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F1: Vettel needs to keep pressure firmly on Hamilton in Germany

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HOCKENHEIM, Germany (AP) — Sebastian Vettel needs to keep the pressure firmly on Lewis Hamilton at this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

At the midway point of the Formula One season – the 11th race out of 21 – Vettel holds only an eight-point lead over rival Lewis Hamilton in an intriguing title contest.

Vettel started strongly, then Hamilton took over, and now Vettel appears to be in the ascendancy again.

While he leads Hamilton only 4-3 in wins this season, Vettel’s most recent victory was particularly poignant seeing it was at Hamilton’s home track at Silverstone – where Hamilton has enjoyed huge success. Vettel’s win there heaped more misery on the British driver, considering he’d experienced a rare retirement at the Austrian GP one week earlier.

In previous years, Ferrari was the team experiencing technical problems and frustrating inconsistency. Now the roles appear reversed, and Mercedes is the team under pressure.

Having won the last four drivers’ and constructors’ championships, often by huge margins, Mercedes lags 20 points behinds Ferrari. There have been communication errors and strategy mistakes within Mercedes. For Hamilton, who along with Vettel is vying for a coveted fifth F1 crown, these problems are hard to accept.

Last year, the pressure seemed to affect Vettel more, but this time Hamilton is the one showing signs of strain.

Rapidly overtaken from pole position at the British GP, Hamilton was then shunted off the track following a collision with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

After Hamilton fought back brilliantly from last place to an impressive second place, he made comments about Ferrari’s “interesting tactics” – implying Raikkonen had done it on purpose as part of team strategy. Hamilton subsequently apologized, calling his own comment “dumb.”

While Vettel has upped his level from 2017, Hamilton has still shown his trademark speed and consistency, aside from a poor start at Silverstone.

Mercedes has often taken the blame for Hamilton’s setbacks, right up to the top.

“We’ve left points on the table and had to do damage limitation more often than we would have wanted,” said Toto Wolff, the head of motorsport. “A lot of that was down to our own mistakes.”

With Mercedes wobbling, and Hamilton getting agitated, the timing seems right for Vettel to strike another blow at Hockenheim on Sunday.

The German race is returning after being dropped last year for financial reasons. Home fans will be in the unusual position of cheering a German driver (Vettel) in an Italian car, competing against a British driver (Hamilton) and his Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas in German cars.

If any one of the three wins, it will feel like a victory for Germany.

“Going to Hockenheim always feels like coming home,” Wolff said. “It’s only about a 90-minute drive from the Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart.”

The Hockenheimring, as the circuit is called, is in in southwest Germany’s Baden-Wuerttemberg region which borders with France.

It features fast straights in the first half of the 4.6-kilometer (2.85-mile) track, meaning fans can hope for a thrilling 67-lap speed duel between Mercedes and Ferrari.

But Red Bull is waiting to pounce.

While Red Bull is not as quick as its main rivals, the gap has been closed this season, and Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have three victories between them.

Ricciardo has won two, while Verstappen is driving impressively after a rocky start.

The 20-year-old Dutchman – the youngest to win an F1 race and to qualify on the front row aged just 18 – has four podium finishes in the past six races and is showing the kind of form which earned him a bumper new contract last year.

Are you a racer looking for the fountain of youth? Try NHRA drag racing

Photos courtesy NHRA
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It used to be that many of the big-name race car drivers routinely raced into their 50s, most notably in NASCAR.

Richard Petty raced until he was 55. The late David Pearson was 54 when he last raced in NASCAR.

But these days, we’re seeing the majority of professional racers calling it quits in their early-to-mid 40s – like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and most recently, Jamie McMurray.

But that’s not the case for competitors in the National Hot Rod Association. Like fine wine, it seems that the kings of the drag strip only seem to get better and more successful with age.

To them, the “r word” is not “retire,” it’s “reaction time.”

Consider many of today’s stars in the NHRA and their respective ages:

* Funny Car legend John Force will turn 70 in May. And while he hasn’t won a championship since 2013, Force remains one of the biggest forces – no pun intended – in the sport.

Fellow Funny Car drivers still seemingly in their prime include Ron Capps (53 years old), Jack Beckman (52), Tim Wilkerson (turns 58 on Dec. 29), Cruz Pedregon (55) and Gary Densham (62).

* In Top Fuel, the winningest driver and record eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will turn 49 on Dec. 25. Those already on the other side of the 50-year-old line include Clay Millican (52), Doug Kalitta (54), Terry McMillen (64), Billy Torrence (60) and Cory McClenathan (turns 56 on Jan. 30).

Chris Karamesines

And let’s not forget the oldest active drag racer on the NHRA professional circuit (albeit part-time rather than full-time), Chicago native Chris Karamesines, who is still racing a Top Fuel dragster at 300-plus mph at the spry young age of 87 years old!

Yes, you read that right, Karamesines is 87 – but could easily pass for 67 – and he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

* Ironically, the slower Pro Stock class is not as well-represented in the 50-and-over group as is Top Fuel and Funny Car, with only two regulars who have passed the half-century mark: four-time champ Greg Anderson (57) and Kenny Delco (65).

But that 50-and-above fraternity will add at least one other member next year when former champ Jason Line turns 50 on July 24. And five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. will turn 50 in 2020.

Jerry Savoie

* Even the easy riders of Pro Stock Motorcycle have several 50-and-over competitors: Scotty Pollacheck (turns 50 on Feb. 8), 2016 champ Jerry Savoie (turns 60 on Feb. 23), Karen Stofer (54), Steve Johnson (turns 58 on Jan. 19) and Hector Arana (60).

Granted, drag racers don’t have the same grueling time spent behind the wheel. Their average run lasts from just over 3.5 seconds to maybe eight or nine seconds.

And unlike driving 400 or 500 laps or miles as in NASCAR, a full four-round race during Sunday eliminations for NHRA racers adds up to one whole mile – or less.

Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers only go a distance of 1,000 feet per run, while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle go a full quarter-mile (1,320 feet) in their respective runs.

In a sense, hitting the 5-0 mark or higher has become somewhat of a fountain of youth for several racers.

For example, Capps won his first career Funny Car crown in 2016 at the age of 51.

The same year, Savoie won his first career PSM title at the age of 57.

And Force won his most recent Funny Car title in 2013 at the age of 64.

Force has already gone on record to say that he wants to become the first major pro champion to win a title at 70 years old – which would also become the 17th championship of his illustrious career as the winningest driver in all NHRA history.

He gets a chance toward doing just that when the 2019 NHRA season kicks off at Pomona, California, on Feb. 7-10.

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