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Hamilton says Mercedes will have earned F1 title despite Ferrari mistakes

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Lewis Hamilton said Thursday that another Formula One championship would be one earned by him and Mercedes – not one thrown away by Ferrari.

Sebastian Vettel won the first two races of 2018 to set up what promised to be a dramatic chase for a fifth career championship between him and Hamilton. Now Hamilton’s dominant second half of the season, helped by a rash of mistakes by Vettel and Ferrari, has the Mercedes driver set to win the crown even if he finishes as low as seventh Sunday.

“I see a lot of people write a lot of stories saying things have been `handed’ to Mercedes this season,” Hamilton said. “That naturally takes away from the job the team and I have done.”

Vettel has taken criticism over Ferrari’s season of miscues. That includes last week at the U.S. Grand Prix, won by his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen while Vettel missed the podium.

Vettel said the driver with the most points at the end of the season deservedly wins the title. Saying another driver lost it wouldn’t be fair, he said.

“For the words to come from a four-time world champion, that’s positive to hear,” Hamilton said in advance of this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix. “He’s been a great competitor this year. It’s been so hot for both of us. I look forward to many more years of us racing together right at the top.”

Ferrari’s blunders certainly made Hamilton’s season easier. There have been crashes, pit stop and tire mistakes, and practice penalties that cost Ferrari wins and race position.

Vettel’s last victory came in Belgium six races ago and he’s missed the podium three times in the last five. The U.S. Grand Prix included Vettel’s three-spot starting grid penalty and an early-lap bump with Red Bull’s Daniel Riccardo that caused him to spin.

Vettel had the car for the podium in Texas, maybe even the win, but he didn’t have the patience.

Other drivers on the grid were reluctant to criticize Vettel’s season, but noted the German might have driven too hard out of desperation..

“I think Sebastian is a fantastic driver. It’s very hard to judge the performance of someone when you’re not on the team and you don’t know exactly what is going on,” said Force India’s Sergio Perez. “Obviously we have seen some mistakes. Probably at the end he was just desperate, trying to achieve what was probably not possible, but he’s a four-time world champion.”

Raikkonen, who has only three races left with Ferrari before he switches to Sauber in 2019, tread lightly.

“Sometimes it happens and he pushes and he pushes and he pushes and sometimes he gets it wrong and unfortunately it happened to him a few times,” Raikkonen said. “I think we’ve all gone through it. It’s part of the game.”

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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.

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