Heat is on Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel at Malaysian GP

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SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) The heat is on Sebastian Vettel at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

After blowing pole position by causing a crash at the Singapore GP two weeks ago, the Ferrari driver threw away a golden chance to regain the championship lead from Lewis Hamilton.

Instead, he drifted 28 points behind the British driver, who clinched his sixth win of the season for Mercedes.

“The last race was a strong reminder that sport always has the power to surprise,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “We have been on the receiving end of those bad moments before.”

But with just six races remaining, Mercedes has the upper hand and Vettel’s margin for error is increasingly small. He can ill afford another blip in Malaysia, where the intense heat and stifling humidity make it one of Formula One’s toughest races.

Singapore offered some respite, since it was a night race, but this one is raced in afternoon heat with 80 percent humidity. Cockpit temperatures reach around 50 Celsius (120 Fahrenheit).

“It’s like being in a sauna. We have all of our gear on and the car is hot as well,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said. “The seat itself is warm, and then we’re surrounded in the cockpit by the electrical boxes.”

Drivers can expect to shed five percent of their body weight in fluid loss.

“Fatigue sets in,” Bottas added. “It’s more difficult to be consistent and, in the very worst cases, you can develop cramps or even problems with your vision.”

The undulating, 5.5-kilometer (3.4-mile) track – a mixture of long straights and quick, sweeping corners – is also one of the most challenging, and enjoyable, for drivers. Many are sad that the Sepang International circuit is hosting its final race.

“They are taking away the toughest, if not the toughest race of the season,” Hamilton said this week at an event by Mercedes backer Petronas in Kuala Lumpur. “It is sad to think this is our last race at Sepang.”

Neither Vettel nor Hamilton have fond memories of last year, however with both failing to finish the race as Red Bull clinched a 1-2 with Ricciardo holding off Max Verstappen.

Vettel could use a helping hand from Red Bull now.

Red Bull has been improving in recent weeks and looked strong in Singapore qualifying, placing both cars ahead of Hamilton and Bottas.

Ricciardo has been looking particularly strong, with his second-place finish in Singapore earning him a seventh podium position in the past 10 races. Without a troublesome gearbox, the Australian might even have challenged for the win.

On a track that suits Red Bull well, a similar grid position on Sunday would be ideal for Vettel – providing he can avoid crashing again.

That Vettel finds himself in a chess-like scenario is much of his own making, and he must still be waking up at night with cold sweats thinking of Singapore. He made a sloppy error of judgment heading into Turn 1, taking out his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Verstappen – both of whom could realistically have denied Hamilton a podium finish and crucial points.

Understandably, given that it has not won a driver’s championship since Raikkonen’s title in 2007, Ferrari was not impressed.

Although Vettel deserves huge credit for turning the Prancing Horse into a contender again, he owes them a big performance here.

Far removed from the title tussle, there will be a couple of new faces appearing.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly makes his F1 debut for Toro Rosso, replacing Daniil Kvyat until the end of the season.

The 21-year-old Gasly has a great chance to push his claim to race for Toro Rosso next season, too, when Carlos Sainz Jr. leaves on a one-year loan move to Renault.

Gasly was unhappy at not getting an F1 seat at the start of the season, having won the second-tier F2 series in 2016, so is determined to prove he is good enough.

“I am not worried, I am excited,” said Gasly, who came through the Red Bull junior program. “I have worked hard for this.”

Countryman Charles Leclerc, who leads this year’s F2 championship by 59 points, is very highly rated. He will drive for Sauber in the first practice session here and again in P1 in the United States, Mexico and Brazil.

Leclerc is part of the Ferrari junior program. Sauber uses Ferrari engines, and there could be an opening at Sauber next year if Pascal Wehrlein leaves for a better team or Marcus Ericsson is replaced.

Further incentive for Leclerc to impress, even if it’s only in practice.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III