the year after adapting well to the overhauled technical regulations for the new season.

Three victories in the opening six races saw Ferrari lead both championships after Monaco, with Sebastian Vettel retaining his advantage in the drivers’ standings through to the Italian Grand Prix in September.

Vettel’s hopes of winning a fifth world title faded across the course of the three Asian flyaways, with a first-lap crash in Singapore and a spark plug issue in Japan forcing two retirements. An engine problem also left Vettel last on the grid for Malaysia, costing him a chance of a victory.

Lewis Hamilton was crowned world champion for a fourth time in Mexico last weekend, wrapping up the title with two races to spare for Mercedes.

Ferrari chief Marchionne refused to put the title defeat down to misfortune, instead picking reliability and driver error as being the two costly weaknesses for the team, appearing to reference the clash between Vettel, Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Singapore.

“I don’t believe in bad luck. Ultimately it’s a reflection of the way in which we manage these businesses,” Marchionne said during a conference call with investors on Thursday.

“It was a combination of especially in the second half of the season between technical issues and driver error, or driver misjudgment.

“As we get close to the end of the season, we’ve now got two races left to complete. As you well know it’s impossible and it was almost an impossible task at the last race on Sunday to think that we could recover at least the drivers’ title.

“I think we’ve learned a lot. I think it’s a painful way of learning it. I think the second half revealed some structural weaknesses in the manner which we are managing this business, which are going to get rectified and hopefully 2018 will be a much better season.”

While Marchionne was disappointed to have seen Ferrari’s run without an F1 title extend into another year, he is encouraged by the team’s performance through 2017 ahead of a renewed championship bid next season.

“I remind everybody who asks me this question – and I’m probably the most critical of the way in which we manage our F1 activities – that if I’d asked anybody at this time last year as to how well we would have done in 2017, I couldn’t have gotten a buyer for the idea that we would be that far advanced in the first half of the season,” Marchionne said.

“So we have done well given our starting point. We were unable to finish the task. It’s a 2018 objective now.

“We regret not having done better, but the car is there. It is in my view probably the best car on the track today.”

IndyCar star Scott Dixon to test skills on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Scott Dixon will be the latest IndyCar driver to enter the realm of reality TV when he auditions in Indianapolis next week for “American Ninja Warrior.”

The four-time IndyCar champion, nicknamed “The Iceman,” thought it sounded fun when he was approached with the idea of trying out. As the competition has drawn near, Dixon is wondering what he got himself into.

“I feel a lot of pressure on this one,” Dixon told The Associated Press before heading to this weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. “When it got to be about a month away, I figured I should start training for it, and it’s pretty hard stuff.”

IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all auditioned for the show, which follows competitors as they tackle a series of obstacle courses in qualifying rounds across the country. None of IndyCar’s contestants advanced out of the first round and neither did NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Dixon’s appearance comes about the same time the Game Show Network has Sebastien Bourdais as a guest host for “Daily Draw” for the entire week leading into the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Most recently, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly teamed to finish fourth on “The Amazing Race,” and James Hinchcliffe was a runner-up last year on “Dancing With The Stars.” Castroneves is a former “DWTS” winner.

Dixon, the 2008 winner of the Indianapolis 500 who ranks fourth on IndyCar’s all-time wins list, is accustomed to success. But the New Zealander not so sure he’s going to become the next great ninja. Most of his fitness work focuses on endurance training, and preparing for the obstacle course has taken Dixon out of his element.

“It’s not my wheelhouse,” he said. “This is agility kind of stuff and I’m looking forward to the process. I’m not looking forward so much to the failure, because it’s going to happen at some point, so I guess I just have to make the most of it and enjoy the experience.”

Dixon was famously robbed at gunpoint in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell last year hours after he won the pole for the Indy 500. Asked if his ninja training will have him better prepared should that happen again, he did not think so.

“I suppose if I run away it would help,” Dixon said. “But I don’t exactly have a ninja toolkit to get me through that situation.”