Vettel quickest in final practice for Belgian GP

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Sebastian Vettel continued his good practice form at the Belgian Grand Prix by finishing fastest in the final session ahead of qualifying later today at Spa-Francorchamps.

The German driver finished ahead of Fernando Alonso and teammate Mark Webber at the top of the timesheets, laying down an impressive pace that suggests Mercedes’ comments about the pace of the Red Bull are entirely correct.

With clouds hanging over the circuit, rain appeared to be on the horizon. However, the session began in dry conditions with Valtteri Bottas setting the first benchmark time of 1:49.806 for Williams ahead of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez for McLaren. Kimi Raikkonen soon displaced his compatriot at the top of the timesheets whilst Felipe Massa and Paul di Resta both had near-misses with the wall at turn nine, and Lewis Hamilton sent his Mercedes into a spin at the Bus Stop chicane.

Jean-Eric Vergne sent out a reminder of his ability by moving into P1 on fresh tires at the half-way stage of the session, with Toro Rosso continuing their good form from Friday’s practice sessions. The front runners soon switched to fuel simulation runs, but Sebastian Vettel moved up into P2 as he looked to find the optimum pace of the Red Bull on the hard tire before the track fell silent as the teams prepared for one final qualifying simulation at the end of the session.

Adrian Sutil was the first driver to emerge on the medium tire, going fastest with his first flying lap despite a lock-up at La Source. The Force India was quickly beaten by both Ferrari drivers and Nico Rosberg, and Esteban Gutierrez gave Sauber something to shout about by going third-fastest with five minutes remaining. 2010 pole-sitter Mark Webber was late to emerge, but he immediately moved up into second place, and his example was duly followed by Vettel who displaced Alonso by one-tenth of a second.

The result suggests that Red Bull are once again set to be leading the race for pole position later today with Ferrari in close company. Interesting, Mercedes, who have claimed the last three pole positions, seemed to struggle in the low temperatures. However, as Hamilton proved in Hungary, the practice results are far from conclusive.

Qualifying begins at 8am ET live on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”