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F1: Vettel still prone to errors despite past F1 successes

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MONZA, Italy (AP) Even after winning four Formula 1 titles, Sebastian Vettel is still prone to worrying errors.

Vettel made some key mistakes last season, allowing rival Lewis Hamilton to win the title, and the Ferrari driver appears to be throwing away his chances this year, too.

Ferrari was quicker than Mercedes all weekend at the Italian Grand Prix, even achieving a front row lockout in qualifying. That set the stage for what should have been Ferrari’s first victory at its home track since 2010 and for Vettel to cut further into Hamilton’s overall lead after winning the previous race in Belgium.

However, an early misjudgment cost Vettel as he hit Hamilton’s Mercedes and briefly lost control, dropping back to 18th. Vettel eventually finished fourth but Hamilton won the race and extended his advantage to 30 points.

Last year, Hamilton publicly spoke about his rival’s apparent vulnerability under pressure as something he could exploit. That might work even better this season, with the intensity ramped up even further.

“The heat is there and it is unavoidable for all of us, for me and him,” Hamilton said. “It is very difficult for people watching who are not naturally in it to feel what we feel. The pressure is at its highest I can ever remember.

“That’s the pressure you put on yourself, because you want to succeed. That’s the pressure of all your desires and all your fears and also all the people who are depending on you, which is a lot of people.”

Vettel insisted he had not been at fault in the collision but Hamilton pointed out that he and Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen engaged in an identical exchange later in the race with both drivers exiting the chicane cleanly.

It was the latest in a series of mistakes by Vettel, who crashed under no pressure while leading the rain-soaked German GP in July and gifted victory and the championship lead to Hamilton.

Vettel and Hamilton are both chasing a fifth F1 title to move level with Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio and go two behind record-holder Michael Schumacher.

Ferrari has arguably had the better car this season but Hamilton and Mercedes still have the advantage in the drivers’ standings.

“The pressure is so high, all I can do is really focus on trying to deliver every single weekend, which obviously I’m trying to do,” Hamilton said. “I definitely feel I’m extracting everything and more out of the car, but these last races, considering we’ve definitely felt we’ve not had the upper hand, we have been one or two steps behind to then finish ahead by one step, that’s an incredibly proud feeling for everyone in the team.”

Vettel has not been helped by his Ferrari team making errors, too, despite the team’s new-found speed.

In Hungary, Ferrari botched the pit stops of Vettel and Raikkonen, while the decision not to invoke team orders in Monza was criticized as an “own-goal” by the Italian media.

Vettel was furious after Ferrari’s rotation policy in qualifying saw him miss out on pole position after completing his final lap in front of Raikkonen and giving his teammate a vital tow.

Vettel tried to pass Raikkonen right at the start in Sunday’s race but the move was fended off by the Finn.

In contrast, Valtteri Bottas sacrificed himself for the good of the Mercedes team again, waiting to come in for fresh tires so he could hold up Raikkonen and allow teammate Hamilton to close the gap after the British driver’s pit stop.

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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