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Wolff: Hamilton has been ‘on another level’ since summer break

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Heading into the United States Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton is always the race favorite given his success there throughout his career.

Unsurprisingly his Mercedes AMG Petronas boss, Toto Wolff, has nothing but high praise for Hamilton and after his incredible run of form since Formula 1’s summer break, is singing his praises even more than normal heading into the round at Circuit of The Americas this weekend.

Hamilton won three straight races out of the break in Belgium, Italy and Singapore, with second in Malaysia and another win two weeks ago at Japan now having swung the world championship completely in his favor as he enters Austin with a 59-point lead.

“We must also add our drivers to our list of strengths. Lewis has driven brilliantly this year – and since the summer break in particular, he has been on another level,” Wolff said in Mercedes’ pre-Austin advance.

“It has been impressive to watch him extracting everything from the car and working with the team to solve problems and improve even further.”

While not criticizing Valtteri Bottas, who’s had a rough run of form the last couple races sorting his driving style to the tight optimal operating window of this year’s Mercedes chassis, Wolff said he should be better as the season heads to its final fifth of the campaign.

“Valtteri has had a tougher time in recent races – but he demonstrated his work ethic and character to deliver a strong weekend in Suzuka, and he will be aiming to build on this performance in the final four rounds,” he said.

Wolff said the peaks and valleys in the car’s performance will serve it better as the team prepares for 2018, to look to have a more consistently dominant car over the course of the season.

“We returned from those races with a lot more understanding of our car and of the reasons for the performance swings we have experienced this season,” he said.

“Some of that understanding is already being applied to the final races, some of it will flow into next year’s project. But the bitter taste of our defeat in Malaysia once again confirmed that the tough days are the ones when you learn most – and when you lay the foundations for future success.”

Times for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix on the NBC Sports networks are linked here.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.