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Vettel: Ferrari still ‘in a good way’ despite F1 title bid collapse

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Sebastian Vettel feels that Ferrari is still “in a good way” despite being forced to retire from Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix due to an engine issue that did further damage to his Formula 1 title bid.

Vettel led the drivers’ championship up to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza four races ago, with retirements in Singapore and Japan plus an issue that forced him to start last in Malaysia allowing Lewis Hamilton to pull clear into a 59-point lead.

Vettel started second at Suzuka on Sunday, but was forced to park his car up after just two laps due to a faulty spark plug as Hamilton stormed to his eighth win of the year.

“I don’t know if this situation has much to do with reliability, but we didn’t finish the race, so there is a problem. I think it was a small issue causing a big one,” Vettel said.

“We didn’t have power already at the start and we tried to reset everything getting the power back, but something didn’t work.”

Ferrari is at risk of losing both the drivers’ and constructors’ championship at the United States Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, but Vettel still has confidence in the team.

“Of course, now the championship is more difficult and not finishing the race doesn’t help. I also said to the guys to get back home and have some rest because it’s been a tough week with a lot of changes,” Vettel said.

“Then we’ll come back with a better package to do well for the last four races and then we’ll see. Overall, I believe the team is in a good way.

“We are improving race by race and there are positive aspects too. But, of course, today you can’t look too much at positive things.”

Hamilton will be crowned champion in Austin if he outscores Vettel by 16 points, while Mercedes will win the constructors’ title so long as Ferrari does not outscore it by 17.

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

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History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.