Red Bull Formula One driver Vettel steers his car during the second practice session of the German F1 Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring racing circuit

Vettel pulls clear in final practice for German GP

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Sebastian Vettel has sent out a statement of intent to Mercedes ahead of qualifying today by finishing quickest in the final practice session at the Nurburgring.

The German driver, who has never won his home GP, finished a full six-tenths clear of compatriot Nico Rosberg in P2 whilst teammate Mark Webber completed the top three ahead of the Ferraris.

FP3 got underway as the Nurburgring bathed in bright sunshine following rather overcast conditions for the first two practice sessions on Friday. Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg were the first drivers out on track on medium tire, followed by Sergio Perez who laid down the first marker of 1:33.684. The Mexican driver was quickly beaten by his teammate, Jenson Button, who moved one second clear before the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton emerged onto the track. They moved over half a second clear of the rest of the field, once again underlining the impressive pace of the W04 car.

Red Bull were yet to respond though, biding their time before sending Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber out onto the track. They did not hang about, sending the timesheets purple as Vettel eased into 1st place with a lap of 1:31.294, followed by Webber – winner of this race in 2009 – who was just 0.004 seconds slower than his teammate on the medium tire. Ferrari looked to take advantage of an empty track during the middle of the session, but Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa could not apply too much pressure to the leaders, going 6th and 8th respectively. Valtteri Bottas told his engineer that the wind at turns one and two was making braking difficult whilst Maldanado had an off at turn seven, but he was able to continue. Any running for Williams was a great achievement following a fire in their garage this morning.

The final ten minutes saw the teams fit the soft tire to their cars in order to run a qualifying simulation. Ferrari were the first to strike as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa went 1st and 2nd respectively but Rosberg soon re-established Mercedes’ dominance to pull four-tenths clear. Hamilton cold only lap half a second slower than his teammate as Red Bull emerged for the final time in FP3 at the Nurburgring. Despite going quickest in sectors one and two, Webber could only managed P2 on his first attempt, a mere 0.018 seconds behind Rosberg before Vettel succeeded in overthrowing the Silver Arrow at the top of the leaderboads, producing a fine lap to go 0.676 seconds clear.

The battle for pole does appear to be between Red Bull and Mercedes, with the two teams dominating qualifying so far this season. It is hard to see that trend breaking this weekend, although the stage will be set for a great race on Sunday.

Wehrlein “feels ready” for job of replacing Rosberg, if he gets seat

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 20:  (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters) Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Mercedes GP poses for a portrait during day three of Formula One Winter Testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 21, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Pascal Wehrlein is the potential lynchpin in the race to replace Nico Rosberg, now fully underway after the shock news of the 2016 World Champion’s decision to retire has come down and now set in.

The Mercedes AMG Petronas reserve driver and Manor race driver from this season did a thoroughly good – if not outstanding – job in his first full season in Formula 1 and could well be the pick to replace Rosberg alongside Lewis Hamilton next season.

Wehrlein is confident in his ability and expressed his candidacy for the job while accepting rookie-of-the-year honors at last night’s Autosport Awards.

“One season in Formula 1 of course is not a lot, but I feel ready for the job,” Wehrlein said. “I feel confident enough.

“Now the decision is on the bosses. I guess Toto’s (Wolff) phone is overheating since Friday! I respect that process and that they want to go to the best option.”

Pushed a bit further, Wehrlein also offered a sneaky sense of humor in noting how much testing he’s already done on a modified chassis with Pirelli’s new-for-2017 tires.

“I’ve done the most days with 2017 tires. It’s very important to have that experience,” he laughed.

Wehrlein could well get the nod by way of his availability. However if Mercedes opts to buy out another tied-down driver’s contract, it could well end up that Wehrlein might be placed elsewhere on the grid.

Despite losing out on the Force India seat to fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon, Wehrlein’s stock has never been higher.

Ryan Norman confirmed for Andretti Indy Lights program

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As NBC Sports reported over the weekend, Ryan Norman has been confirmed as third driver for Andretti Autosport’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program in 2017.

Norman joins the previously announced Dalton Kellett (No. 28 K-LINE Insulators, USA Mazda) and Nico Jamin (No. 27 Synova Mazda). Norman, out of Cleveland, won this year’s Atlantic Championship and will drive the No. 48 Flip Side Mazda. He’s tested for the team this winter.

“I’m very excited to join Andretti Autosport for the 2017 Indy Lights Season,” said Norman. “With their great success in IndyCar and Indy Lights, it is the perfect environment for me to learn and grow as a driver. I want to thank Michael Andretti and the rest of the team for this wonderful opportunity and I hope to bring great results to the team this coming year.”

“We have been following Ryan’s achievements in Formula Atlantic and feel he will do equally well, if not better, in Indy Lights,” J-F Thormann, President of Andretti Autosport, added. “Ryan has tested for the team several times this offseason and has impressed us with how quickly he has adapted to the car. We are looking forward to seeing what the 2017 season has in store for us and are thrilled to have three of our four Indy Lights entries announced.”

As noted by Thormann above, the team has confirmed four Indy Lights entries for 2017. From what we’ve heard, the fourth driver could well be an intriguing young American.

Rainguard Water Sealers signs on as Texas IndyCar title sponsor

FORT WORTH, TX - AUGUST 27: Alexander Rossi driver of the #98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda leads Helio Castroneves driver of the #3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on August 27, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Cue the jokes about how Texas Motor Speedway’s new Verizon IndyCar Series race title sponsor, Rainguard Water Sealers, was a year late, as track drying delays from rain helped postpone this year’s race from June to August.

But the new title sponsor is on board for the next three years, through whatever weather exists at TMS. Which is a good thing, because it confirms both the race and the sponsor through 2019.

“We extremely pleased to have Texas Motor Speedway and ‘America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race’ serve as the initial sponsorship venture into motorsports and sports in general for Rainguard Water Sealers,” Eddie Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway president, said in a release. “We look forward to providing Rainguard with an exceptional first experience as an entitlement sponsor and help the company attain their goals through this sponsorship agreement.”

Firestone has been the race’s title sponsor of what is now the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 since 2010. Prior to that, Bombardier Learjet sponsored the race from 2005 to 2009, when Texas dropped from having two races on the annual IndyCar calendar down to one.

Rainguard was founded in 1969 as a manufacturer of architectural grade coatings used in the construction industry, and developed speciality sealer products starting in 2010.

French Grand Prix return made official for 2018

Ivan Capelli driver of the #16 Leyton House Racing Leyton House CG901 Judd celebrates his and the teams second place finish at the French Grand Prix on 8 July 1990 at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)
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After a decade off the Formula 1 calendar, the French Grand Prix has been formally confirmed to return in 2018. The race was confirmed at a press conference in France on Monday, after reports emerged late last week it was coming back.

The race, which was at Circuit de Nevers in Magny-Cours from the 1990s through to the most recent race there in 2008, will be held at Circuit Paul Ricard (Le Castellet) instead. Paul Ricard though was the site host for 14 races between 1971 and 1990.

Christian Estrosi, the president of the regional authority of Provence and the Cote d’Azur, announced the deal for the race which is likely to be held in late July. That time frame had featured the German Grand Prix along withe Hungarian Grand Prix.

“Losing the grand prix was a true scar for our country,” Estrosi said at the Automobile Club de France, via the ACO. “I can today make the firm and definitive announcement that the Grand Prix de France will return at the Paul Ricard circuit as soon as the 2018 summer.”

Estrosi paid tribute to the late driver Jules Bianchi, who died last year following a long battle to recover from major head injuries sustained at the Japanese GP in October 2014.

“I’m dedicating this big return to my friend Jules,” Estrosi said. “My thoughts are with his family.”

Jean Todt, the president of motorsports’ world governing body, said the return of the French GP is an “enormous satisfaction” for FIA.

The 2017 calendar was only just confirmed following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council last week, with a drop to 20 races following the German race’s departure.

With the French Grand Prix back on, that would kick the number of races back up to 21 for 2018 unless another shoe drops and another race falls back off the calendar instead. Provided Germany would come back in 2018 at Hockenheim, that could add another wrinkle to the 2018 calendar planning.

Associated Press contributed to this report