F1: Hamilton pushing toward 5th F1 title after imperious drive

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SINGAPORE (AP) Lewis Hamilton sounds unsure of just one thing: whether Ferrari can bounce back after he dealt another crushing blow to Sebastian Vettel’s title hopes.

Hamilton was imperious at the Singapore Grand Prix, securing one of the best pole positions of his Formula 1 career with an astonishing drive in qualifying on Saturday and then controlling Sunday’s race perfectly.

It all went so smoothly for Mercedes as Hamilton moved 40 points ahead of Vettel with six races left in the season. But for Ferrari, it was yet another weekend on the back foot.

“We’re not over-confident, we’re diligent. We just want to keep hammering as hard as we can,” Hamilton after Sunday’s win, still sounding elated long after his victory. “If (Ferrari) have got an answer to that, we don’t mind that, we like that battle. If they don’t, we also don’t mind that.”

These are big “Ifs” for a Ferrari team lurching into crisis after a strong start – as Vettel won the first two races and four of the first 10. They were neck and neck heading into the summer, but Hamilton has won four of the past five races despite acknowledging his car is not as quick.

“Ultimately, I think we’re over-delivering,” Hamilton said. “We’ve out-performed a car that’s often slightly better – out-performed them as a team.”

As a driver, too, Hamilton has the edge on Vettel – particularly in terms of composure under pressure.

Both are four-time F1 champions and vying for a fifth win to move level with Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio and within two titles of F1 great Michael Schumacher’s record. But Vettel, who crashed in the rain while leading the German GP in July – where victory would have given him the championship lead – makes mistakes Hamilton simply does not.

During the Singapore GP, Vettel hit a wall during Friday practice and lost valuable track preparation time for qualifying.

It triggered a set of baffling events and poor decisions unbefitting of such a proud team.

His team botched qualifying when a poor strategy call put Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen on the wrong tires. Ferrari compounded that by bringing Vettel in too early for a tire change during Sunday’s race, hoping to gain advantage by pre-empting Hamilton’s anticipated move. Instead, Vettel lost one place in the race and ended up third, wasting points he cannot afford to lose.

Ferrari’s mistakes this season have started to pile up, while Mercedes is making the right calls and Hamilton is making the most of it.

Hamilton said Vettel’s crash in practice was not Mercedes “lucking in,” but more about the differing approaches of the rival teams.

“I take pride in not putting myself in those positions,” Hamilton said. “The team’s relying on me as his team’s relying on him.

“There’s a lot of pressure on us as drivers, it’s only small percentages and (when) you get wrong it has bigger ramifications.”

While Vettel was again publicly critical of his team following qualifying and the race, Hamilton has faith in Mercedes – to such an extent that he’s now spending far longer in team debriefs than he ever used to.

When he arrived Sunday night to give his final comments to the media, it was nearing 1 a.m. local time. Yet Hamilton was buoyant and seemed galvanized by his intensive leadership role with his engineers.

“I encourage them to ask me questions, and they did. More than ever, the communication has been an addition,” Hamilton said. “We’re going from strength to strength in terms of our understanding of the car.”

It is quite some turnaround from 2016, when Hamilton – who was at odds with Nico Rosberg and lost the drivers’ title to his teammate- was unhappy at certain decisions.

Now all the pressure is in the Ferrari garage.

With six races left, starting in Russia in two weeks’ time, Vettel has to find his best form and hope Hamilton slips up.

Given Hamilton’s focus, the way he is talking, and his uncanny ability to stay fresh for the races, that seems very unlikely.

If anything, Hamilton could well beat Vettel by more than the 46-point margin he did last year.

“I’ve got a few days off, probably doing yoga and training hard Tuesday onwards,” Hamilton said. “The focus has to remain the same, if not more.”

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”