Vettel strikes back by finishing FP2 quickest

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Sebastian Vettel has answered Mercedes’ sensational pace in FP1 by finishing the second practice session quickest ahead of Nico Rosberg and Red Bull teammate Mark Webber.

The defending world champion posted a fastest time of 1:30.416 which saw him finish two-tenths clear of Rosberg and almost nine-tenths clear of Lewis Hamilton who could only finish P8 after topping FP1. Lotus and Ferrari were also showing signs of improvement, albeit off the pace set by the leading two teams.

FP2 began with a flurry of activity after most of the installation and setup work had been completed earlier this morning. Jules Bianchi returned for Marussia after Rodolfo Gonzalez ran for the team in FP1, but it was Max Chilton who was the first driver to set a time. His lap of 1:36.542 remained P1 for a matter of seconds as Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg both surpassed the Marussia. Esteban Gutierrez and Lewis Hamilton both had lock ups into the first corner, with the Sauber repeating this trick just a few minutes later and forcing Kimi Raikkonen to take evasive action. Hamilton moved up into P2 but Mark Webber’s appearance soon saw the one-time German GP winner hit the front followed by teammate Sebastian Vettel, who slotted into P3. As most of the teams decided to pit, Mercedes continued but could not find a way to beat Webber’s time whilst Fernando Alonso racked up the laps to make up for the lack of running this morning.

The second set of runs began with Max Chilton taking on the yellow-ringed soft tire, an example soon followed by the rest of the field. Nico Hulkenberg made another mistake similar to that of his teammate, suggesting that the C32 car could be uncompetitive this weekend, unlike Red Bull and Mercedes. Once again, they turned the timesheets purple with some blistering lap times as Webber enjoyed a 1.1 second advantage at one point. His potential replacement, Daniel Ricciardo, was also impressive, running as high as P2 before Vettel, Rosberg and Hamilton rallied. Ultimately, the two German drivers went quickest, with Vettel leading the field with half of the session to go.

Ferrari looked to bounce back from their disappointing Silverstone pace by impressing during the session, and both Alonso and Massa did show signs of improvement by running as high as P4 and P5, still six-tenths back from the frontrunners though. Also hitting back was Kimi Raikkonen, thought to be running with the ‘device’ that aids straight line speed, and the Finn rose to P4 only for teammate Romain Grosjean to directly displace him. As the heavy fuel runs began, Marussia confirmed that they had ended Jules Bianchi’s programme early due to an upset stomach.

As the drivers focused on putting in consistent lap times and managing their tires, Vettel was not threatened at the top of the timesheets, giving the baying crowd a home hero to cheer on in P1. With Rosberg P2, the chances of a German driver winning his home race for the first time since 2006 look increasingly great.

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.