Getty Images

Vettel must handle pressure better to beat Hamilton in 2018

2 Comments

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.

 

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
Leave a comment

Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

****************************************
As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

****************************************
SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.