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Vettel must handle pressure better to beat Hamilton in 2018

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel must handle pressure better if he wants to wrestle the Formula One title back from Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel should be kicking himself after missing out on a fifth F1 title. He lost his way in September and never regained the momentum as Hamilton went on to earn his fourth title, and third in four seasons with Mercedes.

Hamilton’s winning margin of 46 points over Vettel does not reflect an often tense title battle, one in which Ferrari had a genuine chance of breaking Mercedes’ stranglehold until Vettel’s alarming dip.

“I’m very hungry for next year,” Vettel said on Sunday after the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “For the team it’s flat out from now.”

It’s back to the factories until the cars are rolled out again for preseason testing in late February. The season begins with the Australian GP on March 25.

Vettel has been fair play in defeat and has detailed why he thinks Mercedes was the superior team.

“Look at the amount of pole positions, of race wins. Overall, we were not quick enough. Simple as that,” he said. “In the end you can break it down to a lot of details, this and that, but overall the package wasn’t good enough.”

It is a somewhat convenient argument, too, for statistics tell only part of the story.

Chasing its first drivers’ title since 2007, Ferrari was faster than Mercedes several times. The huge speed advantage Mercedes enjoyed since new engine changes came into play in 2014 was wiped out by Ferrari this year.

The uncomfortable conclusion is that Vettel self-destructed when poised to crank the pressure up on Hamilton.

For all of his experience – 47 wins from nearly 200 races – Vettel is still prone to emotional swings that undermine him. He showed glimpses of that when bickering with his former Red Bull teammate Mark Webber and with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen last year.

After the Azerbaijan GP in June, Hamilton publicly spoke about Vettel’s vulnerability under pressure as something he could exploit.

Vettel played a very weak hand in Baku.

Irritated by what he perceived to be Hamilton’s deliberately slow driving behind a safety car – known in F1 as backing up – he accelerated alongside the British driver and then inexplicably swerved into the left side of his Mercedes.

It was a clear error of judgment and Vettel subsequently apologized for dangerous driving. The two exchanged heated barbs afterward.

Vettel’s red mist that day was as bright as his gleaming Ferrari.

He escaped with a time penalty when a one-race ban was spoken of. The penalty itself was damaging, however, since it prevented him from finishing higher than fourth and so valuable points were needlessly lost.

A second and momentous mistake from Vettel came at the Singapore GP. It perhaps defined the season itself.

Before the race, Vettel was only three points behind Hamilton in the championship with seven races remaining. He was inspired in qualifying and took pole position on the sinewy street circuit. Better still, Hamilton was starting from fifth on the grid.

It was the perfect scenario for Vettel to both regain the lead and pad it out at the next race in Malaysia – another track suited to Ferrari.

A few seconds later, jaws were dropping and eyes bulging in the Ferrari garage – but for all the wrong reasons.

Vettel went diagonally across the track to cut off Verstappen, starting from second. A four-car collision ensued that took them both out, along with Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

With 25 points beckoning, on a track where no F1 driver has more podiums than him, Vettel scored none. The nightmare scenario concluded with Hamilton profiting from the chaos to win.

It was a total gift, but somehow Vettel minimized the incident and the team spared him justifiable reproach.

F1 observers pointed to Vettel’s previous verbal spats with Verstappen. In theory, he simply could not accept losing ground to Verstappen even though the Dutchman was not a title threat.

While Hamilton strengthened his title bid Vettel went out of his way – literally – to undermine his own.

Vettel will need to think twice if the red mist starts descending next year.

 

BREAKING: John Force taken to hospital after Phoenix eliminations crash

Photo courtesy NHRA
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16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force has been taken to a local hospital for evaluation and examination following a wicked crash with fellow Funny Car driver Johnnie Lindberg.

The crash occurred during the quarterfinals of Sunday’s final eliminations in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix.

Force was headed for a win when the engine on his Peak Chevrolet Camaro blew up just as it crossed the finish line, destroying the body. Lindberg, meanwhile, lost traction about one-third of the way down-track, but then got back into the gas to try and catch Force.

Force appeared to lose control of the body-less car and went across from the left lane he was in to the right-hand lane, where he hit the retaining wall in front of Lindberg.

Lindberg tried to avoid Force, but couldn’t. To make matters worse, the body on Lindberg’s car then came off and Force’s and Lindberg’s cars got tangled up in Lindberg’s parachute, sending both chassis’ into the left retaining wall.

Lindberg emerged from his Funny Car under his own power and was checked at the medical center before heading back to his pit.

Force, meanwhile, was helped out of his mangled wreck by the NHRA Safety Safari and was transported by ambulance to the hospital due to the severity of the impact.

Even though Force will be credited with the round win, he obviously will not be able to continue for the remainder of the eliminations.

To add insult to injury, NHRA officials charged Force with oiling down the racetrack, his third of the season in just the first two races. That will cost him 15 points in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings and a fine of $4,000.

Here are several posts from social media, including video of the incident from NHRA:

This is the second time Force has had an engine explode and the body blew off in the last two weeks. He also wrecked during the qualifying Feb. 9 for the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Here’s the video of that wreck:

MORE: John Force taken to hospital as a precaution after Funny Car motor explodes.

We’ll update Force’s condition when it becomes available.

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