F1 Ferrari struggles Monza
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Ferrari’s F1 struggles unlikely to end with home race Sunday at Monza

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Last year, long removed from the recent struggles of his F1 team, as Charles Leclerc was cheered by thousands of passionate Ferrari fans at Monza after he ended the team’s nine-year wait for victory at its home circuit.

Fast forward 12 months and things will be very different at Formula One’s Italian Grand Prix and not just because of the lack of fans because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Ferrari’s mediocre year is getting worse with each race. Leclerc finished 14th at last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, just behind teammate Sebastian Vettel. Both were more than a minute behind race winner and championship leader Lewis Hamilton.

“No miracles expected this weekend but hopefully we can be a bit better than we were at Spa,” Leclerc said at a news conference Thursday.

Vettel is a four-time champion but has not even finished in the top five this season – and has been 10th or lower in four races.

“I’m not going to lie it’s not going to be an easy weekend for us,” Vettel said. “I think it’s very difficult to expect a big change from last weekend. Having said that though, last weekend we were a little bit worse off than normal so I hope we can be back to normal.

“But we also know that these type of tracks do hurt us by nature so we will see. We’re here to fight and we’re here to fight for the tifosi (fans) as well and we are doing the utmost we can.”

Team principal Mattia Binotto seems at a loss on how to turn things around at the once-dominant Ferrari and said recently that it could take years before it is back in a winning cycle.

Vettel will not be there for that as he is leaving at the end of the season, but Leclerc is under contract until the end of 2024.

The promising 22-year-old was asked whether he had the patience to wait for Ferrari’s return to the top.

“On the one hand I don’t really have the choice,” he said with a small laugh. “But yeah surely it will take some patience and I’m ready to wait but its also my job to try and make this process as short as possible and for us to come back where we deserve to be.

“It’s not going to be easy, it will take time but I’m ready for this.”

Leclerc and Vettel are both more than 100 points behind Hamilton in the standings after the British driver cruised to his fifth win in seven races on his inevitable march towards equaling Michael Schumacher’s record title haul.

Hamilton and his all-conquering Mercedes machine are in a class of one this season, and his emphatic victory at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit marked the 89th of his career, taking him to within two of Schumacher’s victory record. He is on course to win a sixth championship title in seven years, and seventh overall.

Hamilton is now 47 points clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and 50 ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Verstappen managed to beat the Mercedes duo at last month’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone but admits his chances of doing the same at Monza are slim.

“It isn’t normally our best track with all the long straights but last year in practice we were quite competitive in practice before taking a penalty so let’s hope that it is going to be the same again this year,” he said. “Spa was my sixth podium in a row so hopefully we can keep this streak going and soon fight for first instead of second and third but that might not be the case here. Of course we keep pushing and we don’t give up but we have to be realistic that Mercedes are still the favorites.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.