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Vettel downcast despite star turn from 14th to podium at USGP

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AUSTIN, Texas – The sign of the good season Sebastian Vettel has had, his first with Scuderia Ferrari, is that a day where he rocketed from 14th on the grid up to third by the checkered flag has served as a “down day.”

Vettel started 14th following a power unit change and a subsequent 10-grid spot penalty. However by Lap 10, he was already up to sixth place.

What appeared to be a strategic masterstroke – switching onto Pirelli’s medium compound prime tires by Lap 29, with the top four ahead of him, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat all on softs – wound up coming unglued later in the race when two different Safety Car periods (one Actual, one Virtual) allowed the Mercedes AMG Petronas pair to come in for fresher tires.

Vettel and Hamilton pitted on the same lap after the Safety Car period when Daniil Kvyat crashed out. Vettel was able to switch onto softs and while he at least had the same tires as the Mercedes pair ahead of him, he was unable to hunt down either Hamilton or Rosberg in the final stages.

A valiant effort saw the German come up just short of his countryman for second, and thus lose the World Championship at that moment because he’d lost 10 points to Hamilton. He needed to stay within nine to keep his remote mathematical hopes alive heading into the Mexican Grand Prix next week.

“We have a great car. But it doesn’t feel great when you cross the line and know you can’t fight for the World Championship anymore,” Vettel told Sir Elton John on the podium, with Sir Elton conducting the podium interviews.

“Congrats to Lewis and his team. We’re getting closer.”

Vettel expanded on his missed opportunities during the post-race press conference.

Of the call to switch to mediums when they did, Vettel said it was the right thing to do.

“It made our chance last as long as possible,” he said. “But it was a shame to lose out.”

Vettel hailed Hamilton though once more during the press conference. Hamilton’s third World Championship puts him one shy of Vettel, who won four consecutive from 2010 to 2013 with Red Bull.

“It was a season we could have done better, but we squeezed out what we could. We want to be fighting for the World Championship.

“This is Lewis’ day. Congrats to him.”

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

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History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.