Vettel: I’ve earned respect, and Webber’s decision to leave was his

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Sebastian Vettel played up his potential title rivals, discussed how he earned respect and dismissed a suggestion he was at all responsible for Mark Webber’s departure from Red Bull, in a wide-ranging interview with Formula One’s official website.

Vettel’s march to a fourth consecutive World Championship in his Red Bull-Renault seems likely based on the car’s overall balance this year. But, as Hungary marks only the halfway point in the 2013 season, the German acknowledges it’s far from over.

“Honestly, I am not thinking about the championship and the title too much,” he said. “If you look back to last year, or 2010 – 2011 was a bit of an exception – it was going down to the wire. So never feel too comfortable where you are – it might be gone fast.”

As ever he expects Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen to push him the rest of the way. Meanwhile he says the new tire construction is likely to jumble the field even more – although that didn’t appear evident on Friday as he led a Red Bull 1-2 over Webber in both practice sessions.

Asked about the respect level he feels toward him, and despite some of the controversies that have bubbled up in his career, Vettel did say he knows it exists.

“From my personal perception I can say that I’ve always felt respected by all the others – from the very beginning, since my first proper year with Toro Rosso when I was right on the edge because you have to fight for your place among the drivers to have a say,” he said. “After that season I felt very respected by everybody. Of course, when I started Fernando was at the top, as were Kimi and Lewis. But things have changed since those days when I had to fight for my place.”

He didn’t let on about his teammate next year, and also dismissed the question when asked if he felt any responsibility for Webber’s departure.

“No, and to believe that would be very childish,” he explained. “He is the master of his own fate and he had the opportunity to remain with us – or somebody else. I don’t know where else his options could have been. Every driver seeks these things out for himself. The picture that people have had for some years about Mark’s situation in the team is very wrong. I know that, so I don’t think that I had any influence on his decision.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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