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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.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”