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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.”

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.