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.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.