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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.

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?