Red Bull: Mercedes closest challengers once again

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For the third race in succession, Red Bull have identified Mercedes as being their closest rivals heading into this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

After Mercedes finished first and second in the first free practice session, the defending world champions hit back in FP2 with a one-two finish, but quickest-man Sebastian Vettel is still keen on finding an extra few tenths in order to pull clear of the Silver Arrows.

“It’s good to see we are up there today, but it’s not always so important,” Vettel said. “We need to step up our game for tomorrow, as Mercedes will be strong in qualifying.

“I think we can still improve. Looking after the tires will be important here, especially during the race. The car works fine at the moment, but we need to make sure we set it up the right way.”

Teammate Mark Webber was also wary of Lotus’ pace in Japan after the Enstone-based team finished second and third in last weekend’s Korean Grand Prix.

“On one lap, it looks pretty tight with the Mercedes and with the Lotus’,” Webber said. “We have to be very accurate and if you’re not, then you get penalised. We have to find performance tonight, it’s our job to make improvements each day and we have a job to do tonight to find some more tenths.”

Vettel is in a position to seal his fourth world title this weekend, but as well as winning the race his closest-rival Fernando Alonso must finish ninth or lower, meaning that the Indian Grand Prix at the end of the month is the more likely location for the German’s coronation.

IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama final practice report

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Will Power posted the fastest lap in the third practice session for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.953 mph.

Rookie Robert Wickens (122.552 mph) was second fast, foretelling a continuation of his incredible rookie season.

Scott Dixon (122.237), Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.231) and Alexander Rossi (122.106) rounded out the top five.

The practice was interrupted several times for incidents. 

Ed Jones spun off track in turn five after locking up his brakes with 30 minutes remaining in practice three. He was able to drive back to the pits under his own power.

With 20 minutes still on the clock, Jordan King took a trip into the fence after posting a fastest lap of 121.753 mph. He sustained substantial left side damage to his car and came back to the pits on the hook.

“I’m annoyed really,” King said afterward on the live stream at IndyCar.com. “I slightly locked the inside front, then just stayed off onto the grass and that was it. But I wasn’t really even pushing that hard.”

With two minutes remaining, Charlie Kimball lost power and pulled off the track, bringing an end to the practice session.

Dixon also had an off-road excursion.