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Vettel relying on Singapore experience to regain F1 lead

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SINGAPORE (AP) With the Singapore street circuit suited to Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is hoping to reclaim the Formula One championship lead from Lewis Hamilton this weekend.

Vettel secured six straight podiums on Singapore’s floodlit Marina Bay street circuit until his run ended with a fifth place last year.

No driver has had more podium finishes in Singapore than Vettel, whose impressive streak at the night race includes three straight wins from 2011-13 during his run of four straight F1 titles with former team Red Bull.

The 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) circuit resembles the Monaco GP in terms of its sinewy layout: A low-speed, hard-braking track favoring maximum downforce and reducing the outright pace of Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Vettel’s confidence will be further boosted by the fact he comfortably won Monaco this year, with Ferrari securing a 1-2 finish and Hamilton in seventh place. Ferrari also clinched 1-2 in Hungary, another track which neutralizes the power of Mercedes.

The last two races of this season, in Belgium and Italy, were more suited to Mercedes and played to Hamilton’s strengths. And he won them to move three points ahead of Vettel in a thrilling title contest.

There are six races remaining after Singapore, a circuit which has caused problems for Mercedes before.

When Vettel won here in 2015 – in his first season with Ferrari – Mercedes stuttered as Nico Rosberg placed fourth and Hamilton retired with engine failure. Although Hamilton won here in 2014, he finished only fifth the previous year, and retired two further times with his previous team McLaren.

“This is a circuit we have found difficult to master,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “On the surface, Singapore is the kind of circuit that should favor both Ferrari and Red Bull.”

There are few places to overtake in Singapore, but one of those is the blistering run into Turn 7.

Drivers must get the timing just right as they approach at a top speed of 320 kilometers (198 miles) per hour before braking heavily down to 120 kph (74 mph). Such a tough corner invariably puts drivers under strain, and Hamilton sustained a puncture and retired after bumping tires with Red Bull’s Mark Webber in 2010.

Drivers must also contend with sweltering humidity, as Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo explains.

“When you stop after the race and the adrenaline decreases you feel it even more,” he said. “After the race I will easily sink five litres of water to rehydrate before I go to bed.”

His teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, prepares for the race by “doing heat training in the sauna and getting ready to sweat.”

Ricciardo arrives in Singapore in very consistent form, with six podiums in the last nine races. After a tough start, punctuated by two retirements in four races, he is hitting peak form.

The Australian driver is growing in stature and arguably has credentials of a future champion, particularly in turning difficult situations around.

In recent weeks, he has demonstrated the full repertoire of his driving skills: brilliantly cutting through the field to finish fourth in Monza two weeks ago, and making an astutely opportunist overtaking move in Spa the race before.

His uncanny ability to sense an overtaking move is among the best, and he feels he has a good chance to challenge for a victory.

“I’ve started second and finished second at this track in the last two years, with fastest lap both times,” he said. “So my aim this year is definitely to start on pole and go one better.”

Here are the starting times for 2020 NTT IndyCar Series action on NBC and NBCSN

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Another important tidbit for NTT IndyCar Series fans is out as INDYCAR and NBC announced starting times for the 2020 season. The full television schedule is also included.

There are different starting times at four races in 2020 from 2019. Those include the March 15 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at Circuit of the Americas on April 26, a later starting time for the Saturday night race at Iowa Speedway on July 18 on NBCSN

INDYCAR released the green flag times today for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season that features starting time shifts at four races – St. Petersburg, Circuit of The Americas, Iowa and Mid-Ohio – and the anticipated evening return to Richmond Raceway.

Those four returning races represent the only significant green flag start time changes from a year ago in the 17-race 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, beginning with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg scheduled for Sunday, March 15.

The August 16 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be moved to an earlier starting time and will be broadcast on NBC. Previously, the race was scheduled for 4:05 p.m., but has been changed to a 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time green flag.

INDYCAR’s return to Richmond Raceway on Saturday, June 27 will begin at 8:15 p.m. ET. That is the only new event on the schedule.

Detailed broadcast information for the entire season will be announced at a later date.

Here are the notable changes to the starting times on the schedule:

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which began at 1:40 p.m. ET this past season, will now have a 3:30 p.m. green flag. The race on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., will be celebrating its 10thanniversary as the series’ season opener and be televised on NBC Sports Network.

The AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at Circuit of The Americas on Sunday, April 26, will have a similar shift, moving from a 1:43 p.m. ET green flag this past season to 4:10 p.m. (3:10 p.m. local) in 2020. The permanent road course in Austin, Texas, will play host to the fourth race of the season and be broadcast on NBCSN.

The Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway, set for Saturday, July 18, on NBCSN, will be better accommodated for an evening race under the lights with the green flag moving from 7:15 p.m. ET to 9 p.m. (8 p.m. local).

“The return of a night race for INDYCAR at Iowa Speedway is exciting news for our race fans, sponsors, and the entire region,” Iowa Speedway President David Hyatt said. “The cars look great under the lights, and the competition should be even more fierce given what should be cooler conditions. Our track provides some of the best racing you’ll see anywhere, which will be good for attendance. This will be a can’t-miss weekend for all race fans.”

The return to a true night race at Iowa was the result of fans requesting it. The race will begin at 8:00 p.m. CT on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. And for fans and drivers, it is nostalgic, hearkening back to the first race many of them experienced … a night race on a short track.

The series hasn’t held a race that began after dusk at Iowa Speedway since 2015, and drivers and fans are welcoming it. Not only does it look more vibrant — and create sparks as cars bottom out — it also makes for better racing. Tires grip better when the track is cooler. Fans also avoid sweltering conditions during summer afternoons.

The Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, Aug. 16, will be the only race among the four that moves to an earlier start time. The race, which had a 4:05 p.m. ET start this past season, will shift to a 12:45 p.m. green flag in 2020 and be televised on NBC.

The NTT IndyCar Series heads to Richmond Raceway – the only new addition on the 2020 schedule – for the 11th race of the season on Saturday, June 27. The field will take the green flag at 8:15 ET for the start of the first Indy car race at the .75-mile oval since 2009. The race will be broadcast on NBCSN.