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Vettel not feeling pressure despite 15 races without win

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LE CASTELLET, France — Despite 15 Formula One races without a win, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel says he is not burdened by his lack of form heading into this weekend’s French Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver, whose last of four world titles came in 2013, already trails championship leader Lewis Hamilton by 62 points. He has not won since the Belgian GP last August, with a best of two second-place finishes after seven races so far this season. Hamilton has won five of them, including the last three.

“I’m not frustrated. Do I look frustrated?” Vettel said during an occasionally terse media session at Ferrari’s motorhome on Thursday. “It’s not like we had 15 races to win and we didn’t win, then I’d be frustrated.”

He added: “It’s not that we’ve dominated the last 15 races.”

That doesn’t say much for Ferrari’s form, or his own.

Since his last win, Vettel has looked increasingly vulnerable when under pressure from Hamilton – as was the case in the two previous seasons won by Hamilton.

At the Bahrain GP in late March, he span his car with Hamilton behind him about 20 laps from the end. Then, two weeks ago, Vettel looked on course to win the Canadian GP only to finish in second place after being given a five-second time penalty for an incident – again with some 20 laps to go.

With Hamilton pressuring behind him, Vettel went off into the grass coming into a turn and then swerved back onto the track, forcing Hamilton to brake suddenly to avoid a crash.

Vettel was furious at a decision he considered grossly unfair, and the German let his feelings be known by swapping the No. 1 and No. 2 signs in front of the cars parked on the post-race grid to signify he was the moral winner, if not the actual one.

“I still have the same view,” Vettel said Thursday. “Once I was told (about the penalty) I didn’t understand why, and when I was told why I still didn’t understand.”

On Friday, Vettel will learn the conclusions of a further review from the Montreal race-day stewards into the incident.

“We will see what happens,” Vettel said. “First of all it’s to open the case and have another look. We’ll bring some information that maybe the stewards didn’t have at the time.”

Even if Vettel were to get seven points extra for a win he thinks he should have had, it would make little impact on the considerable lead Hamilton has established in the F1 standings.

Hamilton is looking in strong form to win a sixth world title and leads Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by 29 points, having trailed him early in the campaign. Bottas has won the other two races, giving defending constructors champion Mercedes a stunning seven out of seven.

Vettel, who won his world titles consecutively with Red Bull during its dominant era from 2010-13, is 33 points behind Bottas in third place.

“The next races will be very important because once you reach race 10, which is almost halftime (in the season), then there’s only 10 or 11 races left,” Vettel said. “At some point we need to start turning things around.”

Vettel finished only fifth in last year’s French GP, with Hamilton winning it.

Still, Vettel is optimistic the layout of the 5.84-kilometer (3.62-mile) track with several straights will confirm Ferrari’s advantage over Mercedes in terms of straight-line speed. The Circuit Paul Ricard’s design, with its varied cornering speeds, also offers drivers several opportunities for overtaking.

“We are very competitive down the straights … Equally we have brought some updates (to the car),” Vettel said looking ahead to Friday’s two practice sessions. “Some things on the list we would like to tick. Tomorrow will be a very important day for us to see if we can get the car trimmed in the right direction.”

Hamilton was scheduled to address media at the Mercedes motorhome. But the team said he was excused duties because he was attending a memorial held on Thursday evening for fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, the iconic Chanel couturier who died in February. It was being held at the Grand Palais in Paris.

Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”