Vettel from Alonso in final practice for Italian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has picked up where he left off in Italy by finishing quickest in the final practice session ahead of qualifying later today at Monza.

The German driver posted a best time of 1:24.360 to finish almost three-tenths ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and teammate Mark Webber, both of whom could not ably challenge the defending world champion on Saturday morning.

Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde were the first drivers to post times in FP3, giving Caterham a brief period at the top of the timesheets before Sergio Perez and Jean-Eric Vergne both put in impressive laps to lead early on. All of the drivers opted to take on the hard tire in order to estimate their pace for Q1 and the race tomorrow, with this session traditionally seeing the softer compound used in the final few minutes of FP3. Following on from yesterday, Sebastian Vettel continued to lay down a searing pace, moving five-tenths clear of the field early on before his teammate, Mark Webber, halved the deficit to move into P2.

The only driver that really appeared capable of challenging Vettel on the harder compound was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. The team, celebrating their home race this weekend, elected to send Alonso around the circuit with Felipe Massa just ahead, giving the Spanish driver the advantage of his slipstream, reducing drag. Although this strategy has been criticized in the past, Alonso proved that it was working by moving up into second place, albeit four-tenths down on Vettel out in front. His best chance to topple the German driver was hampered by yellow flags, forcing him to slow down after Paul di Resta went off at Parabolica. The Force India made heavy contact with the wall, ending his session with around half an hour remaining. Nico Rosberg was similarly unfortunate, completing just five laps in the sixty-minute session.

With just under ten minutes remaining, the drivers all fitted a set of the medium tires in order to put in a low fuel qualifying simulation run. Daniel Ricciardo was the first to post a competitive time on the option compound, going third-fastest behind compatriot Mark Webber before Alonso bumped him down to P4. Vettel resumed normal service, going quickest by two-tenths from Alonso whilst Jenson Button continued his good form to move well inside the top ten. Lewis Hamilton – pursuing a fifth consecutive pole position – failed to bother the front-runners with his first time on the medium tire, going eighth. He did however improve with his second flying lap like much of the field, moving up to P4 ahead of Perez and Ricciardo.

When the checkered flag fell, it was Vettel who once again finished clear at the top of the timesheets, making himself favorite to score his first pole position since Canada later today.

How Hamilton, Mercedes can clinch F1 titles at the United States GP

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Sunday’s United States Grand Prix could go down as a memorable race in Formula 1 history as both Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes bid to clinch their fourth world championships (live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET).

Hamilton gave his chances of wrapping up the drivers’ title and re-claiming the crown he lost to Nico Rosberg in 2016 a world of good by charging to pole position on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas.

However, with chief rival Sebastian Vettel starting second for Ferrari and a 16-point swing required, it seems likely that the title race could continue to next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.

Nevertheless, here are the permutations for Lewis Hamilton to win his fourth F1 world title on Sunday in Austin, Texas.

  • If Lewis Hamilton wins the race (25 points) and Sebastian Vettel finishes sixth or lower (maximum eight points), he is world champion.
  • If Hamilton finishes second (18 points), Sebastian Vettel finishes ninth or lower (maximum two points), and Valtteri Bottas does not win the race, he is world champion.

While Hamilton’s coronation seems likely to be postponed until the next race in Mexico, Mercedes looks nailed-on to wrap up its fourth consecutive constructors’ championship in Sunday’s USGP.

The German marque currently leads Ferrari by 145 points in the teams’ standings, and requires a lead of 129 after the race to clinch the crown.

As a result, a double top-four finish from Hamilton and Bottas would be enough for Mercedes to wrap up the title, regardless of how Ferrari fares.

The success would see Mercedes become just the fourth team in F1 history take four straight constructors’ titles, following Red Bull (2010 to 2013), Ferrari (1999 to 2004) and McLaren (1988 to 1991).

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2pm ET on Sunday.