Vettel quickest in opening practice for Indian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has started the Indian Grand Prix weekend as he means to go on by finishing fastest during the first free practice session on Friday as the German driver looks to secure his fourth world title at Buddh International Circuit this weekend.

Vettel posted a fastest time of 1:26.683 to finish just under two-tenths of a second ahead of Mark Webber, who is looking to de-throne his Red Bull teammate this weekend and put to an end his dominant run of form at the circuit. Given his pace during the first practice session, the Australian driver certainly looks well-placed to challenge Vettel, who only needs a top five finish to secure the title on Sunday.

Mercedes appear to have returned to form in India judging by the times in FP1 as Nico Rosberg finished an excellent third with Lewis Hamilton not toofar back in fifth place. Romain Grosjean continued his good showings of late, splitting the Silver Arrows in fourth place.

One team looking particularly resurgent on Friday morning was McLaren. Following a difficult season, the team will be keen on sustaining the pace to finish sixth and seventh across the course of the weekend, with Jenson Button finishing three-tenths up on teammate Sergio Perez. They led Felipe Massa in eighth and in-form Nico Hulkenberg in ninth place, whilst Williams’ Valtteri Bottas completed the top ten.

For Vettel’s closest (albeit rather distant) challengers in the drivers’ championship, it was a difficult session. Fernando Alonso’s car was put up on its stands with twenty minutes to go due to a gearbox failure, meaning that he could only finish P11, whilst Kimi Raikkonen languished down in a disappointing seventeenth place.

Although the times posted in free practice are rarely representative of the results across the course of the rest of the weekend, Vettel and Red Bull will be pleased to have kicked off their title-winning weekend in the best possible fashion.

Hartley to make F1 debut from back of grid after penalty

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Brendon Hartley’s hopes of a points finish on his Formula 1 debut took a hit on Friday after the FIA confirmed the Toro Rosso driver will start the United States Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty.

Porsche factory driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso as a surprise replacement for Pierre Gasly in Austin, with the Frenchman tied up with Super Formula duties at Suzuka this weekend.

Hartley took to the track in an official grand prix session for the first time on Friday in Austin, marking his first run-out in an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 20120.

However, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his pre-race report that changes had been made to the power unit on Hartley’s Toro Rosso car since the last race in Japan, triggering a grid penalty.

Toro Rosso elected to take a new internal combustion engine, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics on Hartley’s Renault power unit, totaling a 25-place grid drop that will be applied after qualifying. Confirmation of the penalty is set to follow later today.

The penalty comes as a setback for Hartley, but was necessary as Toro Rosso found itself short on engine elements to get to the end of the season.

Hartley is not the only driver to have a penalty confirmed, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne also taking new engine elements, also confirmed in Bauer’s report.

A new ICE, turbocharger and MGU-H for Hulkenberg will see him drop 20 places on the grid, while an eighth ICE of the year for Vandoorne will trigger a five-place drop.