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F1: Sebastian Vettel incurs costly penalty during Friday’s U.S. Grand Prix practice

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Lewis Hamilton got a gift from F1 officials when Sebastian Vettel was penalized three places on the starting grid for Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix for not slowing down enough for a red flag during Friday’s morning practice at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Vettel insists he abided by the rules.

“I think I slowed down,” the Ferrari driver said. “I had a good look around at what was going on. The rules are clear so we know.

“They [the stewards] were very specific, saying I took 27.7 seconds to slow down. I saw the red flag, I slowed down, I had a look around where the car was potentially stuck in the wall or if there was one around Turn 9 or 10.

“Then I slowed down significantly to comply with the rules. … They found it too long. I think it was straightforward.

“On top of it there might have been an issue with the timing, the system. I don’t know. … I think it’s wrong.”

Vettel also said he was worried that “if there is a car right behind you, it might run into you. But it is more important you don’t get a penalty.”

Hamilton recorded the fastest lap in the morning session in his Mercedes. Vettel, meanwhile, is essentially in a win-or-else situation if he hopes to prevent Hamilton from clinching the 2018 F1 championship.

Being penalized makes Vettel’s chances all the more difficult. Short of winning Sunday, the only other way Vettel can keep Hamilton from winning his fifth F1 crown is if he finishes within seven points of Hamilton.

Hamilton currently leads Vettel by 67 points. If Hamilton doesn’t clinch the title this weekend, it’ll be on to Mexico City next weekend for another chance at sealing the championship deal.

Hamilton’s previous championships have come in three of the last four seasons (2014, 2015 and 2017), as well as his first in 2008.

Friday’s second practice was washed out, for all intents and purposes. Hamilton logged just eight minutes and couldn’t go faster than he did in the soggy conditions earlier in the morning, while Vettel managed just 12 minutes on-track in the second session.

Saturday’s forecast calls for more rain, but Sunday’s race day outlook calls for dry conditions.

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Three in position to capture World Rally Championship title at Rally Australia

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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Defending champion Sebastien Ogier goes into this weekend’s Rally Australia with a chance to clinch his sixth World Rally Championship in a row. Thierry Neuville, a runner-up four times but never a champion, hopes to change the world order.

Neuville led the series for much of the season but Ogier’s win in Britain and a second place in Spain has given the Frenchman 204 points, three ahead of Neuville, heading into the final rally of the championship.

“We are not the best friends but we are rivals and respect each other for our performances,” Neuville said Wednesday. “I’ve been second many times in the championship now, we are so close to the main goal.”

“If we need to take more risks because we need to pass Sebastien we’re going to try,” the Belgian driver added, “we’ll take the maximum risks.”

Ogier says the feeling is mutual when it comes to his main rival.

“We are different, definitely, but most important we’re in a great fight together and respect each other for that,” Ogier said. “It’s about trying to beat each other and do it with respect.”

Ott Tanak of Estonia sits 23 points behind and with 30 points for a win in Australia, and other results going his way, he could also capture the world title.

Ogier will be hoping for some Friday morning rain to settle the dust and gravel before he sets off first on what will be more than 300 kilometers (180 miles) of timed racing through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast, about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports