© Getty Images

Vettel: No shock in Mercedes’ Suzuka resurgence

1 Comment

Sebastian Vettel was far from surprised by Mercedes’ return to the front of the field in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, saying its strength was “expected”.

Vettel dominated proceedings in Singapore last weekend by claiming pole position and a lights-to-flag race win as Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton struggled for pace all weekend.

Heading to Suzuka this weekend, Mercedes believed that its issues were purely symptomatic of the Marina Bay Street Circuit, although technical boss Paddy Lowe still remained very wary of the threat posed by Ferrari.

In qualifying on Saturday, Rosberg and Hamilton resumed normal service by locking out the front row of the grid for Mercedes, marking its 13th pole position of the year.

Speaking to NBCSN after the session, Vettel said that he wasn’t at all surprised by Mercedes bouncing back, and that Ferrari had done all it could to qualify fourth and sixth at Suzuka.

“I think it was a surprise to see Mercedes struggling so much in Singapore – for the 132nd time it has been said this weekend…” Vettel wryly said.

“But yeah, obviously they are very strong here as expected. No surprises.

“Obviously it was a tricky session for myself, didn’t really get going in the beginning, and in the end I think we can be reasonably happy. Third was the maximum, we missed that by one position.

“Tomorrow I think it will be a tight race between ourselves, Red Bull, Williams, so we need to be alert.”

The drivers entered Saturday’s qualifying session with just one hour of dry running under their belts after Friday’s practice runs were both washed out by rain, but Vettel does not think this will cause too many issues for the race on Sunday.

“Yeah we didn’t get much running, we got a bit this morning,” Vettel said. “I think we should be fine in the race. We’ve trimmed the car also towards the race, let’s see. It’s difficult to impossible to predict at this stage.”

The Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 12:30am ET on Sunday.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.