Vettel resumes normal service to finish FP2 quickest

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Sebastian Vettel has returned to the top of the timesheets in the second free practice session for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, posting a fastest time of 1:41.335 to finish just over one-tenth of a second ahead of teammate Mark Webber.

FP2 got off to a far busier start than the first session had as a number of drivers immediately went out on track, with Kimi Raikkonen being the first to post a time of 1:44.360. This remained the benchmark until Jenson Button went fastest in all three sectors to move up to P1 with teammate Sergio Perez in third place. However, the Mexican driver soon rose to top spot ahead of his McLaren stablemate, whilst Sebastian Vettel’s first effort was only good enough for fourth place as he wrestled with the car through the final sector.

Just as they had in FP1, many drivers struggled to find grip and went off as a result with Esteban Gutierrez experiencing a huge lock-up at turn eight. However, Vettel had finally found some pace and went fastest with the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg Lewis Hamilton a close second and third with fifteen minutes gone, but Webber soon out-did them all to move up to P1.

Kimi Raikkonen became the first driver of the weekend to fit a set of the quicker soft tires, and he immediately went over one second quicker than Webber to go fastest as the rest of the field pitted and duly followed suit with their tire choice. Nico Hulkenberg put in a good lap to move up into second place before being displaced by Hamilton, who was just over one-tenth shy of Raikkonen’s time at first before eventually going fastest. However, Webber proved that he was quick on the soft tires as well as the hards to re-claim top spot whilst Vettel late to make his move. The German driver eventually came out and went 0.056 seconds quicker than his teammate with his first lap time, making it a Red Bull one-two at the top of the timesheets.

Jenson Button’s poor luck from India failed to improve as he suffered from a puncture on his rear-right tire, forcing him to crawl back to the pits. Fellow Brit Max Chilton was also struggling, spinning his Marussia at turn two whilst fastest man in FP1, Romain Grosjean, complained of “something wrong” after locking up and missing the chicane. It was eventually diagnosed by the team as a brake disc failure, but he did manage to get back out for the final fifteen minutes of practice.

For the second half of the session, the teams turned their attention to long runs on their tires in preparation for the race on Sunday, meaning that Vettel’s time did not come under threat. The German driver will be keen on continuing this good form in qualifying tomorrow and the race on Sunday as the newly-crowned four-time world champion goes in search of a seventh successive victory.

Red Bull rising into the form expected when the season began

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Young “Mad Max” Verstappen had plenty to be angry about for the first half of the Formula One season. After his breakout season in 2016, this year had been little more than a rash of retirements, crashes and clashes with other drivers.

But a late burst over the last two races delivered his second career victory and a second-place. Those results have Red Bull rising and looking more like the fast and muscular team it was expected to be.

Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo now look primed to keep pushing for the front over the final four races of 2017, starting this week at the U.S. Grand Prix. Do that and the prospects for a 2018 title fight grow brighter.

“We’re definitely going the way we need to be going,” Ricciardo said. “If we start on the front foot, I genuinely believe we can fight for the title if we start closer. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Verstappen’s win in Malaysia demonstrated a perfect marriage of the young Dutchman’s driving skill and his improving car when he beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with a head-to-head pass early. He was on the podium again a week later in Japan. The champagne spray at both races was a tasty but dry reminder that Red Bull wanted – and expected – so much more this season.

While Ricciardo has been a workhorse with nine podiums and one victory, Verstappen’s season was crippled by reliability issues with his car or crashes.

“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results,” team principal Christian Horner said this week. “Credit to him that at such a young age he hasn’t let frustration boil over … when it comes right for him, it’s going to come right in a big way. And that’s exactly what happened in Malaysia. He drove a great race there, with no issues.”

Some of the “issues” created internal tension.

The first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix was a disaster for Red Bull. Verstappen tried to overtake Ricciardo and hit him, knocking Ricciardo out of the race while Verstappen finished fifth. Ricciardo lashed out at Verstappen as “immature” and criticized the “amateur” maneuver.

Verstappen said he can’t think about what happened early in the season.

“That frustration I put behind me,” Verstappen said. “It happened. You can’t change it anymore. You’re just happy that it’s going well again and we had some good results.”

Ricciardo has carried Red Bull to the podium time and again but his broad smile hasn’t beamed from the top spot since Azerbaijan in June. Despite his run of strong finishes, he’s stuck at fourth in the driver’s standings and needs a boost to overtake Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for third.

The Circuit of the Americas has been good for both Red Bull drivers in the past. Ricciardo finished third here in 2014 and 2016. Verstappen had an attention-getting drive in 2015 when he finished fourth in his Toro Rosso after sloshing his way through the field on a wet track.

Verstappen had a wild race in 2016 when he challenged for the lead early, came in for a pit stop when the crew wasn’t ready and yelled to his garage: “I’m not here to finish fourth!” He didn’t finish at all when his car was knocked out with a gearbox problem on lap 32.

Verstappen was 17 when he joined the F1 grid as the youngest driver in series history and he still jokes about his age. Austin is known for its live music and nightlife, but he’s limited as to how much he can party away from the track.

“I’m only 20. I can’t drink,” Verstappen said. “If I’m on the podium (Sunday) I won’t care.”