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Webber: Vettel has ‘found himself again,’ Red Bull needs to do same

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Mark Webber says his old teammate at Red Bull Racing, Sebastian Vettel, is back on the proper form that won him four consecutive World Championships from 2010 to 2013.

With Ferrari having put together one of its best cars in years, it’s allowed Vettel to reassert himself at the front of the field.

At the same point, Webber hopes Red Bull can make the necessary upgrades it needs to make it a three-team fight at the front of the Formula 1 grid. Red Bull is pinning some hopes on upgrades this weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix, but concerns exist that the Renault-powered, TAG Heuer-badged power unit simply isn’t up to the level of the Ferrari and Mercedes power units at the moment.

The Porsche ambassador and 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion who’s now retired from driving, and has no plans to revert course on that front, addressed both topics during a meeting with reporters in Spa this weekend for the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

“They’ve done a great job. They’re very strong, reliability looks strong,” Webber said of Ferrari.

“Sebastian has found himself again. He smells the victories so now he comes alive. Between him and Lewis, Melbourne and some of the first few races, in Bahrain Lewis had to come back from a bad start. It’s very nicely poised. And fair play to Ferrari, they’ve done a good job, they’ve done their homework. They dropped on to the regulations very nicely.”

As for Red Bull?

“Red Bull need (to)… and they know that… they’re as hard on themselves as anyone. They’re a very realistic team,” Webber explained. “They never dream about results, they work hard, they get the job done. At the moment they’re on the back foot, they know that.

“Whether Max and Daniel can get the product… the thing is, there are individual races that might come into the window, but for the whole campaign now, it’s looking extremely challenging of course. Even a swing a little bit between Mercedes and Ferrari track to track, and Red Bull are still watching this from a distance.

“They don’t have the base. Reliability-wise, there are a few flaky moments, so this also brings some frustrations. Never, ever count them out, but they’ve got a big challenge ahead.”

Webber also downplayed talks that Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will reach a boiling point in their relationship as teammates, same as Vettel and Webber occasionally did – most notably in the “Multi 21” team orders disobeying Vettel did at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Australian said that is not likely to happen until Red Bull’s car is back on form, winning races at the front as they did with regularity from 2009 through 2013.

“It’s not an issue until they start winning consistently,” he said. “When you’re fighting for third, fourth, fifth, sixth, doesn’t matter, because you’re both trying to get the team up there.

“But when you’ve got one more branch on the tree and you’re both trying to land on that branch, that’s an issue. They haven’t been really tested yet. So non-topic at the moment.”

The Spanish Grand Prix runs from 8 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, on NBCSN, with pre-race coverage beginning an hour earlier at 7 a.m. ET.

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.