Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel rejects fears of gremlins in Japanese GP

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Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel has played down Ferrari’s reliability issues before this week’s crunch Japanese Grand Prix, insisting it was no time for panic.

The four-time world champion was bullish Thursday despite slipping 34 points behind Mercedes title rival Lewis Hamilton after finishing fourth from stone last in Malaysia last weekend.

Vettel’s hopes of catching Hamilton were boosted by the news his Ferrari will not need a new gearbox following a post-race shunt with Lance Stroll’s Williams, meaning the German is set to avoid a five-place grid penalty.

But gremlins that plagued the team’s weekend in Malaysia prompted a tetchy response from Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne, who admitted he was “angry” at the lack of reliability shown by the cars.

“We had a problem in Malaysia, stopping myself and Kimi,” said Vettel, whose Finnish team mate Raikkonen was wheeled away from his front-row grid slot with engine failure.

“It’s normal that you try to understand things. Knowing what’s going on internally, there’s no panic or any big plans as a reaction. Maybe it’s more a coincidence between the events.”

He added: “Our situation is clear: we are taking it race by race but our goal is to win every one. We can’t be happy unless we perform to our limit.”

Vettel is due a little good fortune after crashing from pole in Singapore three weeks ago.

“Obviously the last few races weren’t great hits for us,” said the former Red Bull driver.

“But sticking your head in the sand is no alternative either. I believe we have a strong car and there are plenty of races left.

“I think we have a good understanding but it’s only been a couple of days,” he added. “I’m pretty convinced we shouldn’t have any issues here.”

Vettel also refused to throw in the towel, despite a significant gap between him and Hamilton with just five races left this season.

“We are behind so it depends on what Mercedes is doing,” he said.

“I think it’s pretty clear we need to do our best. We are behind on points if we look at the championship, so we need to score much more than them.”

Red Bull, meanwhile, have begun to flex their muscles with Max Verstappen capping his 20th birthday weekend by posting his second Formula One victory in Malaysia with Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo taking third.

“How we achieve it doesn’t matter, as long as we achieve it,” said a defiant Vettel, who has won four races this year to Hamilton’s seven.

“We have the package,” he added. “Now we just have to bring it to the track.”

Provided by AFP Sport

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Lewis Hamilton aiming to drive it like Stephen Curry and other talking points ahead of the Japenese GP

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Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton is looking to hit back from his defeat in Malaysia at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, scene of a bizarre ‘Snapchat’ row that overshadowed last year’s race.

Britain’s triple world champion was forced to play second fiddle to Max Verstappen in Sepang on Sunday after securing his ninth pole of the season and 70th of his career.

The 32-year-old stretched his world championship lead over Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel to 34 points with five races left.

Ahead of the race in Suzuka, AFP Sport takes a closer look at the major talking points.

Hamilton aiming to drive it like Curry

Lewis Hamilton limbered up for Suzuka by joining NBA superstar Stephen Curry for a spot of golf in China.

Britain’s world championship leader will hope some of the Golden State sharp-shooter’s magic rubs off on him after Curry donned Hamilton’s yellow helmet to take a tee shot.

Looking like a member of electronic music duo Daft Punk, Curry fluffed his drive before removing the lid to whack one down the middle of the fairway — with a power and precision Hamilton will want to emulate in Japan.

Guess who this is…?

A post shared by Lewis Hamilton (@lewishamilton) on

The kids are not alright at Ferrari

Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne blamed a “young team” for the reliability issues that plagued them at last week’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

After Sebastian Vettel had to start last because of engine trouble, Kimi Raikkonen failed to take up his second place on the grid after suffering similar gremlins.

Employing some serious manager-speak, Marchionne promised Ferrari would be “making some organisational changes” after insisting both red cars could have won in Malaysia.

Red Bull putting the fizz into F1

Whether it be Max Verstappen’s seat-of-the-pants style of driving or Daniel Ricciardo’s eye-watering “Shoey” celebration, Red Bull are without doubt Formula One’s coolest team.

Dutch flier Verstappen’s second career win in Malaysia fired a warning to Mercedes and Ferrari, while Ricciardo also finished on the podium.

The only downside of continued success for the F1 hipsters is that more poor souls will be forced to drink champagne from the Australian’s sweaty boot.

Radio Alonso: the art of diplomacy

Fernando Alonso’s frustrations at McLaren have sparked more than the occasional tantrum from the Spaniard over the team radio.

One of Alonso’s more memorable meltdowns came in Japan two years ago when the former world champion barked: “GP2 engine, GP2 engine, very embarrassing!”

Engine suppliers Honda were far from amused and it remains to be seen if Alonso will show more charity this weekend after McLaren recently ended their ill-fated partnership.

Point to prove for spluttering Honda

And speaking of Honda, how they would love to go out with a bang with McLaren at their home track — albeit it figuratively, rather than literally.

Honda are set to supply Toro Rosso next year, which may fill the Red Bull-owned team with a sense of foreboding.

But a strong showing at Suzuka would sweep away much of the gloom and doom that has followed the Japanese manufacturer around again this season.

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Is Verstappen the new Vettel and other talking points from the Malaysian GP

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Max Verstappen.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen won the final edition of the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton finished second to extend his championship lead over Sebastian Vettel to 34 points.

Verstappen, 20, starting from second after Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari failed to make the grid, overtook pole-sitter Hamilton on lap four before clinching the second victory of his career and first this season.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was third ahead of Vettel, who weaved through the field to finish fourth after starting from the back of the grid following engine problems.

The results mean Hamilton enjoys a big championship lead over Vettel with five races left in the season, starting next week in Japan.

Here, we take a look at five talking points from Sepang.

Alonso feuds with ‘idiot’ Magnussen

A furious Fernando Alonso labelled Kevin Magnussen “an idiot” and claimed the rest of the drivers agreed with him after they clashed on lap 33.

Alonso shouted on team radio “Hulkenberg was right”, a reference to the Renault driver calling the Dane “an arsehole” after Magnussen forced him off the track at the Hungarian Grand Prix in July. Magnussen told the German to “suck my balls” in response.

After the race Alonso wasn’t finished. “For his driving, we more or less agree with the other drivers, it’s 19 to one,” he told reporters.

Sick Perez sixth in ‘hardest race’

Sergio Perez was struck down with a sickness bug in Malaysia but somehow managed the almost superhuman effort of finishing sixth for Force India at the most physically demanding grand prix on the calendar.

Perez felt so bad he thought might have to miss the race and thanked doctors for getting him through despite the heat and humidity.

“It was probably the hardest race of my career,” he said.

Despondent Bottas to ‘look in the mirror’

While Lewis Hamilton was extending his championship lead at Sepang, teammate Valtteri Bottas admitted he was searching for answers after finishing in fifth behind Vettel who has started from stone last.

“Being honest, it may be the most difficult time of my career so far, in terms of how it feels every time I go in the car,” said Bottas.

“If I keep doing races like this for long, that is not going to be a good thing for anyone. Like I said many, many question marks. I need to have a good look in the mirror again.”

Is super cool Max the new Seb?

Red Bull chief Christian Horner hailed victorious Max Verstappen and compared him to four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

The result ended a tough run for Verstappen, without a podium since China in April.

“Max is a very different character to Sebastian but what you see in standout drivers, you see similarities,” Horner said.

“Where Sebastian was very strong under big pressure moments, Max has that ability too. He was so cool today leading the grand prix. He was the coolest guy out there.”

An ill wind surprises Palmer

Jolyon Palmer’s blamed a gust of wind in Malaysia for wrecking his chance of a top-10 finish for the second successive race.

The British driver who is being replaced by Carlos Sainz at Renault next season was 12th and closing on Hulkenberg before he went off and allowed Alonso to pass him.

“We saw there was a big tailwind, which is affecting you in the tow, and you’re in the gust. I turned in pretty much the same as the other laps and suddenly I had no rear. Then just one lap, it was very different to the other laps, it really caught me by surprise.”

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