Vettel fastest in final practice for Korean GP

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Sebastian Vettel has responded to the threat of Mercedes in practice for this weekend’s Korean Grand Prix by finishing the final practice session at the top of the timesheets.

The German driver posted a best time of 1:37.881 to finish just ahead of teammate Mark Webber and the Silver Arrows of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, with the quartet of drivers appearing to be the only ones with a realistic chance of winning the race this weekend.

During the fuelled runs on the medium compound tire, Red Bull were once again dominant as Webber led from Vettel ahead of the final runs on the softer rubber. Eventually though, the three-time world champion managed to create a 0.137 second gap that makes him an early favorite for qualifying later today.

Having topped FP1 and FP2, Lewis Hamilton will undoubtedly be disappointed to have fallen so far back from Vettel, although the British driver did suffer from traffic on more than one occasion during the ninety minute session. Ultimately, Mercedes could not match Red Bull’s pace in the final sector, handing the defending champions the advantage.

Ferrari and Lotus once again scrapped for the positions following Mercedes and Red Bull, with Fernando Alonso putting in an impressive time on the prime tire ahead of the qualifying simulation runs. Once again, the Spaniard will be keen on planning ahead for the race on Sunday with pole position appearing to be well out of reach.

Having shared the spoils during practice so far this weekend, it is difficult to see whether the advantage lies with Red Bull or Mercedes. However, with Webber set to drop ten places on the grid, the German marque could benefit from having two drivers with which to combat Vettel at the head of the field.

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.