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Hamilton pledges no repeat of Rosberg F1 feud with Bottas

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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) — Given how dominant the two Mercedes cars have been in Formula One this season, it seems the only thing that could stop the Silver Arrows at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix might be another outbreak of infighting.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton have swept the top two spots at the first four races of the year, and Mercedes has also won the Spanish GP in all but one of the last five seasons. The only time it didn’t happen during that span was in 2016, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on the opening lap on the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit – one of several incidents during a season-long feud between the two.

Bottas now looks like the only real threat to Hamilton winning a sixth F1 title, as he leads his British teammate by one point after the two earned two wins each so far. Hamilton, though, said the two are determined to avoid another flare-up of in-house rivalry and have agreed to not put the team at risk.

“There are things that happen in the background that you won’t know and I don’t really feel this is the place to talk about it,” Hamilton said Thursday at the Mercedes motorhome. “But what is really important is that we have pulled together as a team. We’ve discussed it and hopefully rectified it. … As for what happened before (with Rosberg), an individual just continued to go down that route. But that is not we have here. We have a great energy with the team, the respect is there. We have an agreed rule set so that we do finish the race one two.”

Even so, Hamilton said if Bottas wanted to overtake him, he would have to earn it.

“Yes. It is going to be close and tight, and there is always tension when you want to beat someone else,” Hamilton said. “We will not be touching, that’s for sure. But in terms of giving up positions, that will not happen again.”

And at age 34, Hamilton said his maturity is also helping create more harmony within the team.

“Naturally it is three years later so I have grown a lot since then,” Hamilton said. “I am a lot stronger person standalone outside the car, as well as inside the car. I am much better at knowing how to manage personal relationships, and understanding how to work with people. I think I am a much better team player than I have ever been in my career.”

Hamilton won here in 2014 and the past two years, while Rosberg took it in 2015. Ferrari may have to break that streak, though, if it wants to get involved in the title race. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is already 35 points behind in the standings but is hoping a new engine could help close the gap.

The Ferraris were the fastest cars at preseason testing on this same track in the winter, only to see Mercedes jump ahead once the real racing began.

“I know we are behind, but at this point of the year it doesn’t matter by how much. It’s quite straight forward: we need to start scoring more points,” Vettel said. “The latter we start doing that the worse it looks.”

NHRA: Funny Car driver J.R. Todd looks to snap slump, make history at U.S. Nationals

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In addition to being the most gratifying achievement of his NHRA drag racing career, winning the 2018 NHRA Funny Car championship was also the hardest thing J.R. Todd has ever done.

That is, until he tried to defend the title in 2019 – which has now become the hardest thing Todd has done behind the wheel.

After winning a career-best six wins en route to his title last season, Todd has had a rough campaign in the first 17 races of the current season, having earned just one win (Las Vegas) and two runner-up finishes.

In addition, he’s failed to make it out of the first round six times, and was stopped in the quarter-finals eight other times.

And as he prepares for next week’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis – the biggest race of the season – the 37-year-old Todd is mired in a difficult slump. Since losing to Ron Capps in the final round at Richmond, Todd has dropped from second to eighth in the Funny Car standings, unable to get past the second round of the nine subsequent events.

That’s why Todd is hoping for a major turnaround at the U.S. Nationals, the final qualifying race for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

J.R. Todd (Photo: NHRA).

A massive 416 points (the equivalent of more than three wins points-wise) out of first place, Todd needs to start a big comeback if he hopes to do well in the playoffs, and the U.S. Nationals is the perfect place for him to do so. Todd comes into this year’s race having won the last two Funny Car crowns at Indy in 2017 and 2018.

If he can make it three in a row, Todd will make NHRA history. To date, only two drivers – Top Fuel greats “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Tony Schumacher – have won three in a row at Indianapolis. But no Funny Car driver has ever done so, not John Force, Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme or anyone else.

“That’s some pretty elite company right there with Big Daddy and Tony Schumacher,” Todd told NBC Sports. “Really you try not to think about things like that and just focus on the mission at hand – and that’s to win the race.

“When you do that, then you can enjoy all the accolades that come with it. I have the two trophies that I can look at every day – and it’s an awesome reminder of what we’ve done. It was a dream of mine as a kid to go there and race in the U.S. Nationals as a professional someday and to have won it is still kind of a surreal feeling.”

Todd, who lives in nearby Lawrenceburg, Indiana, wants to be the first Funny Car driver to pull off that achievement — and at his home track, to boot.

“It’s the biggest race of the year and the one that everyone wants to win,” Todd said. “To go back there and win there three years in a row would be pretty special.

“For me, it’s the race I grew up going to as a kid. I have a lot of family and friends that go there. I live five minutes from the track, so it means everything to me.”

In a sense, his situation this season is kind of deja vu for Todd. Last season, he won two races earlier in the season (Las Vegas and Houston), then went into a slump much like the one he’s currently in.

But starting with last September’s win at Indianapolis, Todd went on to win four of the final seven races of the season — including three in the playoffs — to motor on to the championship.

What makes Todd’s success at Indy all the more unique is that while he’s a long-time drag racer, he only switched to Funny Car prior to the 2017 season. That means in just two seasons, the former Top Fuel pilot has not only twice won the sport’s biggest race, but also the championship.

The team Todd races for, Kalitta Motorsports, has a history of starting to hit its stride just before the playoffs begin in Funny Car. From 2014 through 2018, the organization has won 13 Funny Car races beginning with the second-to-last regular season race at Brainerd, Minnesota through the six playoff races. That’s 13 of 40 races, roughly 33% of the races that NHRA has won.

In addition to Todd’s two U.S. Nationals wins, Team Kalitta also won the Funny Car event in 2014 with now-retired driver Alexis DeJoria.

I knew coming over to drive the DHL Toyota Camry that we would have some good opportunities to win races,” Todd said. “For whatever reason, it seems like we pick up a lot of momentum at that time of year. We’re hoping we can keep that trend going this year.”

In a sense, the U.S. Nationals – the 18th and final regular season race of the overall 24-race NHRA schedule – are to the NHRA what the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR or the Indianapolis 500 is to IndyCar.

“It sets the tone for the next six races,” Todd said of the playoffs. “The U.S. Nationals are a marathon. It’s the one race where everyone brings out their best stuff because it’s so important.  So much of that preparation then carries over into the Countdown.

“If you ask drivers that haven’t won Indy before, I think they’d trade pretty much any win for that one.”

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