Vettel must handle pressure better to beat Hamilton in 2018

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel must handle pressure better if he wants to wrestle the Formula One title back from Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel should be kicking himself after missing out on a fifth F1 title. He lost his way in September and never regained the momentum as Hamilton went on to earn his fourth title, and third in four seasons with Mercedes.

Hamilton’s winning margin of 46 points over Vettel does not reflect an often tense title battle, one in which Ferrari had a genuine chance of breaking Mercedes’ stranglehold until Vettel’s alarming dip.

“I’m very hungry for next year,” Vettel said on Sunday after the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “For the team it’s flat out from now.”

It’s back to the factories until the cars are rolled out again for preseason testing in late February. The season begins with the Australian GP on March 25.

Vettel has been fair play in defeat and has detailed why he thinks Mercedes was the superior team.

“Look at the amount of pole positions, of race wins. Overall, we were not quick enough. Simple as that,” he said. “In the end you can break it down to a lot of details, this and that, but overall the package wasn’t good enough.”

It is a somewhat convenient argument, too, for statistics tell only part of the story.

Chasing its first drivers’ title since 2007, Ferrari was faster than Mercedes several times. The huge speed advantage Mercedes enjoyed since new engine changes came into play in 2014 was wiped out by Ferrari this year.

The uncomfortable conclusion is that Vettel self-destructed when poised to crank the pressure up on Hamilton.

For all of his experience – 47 wins from nearly 200 races – Vettel is still prone to emotional swings that undermine him. He showed glimpses of that when bickering with his former Red Bull teammate Mark Webber and with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen last year.

After the Azerbaijan GP in June, Hamilton publicly spoke about Vettel’s vulnerability under pressure as something he could exploit.

Vettel played a very weak hand in Baku.

Irritated by what he perceived to be Hamilton’s deliberately slow driving behind a safety car – known in F1 as backing up – he accelerated alongside the British driver and then inexplicably swerved into the left side of his Mercedes.

It was a clear error of judgment and Vettel subsequently apologized for dangerous driving. The two exchanged heated barbs afterward.

Vettel’s red mist that day was as bright as his gleaming Ferrari.

He escaped with a time penalty when a one-race ban was spoken of. The penalty itself was damaging, however, since it prevented him from finishing higher than fourth and so valuable points were needlessly lost.

A second and momentous mistake from Vettel came at the Singapore GP. It perhaps defined the season itself.

Before the race, Vettel was only three points behind Hamilton in the championship with seven races remaining. He was inspired in qualifying and took pole position on the sinewy street circuit. Better still, Hamilton was starting from fifth on the grid.

It was the perfect scenario for Vettel to both regain the lead and pad it out at the next race in Malaysia – another track suited to Ferrari.

A few seconds later, jaws were dropping and eyes bulging in the Ferrari garage – but for all the wrong reasons.

Vettel went diagonally across the track to cut off Verstappen, starting from second. A four-car collision ensued that took them both out, along with Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

With 25 points beckoning, on a track where no F1 driver has more podiums than him, Vettel scored none. The nightmare scenario concluded with Hamilton profiting from the chaos to win.

It was a total gift, but somehow Vettel minimized the incident and the team spared him justifiable reproach.

F1 observers pointed to Vettel’s previous verbal spats with Verstappen. In theory, he simply could not accept losing ground to Verstappen even though the Dutchman was not a title threat.

While Hamilton strengthened his title bid Vettel went out of his way – literally – to undermine his own.

Vettel will need to think twice if the red mist starts descending next year.

 

A viewer’s guide to the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona: What to watch in the debut of GTP

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona could put an unbelievable twist on one of motorsports’ most famous adages: Money buys speed, how fast do you want to go?

Money is being burned at an ungodly rate for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener, but the correlation between cash and performance might be completely disjointed after 24 hours on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

The debut of a new premier hybrid prototype category has some of the world’s largest automakers flocking to the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP), where annual budgets have been estimated at $15 million per for the new Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) cars.

With nine GTP cars starting the Rolex 24 at Daytona across Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche, it’s safe to say the manufacturers have committed at least nine figures to launching what many are calling a new golden age for sports car racing.

But there’s no guarantee that any of the cars will finish the race. In fact, some are predicting it’s inevitable that all will spend at least some significant time in the Daytona garage repairing a high-tech car that never has raced for 24 consecutive hours. And in an era of pandemic-related supply-chain worries, there are major concerns that full repairs will be impossible even if necessary.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

It’s added another layer to the pressure involved with one of the most prestigious races in the world.

“From a manufacturer perspective, this is high-stakes motorsports,” Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Acura driver Ricky Taylor told NBC Sports. “This is as big as it gets. To debut at the Rolex 24 is such a high-stakes event and puts such a big test on everybody. The pressure all the manufacturers and teams are under is immense. Once we get through it and survive, there’ll be a sigh of relief. But until then, we all feel the eyes of the manufacturers on us.

“It’s going to be a pressure cooker for sure.”

Along with “unpredictability” and “reliability” being buzzwords the past two weeks at Daytona, there also has been some wistful predictions that this year’s Rolex 24 will be a throwback to a bygone era when endurance races truly were a survival of the fittest instead of the fastest.

After turning into a series of 24 one-hour sprint races for many years, no one is predicting that drivers will punish their equipment with so much at stake and so few safety nets.

“This race is going to be like races from the bloody ‘70s and ‘60s,” pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist of defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing told NBC Sports. “So it’ll be like when you watch that ‘Ford vs. Ferrari,’ and they’re coming into the pits repairing serious things and still going out and coming back. It’s going to be like that, mate.

“Yeah, we don’t know. We are not 100 percent confident that our car is as reliable as it needs to be. We definitely would have liked another year. All season before we came here to this race. But everyone’s in a similar boat. Some manufacturers are further down the line than others in terms of mileage. We’re still finding things popping up here and there that we didn’t see or suspect. It’s going to be a tough race without a doubt. I’m almost certain that we’ll be spending some time in the garage. Hopefully we get lucky, but let’s say we’re not going to be surprised if we are back in the garage at some point. We don’t want to jinx anything, but it’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best sort of thing.”

Teammate Simon Pagenaud said the race will be “the 24 Hours of the Mechanics. It’s going to be a team that’s able to repair the car the fastest way possible. It’s a little more like it used to be about reliability and making sure you take care of your equipment.

“We don’t have enough time yet to be able control fully the reliability, and we haven’t done enough laps to be able to say what’s going to break first or second. You’re going into it with a bit of jitters not knowing. It’s going to be definitely a very, very different race, I think.”

Here’s a viewer’s guide of some topics to keep an eye on during the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona:

Testing time: Though announced in January 2020, LMDh cars have been on track since only about a year ago. Porsche was the first to commit and has logged more than 30,000 kilometers of testing. Cadillac also has done significant real-world testing, but Acura admittedly has done little endurance testing, and BMW has tried to play catch up since being the last automaker to commit to the project.

Only Porsche and Cadillac can claim to have simulated the duration that cars will face this weekend. Porsche Penske Motorsport conducted a 36-hour test that managing director Jonathan Diuguid confirmed was “slightly higher” than 24 hours consecutively. Gary Nelson, team manager for Action Express, confirmed the No. 31 Cadillac ran for a full 24 hours at Sebring International Raceway last November. Acura also had attended the session but cut the test short after mechanical problems.

–Tortoise and hare: Every manufacturer has at least two cars, which creates opportunities for divergent strategies. When his team won the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Nelson said it was pushed hard by Chip Ganassi Racing’s prototypes in this tactic to wear down the competition.

“In old-school endurance racing, they’d call one a rabbit,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “He’d try to run the guts out of everybody to keep up with him, while the other (car) just followed around. There’s potential for something like that. I don’t think it’s in our playbook, but potentially there are people in these corporate offices, these manufacturers coming in, because they advanced through racing in the ‘80s and ‘90s and now they are managing these motorsports programs for these corporations. It’s very possible there’s someone from that era will say we’re going to have one rabbit, one tortoise. That’s very likely.

“We see that, I don’t think we take the bait. I think we stay with the plan.”

–LMP2 overall win? If mechanical problems do crop up for the GTP cars, the door will be opened for a victory by a car in the junior LMP2 prototype class. The LMP2 cars lap a few seconds slower and will need to make roughly nine extra pit stops than the GTP cars.

But according to NBC Sports analyst Calvin Fish, those factors would leave LMP2 cars about an hour behind GTP. That means if major mechanical problems befall all the GTP cars, an LMP2 likely would be leading. Diuguid said it would take over an hour to change out the major components on the hybrid system.

“If you have to change the gearbox, a suspension component or a hybrid component, your opportunity to win is probably over,” Diuguid said.

Nelson also predicted that teams will be more aggressive with making brake changes. Though his car’s brakes made it 24 hours last year, they generally require at least one swap. Nelson believes that will happen anywhere between the sixth and 18th hour – but probably on the early end in a concept similar to short pitting in NASCAR.

“We’re hoping our brakes make it all the way and haven’t seen anything that told us they won’t,” Nelson said. “A few years ago, we were changing brakes on anything between 6 and 18 hours. If everybody had to change the brakes in past years and you’re the last to do it, you have the least amount of time to gain it back.”

–Electric pit stops: Though it’s not IMSA-mandated, teams are using electric power only to enter and exit the pits for myriad reasons. The practice allows for a more efficient acceleration and deceleration that helps ensure hitting the speed limit. And it puts less strain on gearboxes that will be stressed over 24 hours.

–New tire strategies: With teams restricted to about a dozen fewer sets of tires, teams will be double-stinting for fuel only without opting for fresh rubber.

Nelson said the Action Express Whelen Engineering team was planning to make its tire changes coincide with its driver changes (unlike the normal practice of changing tires on most pit stops).

–Three’s the magic number: More than half the GTP teams are employing a trio of drivers instead of the maximum four that has been popular with many teams in past years. Though Colton Herta is listed as the fourth driver on BMW’s two cars, the IndyCar star might only drive one.

The shift comes as Penske and Porsche plan to field full-time entries in the World Endurance Championship, which allows only three drivers per car.

–GTD battles: Mercedes dominated qualifying, but there have been charges of sandbagging by the Ferrari and Porsche GT favorites.

That isn’t the case with defending GTD Pro class winner Pfaff Motorsports, whose No. 9 Porsche struggled to make laps in practice.

Women in racing: Led by the all-female Iron Dames lineup, there will be several opportunities for women to reach the podium or take a class victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Sports car ace Katherine Legge is teamed with Sheena Monk on the No. 66 for Gradient Racing.