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F1: Sebastian Vettel takes German GP pole; Hamilton struggles to 14th

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HOCKENHEIM, Germany (AP) — Sebastian Vettel secured pole position for the German Grand Prix on Saturday while Lewis Hamilton’s hopes took another blow.

Already trailing Vettel by eight points in the title race, Hamilton starts Sunday’s race from 14th place after a hydraulic failure.

A huge roar went up from German fans at the Hockenheimring as their local favorite – Vettel grew up near to the track – moved top of the leaderboard with seconds left in qualifying.

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas had only just beaten Vettel’s leading time, when Vettel produced a stunning lap to move back in front by about 0.2 seconds.

“To do it here, just minutes from where I was born and grew up, it means a lot,” Vettel said. “I’m confident for tomorrow.”

Vettel has only won the German GP once – five years ago when it was held at the Nuerburgring – but never at Hockeneim.

His 55th career pole position felt even sweeter.

“Today’s one of my best. I have a mixed relationship with this track. For some reason it has never come together,” Vettel said. “The car was really a pleasure to drive. Some days you can feel you have something in your hands. That’s the feeling I had.”

Ferrari’s good day was completed with Kimi Raikkonen third fastest, ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Earlier, German fans had cheered for a different reason when Hamilton’s Mercedes suddenly stalled on track in the first part of qualifying, known as Q1. It happened shortly after Hamilton had gone too wide into a turn, sliding off the track and then going over some rough grass and bumping over a kerb – momentarily airborne – as he came back onto the track.

The British driver desperately tried to push his car back to the pits so he could continue qualifying, but even with the help of track officials he realized it was a futile effort. Moments later, Hamilton was slumped over his car, head down for several moments.

“It was a shame to see him go out, and I mean it,” said Vettel, who is aiming for his fifth win this season and 52nd overall.

Hamilton is one win away from matching F1 great Michael Schumacher’s record of four German GP wins, but he will need an exceptional drive – and probably a little good fortune – to achieve that.

After a huge downpour drenched the track for final practice earlier Saturday, led by Monaco driver Charles Leclerc, the Hockenheimring dried out somewhat by the time qualifying started.

After veering off track, a worried Hamilton complained over his team radio that his gears would not change. Within moments, fans had the rare sight of a four-time F1 champion – who has just signed a whopping new two-year contract – pushing his own car.

After giving up, Hamilton ripped his driving gloves off in frustration as he walked away. He jumped onto the back of a scooter, taking him to the paddock area. With cameras fixed firmly on him, Hamilton walked slowly before standing completely still for several seconds, his helmet still on, seemingly unable to comprehend his misfortune.

It is the latest reliability issue to blight the once-dominant Mercedes team after Hamilton and Bottas were forced to retire from the Austrian GP three weeks ago.

There have also been communication errors and strategy mistakes.

Hamilton now faces another slog through the field after being bumped off the track by Raikkonen early into the British GP two weeks ago. In that race, he clawed back from last to finish second.

Although Hamilton is way down, he still needs to watch his back on Sunday.

Daniel Ricciardo, who has won two races for this season, starts from last place because of an engine penalty.

He incurred it because Red Bull made changes to the hybrid system, the energy store and the electronics unit for a combined total of 20 grid positions. Drivers can use two of each specific engine part during the season before penalties, but this is the third time he is using each individual element.

Hamilton and Ricciardo carving through the midfield, possibly dueling with each other, promises to be an exciting spectacle.

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.