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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.”

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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