Austrian GP will show if Hamilton-Vettel rift has healed

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SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) Formula One’s governing body is confident that the most controversial moment of a gripping title race is officially resolved, after Sebastian Vettel completed the formality of publicly apologizing to archrival Lewis Hamilton for driving dangerously.

This weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix will show if the rift between the fiercely competitive multiple world champions has really been healed, or whether the pressure of race day could bring it back out into the open on Sunday.

Vettel, who has four world titles to Hamilton’s three, escaped further punishment from the FIA this week after they ordered a review of his deliberate collision with Hamilton at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix two weeks ago.

An irate Vettel swerved into Hamilton, albeit at slow speed, because he thought the British driver had slammed his brakes on recklessly late, right in front of him, seconds earlier.

It was another incident that underlined how, despite 45 Grand Prix wins, the vastly experienced Vettel is prone to moments of uncontrolled volatility. Yet Hamilton, for all his brilliant driving, retains a steely edge to his driving that some – such as Vettel and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg over the last three years – consider overly provocative.

Despite the view that he was in the wrong in Baku, Vettel effectively escaped with a slap on the wrist.

Having met with Vettel and Ferrari’s team principal Maurizio Arrivabene at its headquarters in Paris, and with the addition of an apology from the German driver on his personal website, FIA president Jean Todt deemed that the time penalty given to Vettel during the race was sufficient punishment.

Hamilton, scheduled to attend a news conference later Thursday in Spielberg, may feel that Vettel got away lightly considering that the difference in points remains the same.

Vettel leads him by 14 points after eight races, so the apology arguably makes little difference in terms of the standings.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team, curiously restrained in its criticism of Vettel two weeks ago, is trying to tackle different issues.

“Every great Formula One season is marked by a great rivalry,” Mercedes’ head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “As calm as it started, it was only a matter of time until the rivalry would eventually become more fierce and controversial.

“We have moved past that moment now and it is a closed chapter,” Wolff continued. “Our focus since Baku has been on our own shortcomings, reviewing both the design and procedures around our headrest which cost Lewis the win two weeks ago.”

The heated clash took the spotlight away from the fact that Hamilton arguably missed out on victory – finishing one spot behind fourth-place Vettel – because he had to change his car’s faulty headrest at the same time Vettel was in the pit lane serving out his time penalty.

Mercedes has dominated recent seasons, but 2017 has been difficult for the team.

Mercedes has notably had to deal with tire issues related to the disparity between the front and rear axles causing an imbalance highlighted in practice and qualifying.

“The sweet spot (of the car) is still difficult to find,” Wolff said. “Clearly, we are not the only team who took time to understand the combination of the new regulations and tires.”

All of this contributes to the exciting aura of uncertainty hanging over this year’s championship.

With Mercedes showing signs of weakness, Ferrari is gaining in confidence as it chases its first drivers’ title since Kimi Raikkonen – Vettel’s current teammate – won in 2007 and its first constructors’ title since 2008.

All of this is great news for a revamped F1 which, in its first year of new ownership, is committed to winning back fans for good.

“There is great respect between Mercedes and Ferrari, not only because of the challenging battle on track but because we are pushing for the same goal: to see Formula One flourish,” Wolff said. “The new owners could hardly have asked for a better start to this new era than this epic battle between Mercedes and Ferrari.”

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.