Lewis Hamilton beats Sebastian Vettel to F1 title again

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
1 Comment

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.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Jim Vertuno at https://twitter.com/jimvertuno

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
Getty Images
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”