Vettel edges out Alonso in dry second practice

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Sebastian Vettel has put his miserable result in FP1 behind him to finish with the quickest time in the second free practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix.

The defending world champion looked strong in the dry conditions, finishing 0.017 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in second, and Mark Webber also impressed to come third for Red Bull, also within one-tenth of Vettel’s time.

Many drivers went out early in order to make up for the time lost in FP1 due to rain, and it was obvious from the outset that Red Bull and Ferrari would be vying for top spot. Lewis Hamilton did lead briefly, but a slight spin proved that he was pushing too hard, and he could only finish sixth in the end. Force India suffered worse fortune, with Paul di Resta having a tire failure which forced him to pull over at pit exit.

Lotus had a mixed practice as Kimi Raikkonen ran well to finish fourth, but Romain Grosjean could only come home in P18, ahead both Caterham and Marussia drivers, with that battle appearing to be evenly-matched heading into qualifying tomorrow. Felipe Massa backed up his P2 in FP1 with a fifth-placed finish, with Nico Rosberg ending up behind his teammate in P7. Scuderia Toro Rosso appear to have made the biggest gains during the break, with Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo coming P9 and P11 respectively; a result which the team will be very pleased with.

Less pleased with their development will be McLaren and Williams, both of whom required a big step forward for the Spanish Grand Prix. Jenson Button finished down in P12 with his teammate one place further back, whilst Valtteri Bottas outperformed Pastor Maldonado once again in the Williams, with the Finn finishing in 14th whilst last year’s race winner Maldonado could only finish 16th.

Practice suggests that Red Bull and Ferrari are once again the teams to beat, with Lotus and Mercedes chasing closely. The small difference between Vettel, Alonso and Webber suggests that these could be the three drivers battling for the win this weekend, all having previously won at the Circuit de Catalunya. It all points towards a thrilling qualifying and race.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”