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Hamilton hopes ‘dark cloud’ over his F1 season passes soon

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SHANGHAI (AP) Defending F1 champion Lewis Hamilton feels he has a “dark cloud” over him after his early-season struggles continued with a disappointing seventh-place finish at the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, but the Mercedes driver is trying to stay positive with a long season ahead of him.

After dominating Formula One for much of the past two seasons, Hamilton has now failed to win in six straight races – his longest drought since 2013. His seventh-place finish in Shanghai is also his worst performance in a race that he’s completed since the Brazilian Grand Prix at the end of 2013.

Hamilton’s troubles have come as his teammate, Nico Rosberg, has surged to the top, winning the past six races to take a 36-point lead over Hamilton in the drivers’ standings this season – 75 to 39.

It’s a large deficit to make up, but not as daunting as Hamilton initially thought.

“I thought it was 50 points,” he said with a laugh after the race.

Hamilton also trailed Rosberg by 29 points midway through the 2014 season and was able to win six of the final seven races to capture the championship. He said it might be harder to do the same this year, but hopefully not impossible.

“It doesn’t feel any nicer than it did back then. If anything, it feels worse perhaps now because it’s obviously just gone one negative after the other,” Hamilton said. “But, of course, there’s a long, long way to go. A lot’s going to happen. It’s just that I have no more jokers available, really.”

Hamilton’s season hasn’t lacked for drama. At the Australian Grand Prix, he got off to a poor start and finished runner-up to Rosberg. Then, at the Bahrain Grand Prix, there was another poor start and a collision with Valtteri Bottas at the first corner that left him with a damaged gearbox and a third-place finish.

On Saturday in Shanghai, Hamilton picked up a five-place grid penalty for making an early gearbox change, then failed to set a time in qualifying after a separate problem with his power unit, relegating him to the last row for the race.

Another collision in the first lap Sunday damaged the front wing of his car and led to the first of five pit stops for the British driver.

“Definitely never felt the dark cloud I’ve had over me right now,” Hamilton said. “Of course, it’s a trying time. For sure, lots of different emotions and thoughts are going through my mind. As you see the season start the wrong way, you see a championship which your goals and your eyes are focused on move further away from you as you’re approaching it.

“But this is a part of motor racing. If we fail this weekend, we’ll get up and try harder the next time.”

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

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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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.