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Hamilton gets back to the business of chasing Vettel in Spa

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Refreshed from Formula One’s summer vacation, Lewis Hamilton gets back to the business of trying to close the gap on championship leader Sebastian Vettel at this weekend’s Belgian GP.

Hamilton and Vettel have traded wins this season, with four victories each and one angry exchange of words in a heated moment at the Azerbaijan GP. But Vettel’s win in Hungary last month edged him 14 points clear of the British driver before the break.

It is not a significant gap, but Vettel has been keeping his Ferrari in front all season, and Hamilton needs to increase the pressure on the German driver over the remaining nine races. There is so much at stake with Hamilton aiming for a fourth world title, and Vettel aiming for a fifth. Vettel won his last title in 2013 when driving for Red Bull.

Vettel has even matched Hamilton’s Mercedes for outright pace at times, which had been considered an unrealistic prospect heading into the season. But the track at Spa – nestled in the dense forest of Ardennes and the longest in F1 at 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) – is more suited to Mercedes because of its fast corners and long straights.

“People will assume that Spa should suit our car because it is a circuit where aerodynamic efficiency is extremely important,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But assumptions are dangerous. We have seen too many times already this season that the form book can be rewritten from one weekend to the next.”

After three years of total dominance, Mercedes has surprisingly been hit with unexpected reliability issues concerning tires and the rear balance of the car this season – which is probably why Wolff is sounding cautious.

Still, if Hamilton needs any extra motivation for Sunday, he need only think about last year’s race.

Although Hamilton finished in third place, it almost felt like a victory given that he started the race from the back of the grid after incurring a 15-place grid penalty.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen will also be highly motivated to do well after letting down his traveling Dutch fans by finishing a lowly 11th last year.

Some 20,000 tickets were sold to Dutch fans in 2016 – with even more expected to be coming this time – and he also attracts a wider interest from local fans because his mother is Belgian.

“It definitely feels like a home Grand Prix for me because it’s so close to the border. Already last year there were a lot of orange T-shirts and flags around the track, which was very cool to see,” the 19-year-old Verstappen said. “This year it’s going to be a bit faster everywhere with the new cars, which will be more challenging.”

Spa’s old and famed track features the steep run up to Eau Rouge, a firm favorite with the drivers.

“The feeling when you drive Eau Rouge is completely different to any other corner on the calendar,” said two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso, who drives for McLaren. “You’re so low in the car and the gradient is so steep that as you go up it you can only see the sky. It’s completely surreal.”

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.