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F1: Vettel under pressure to start closing gap on Hamilton

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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — Sebastian Vettel needs to quickly start closing the gap on Lewis Hamilton or he risks watching the Formula One title slip out of his grasp once again.

Vettel lost his way after the summer break last year, winning only one of nine races compared to five by Hamilton.

As the second half of the season resumes at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, the situation is urgent. He already trails Hamilton by 24 points.

“We went into that break with the best feeling as a team,” Hamilton said Thursday. “We know the areas we need to improve on … There’s more juice to come.”

Vettel led Hamilton by 14 points at the same stage last year and still lost the title by 46.

Hamilton acknowledges his position of strength has boosted him after Vettel seemed in the ascendancy earlier in the season.

“When you do have a little bit of a buffer, subconsciously for sure there must be some positive effect,” Hamilton said. “But I still have exactly the same approach as the previous races, which naturally means extension (of the lead). I don’t want that pendulum to go back the other way. So how do I stop that? That’s the question.”

Both drivers are chasing a fifth F1 title – to move level with Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio – but it’s Vettel who has more questions to answer.

Hamilton took the momentum from Vettel last month by winning back-to-back races heading into the summer break, aided by a glaring error from Vettel when he crashed out of the rain-soaked German GP while leading by a comfortable margin of 10 seconds.

Vettel then made errors in qualifying at the Hungarian GP – once again in the rain – effectively gifting Hamilton a win from pole when Mercedes was struggling with a slower car.

“He can only tell you if he feels the pressure,” Hamilton said. “The pressure on me is as great as it can be, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I welcome it.”

While Hamilton rarely loses his composure, Vettel remains prone to lapses in concentration and makes unusually sloppy errors for a four-time F1 champion.

The German GP at Hockenheim last month and the 2017 Singapore GP – where he crashed from pole position when poised to regain the championship lead – are the most striking examples. In the space of three races last year, Vettel dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

The German driver must find a way to avoid another slump. He will have no excuses if he doesn’t with Ferrari’s car arguably quicker than Mercedes.

This weekend’s Belgian GP at the Spa circuit – which at 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) is the longest in F1 – could offer Vettel a way back in.

“They seemed to have a step in power and this is a power circuit,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know how we will fare with them power-wise.”

Hamilton recharged his batteries during the summer break by travelling extensively and turning his phone off, he said – he’s usually very active on social media.

“I left the phone in my hotel, in the safe, didn’t charge it every day and went through several days without it,” Hamilton said. “It was one of the best things.”

Dean Wilson out for rest of Supercross season

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“Such a massive gut punch on Saturday,” Dean Wilson wrote on Instagram on Tuesday. “Just as I was gaining good momentum riding well, feeling good and chasing my first win things turned in the blink of an eye.”

With that post, Wilson announced that he will be out for the remainder of the Supercross season, which includes races at East Rutherford, N.J. and Las Vegas, Nev. An MRI earlier in the week revealed a shoulder injury. He also sustained damage to his kidney in a Lap 8 accident while he was running in the top 10.

Wilson’s injuries will not require surgery.

Wilson’s season began with a lot of promise. Earning the holeshot in the season-opening race at Anaheim, Wilson led for a time before narrowly missing the podium in fourth.

Two weeks later, Wilson finished fifth overall in the Triple Crown event of Anaheim II. Those are his only top-fives of the season.

“The tough part of this is I have been trying so hard this year to be back where I need to be trying to get a job for next year,” Wilson continued.

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Such a massive gut punch on Saturday. Just as I was gaining good momentum riding well, feeling good and chasing my first win things turned in the blink of an eye. Started off Denver topping free practice then went on to qualify P1 in qualifier 1. Qualifier 2 didn’t get the cleanest laps but ended with a 4th. On to the main event I was running around 7th on lap 7 moving forward and as I came around for the rhythm section I tripled in and something freak happened causing the bike to nose dive after I tripled in and pile driving me into the ground. The tough part of this is I have been trying so hard this year to be back where I need to be trying to get a job for next year. It’s tough just hoping to have a ride each year. 2nd part is people saying “wilson’s hurt again, big surprise there” when it was something that wasn’t my fault. It’s a tough pill To swallow.. I injured my shoulder and got a contusion on my kidneys. Got MRI and good news is I dodged a bullet on my shoulder and I am just going to give it a few weeks of rest and therapy and see where we are at. Huge disappointment to end my SX season like this. Thanks to my whole team for everything and everybody checking in on me. I really appreciate it. I will be back.

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Next Race: East Rutherford April. 27, on NBCSN and on NBC Sports Gold

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