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Lewis Hamilton beats Sebastian Vettel to F1 title again

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel hugged in a gesture of mutual respect between two drivers with nine Formula One championships between them.

Then Hamilton talked about winning the 2018 season title, his place in history and the tough fight with Vettel to earn a fifth career championship that tied him with Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio for second-most in F1 history.

“This is a precious moment for me,” Hamilton said after securing the title Sunday at the Mexican Grand Prix.

Vettel cradled his head in his hands and wiped his brow, bracing for hard questions about how a title chase he once led had once again slipped away. The defeat may have been expected, but it was still painful.

“It’s a horrible moment,” said Vettel, a four-time champion who has finished second two years in a row and three times in his career.

“You put in a lot of work … you hang in there as long as you can. I’ve had three times now in my life that sort of disappointment,” Vettel said

Hamilton came into the race with a lead so big that Vettel had to win and Hamilton had to finish lower than seventh just to push the championship to the next race in Brazil.

Vettel made a fight of it, finishing second to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Hamilton finished fourth, sparking a championship celebration in the high altitude of Mexico City for the second consecutive year.

The 2018 season has been defined by the battle between Hamilton and Vettel and their Mercedes and Ferrari teams.

In a year Hamilton admits he often hasn’t had the strongest car, he ranks his fifth career championship among his best and hardest. Their teams are still battling for the constructor’s championship.

“We have not had the fastest car in the majority of races, but we won races,” Hamilton said. “I’ve had some of the best races of my career.”

Vettel stormed into 2018 by winning in Australia and Bahrain to put the pressure on Hamilton, who didn’t win until the fourth race. Vettel’s season came undone with a series of driver and team mistakes. None was bigger than Vettel crashing out of the lead in a rainy German Grand Prix to let Hamilton win.

That Ferrari calamity started a streak of six wins in seven races for Hamilton, who hit his usual second-half stride. Vettel hasn’t won since the Belgian Grand Prix in August.

“I can’t be too hard on myself what I did in Germany. It was the most costly one, but it’s part of racing,” Vettel said. “We just didn’t have the pace to keep up with Mercedes for a couple of races.”

But a Ferrari resurgence of late only worsens the frustration of a championship lost.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen won the U.S. Grand Prix. Vettel might have won if not for a three-spot starting grid penalty for driving too fast under a red flag in practice.

And Mercedes has seemed to slip back the last two weeks. Hamilton was third in Texas and struggled with his car all weekend in Mexico City. A strong start Sunday was followed by a clunky race just to ensure a fourth for the championship.

After the finish, Vettel got out of his car and approached Hamilton to congratulate him.

“He drove superb all year. He was the better one of us two,” Vettel said. “Five (championships) is something incredible. I asked him to keep pushing for next year. I need him to be at his best to fight him again.”

Ferrari hasn’t won the driver’s championship since 2007. Vettel won all his championships with Red Bull from 2010-2013. He signed with Ferrari in 2015 with the goal of bringing the championship back to F1’s most famous team.

Hamilton gave a nod of respect to his title fight with Vettel.

“He fought so hard this year,” Hamilton said. “The pressure that he would be under … that’s a lot to ride on one’s shoulders.”

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”