Vettel leads Webber as Red Bull dominates FP2

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Sebastian Vettel has returned to the top of the timesheets in Austin after he and teammate Mark Webber forged a Red Bull one-two during the second free practice session for the United States Grand Prix on Friday.

The German driver was pushed by his teammate for the fastest time, but the team appears to be in a class of its own in Austin as Vettel chases an unprecedented eighth consecutive win in a single season.

FP2 began without any problems unlike the session earlier today, and the entire field came out early in order to make up for the time lost this morning due to fog and a problem with the medical helicopter. Lotus set the early pace as Romain Grosjean and stand-in Heikki Kovalainen moved up to P1 and P2, but Sebastian Vettel soon resumed normal service after finishing down in eighteenth place this morning to go fastest by seven-tenths of a second. Mark Webber soon reduced the gap and moved up into second place ahead of the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, suggesting that the pecking order had not changed a great deal since Abu Dhabi.

With the first runs taking place on the hard tire, the drivers soon switched to the medium compound to gauge their one lap pace for qualifying. Nico Rosberg was the first driver to overhaul Vettel at the top, only for Webber to go faster still ahead of Vettel’s second run. The four-time world champion quickly re-established his dominance though to go fastest once again. Heikki Kovalainen was also impressive, going fifth-fastest, almost two-tenths ahead of Grosjean in the sister Lotus. Esteban Gutierrez continued his good form from FP1 to lie sixth-fastest in front of a large contingency of Mexican fans, whilst Sergio Perez finished down in thirteenth place.

The pecking order did not change for the final half an hour of the session as the teams began to focus on their long runs. However, Max Chilton’s session came to a premature end after spinning out at the final corner, bringing out the yellow flags and forcing a tractor to come and lift away his Marussia. Nico Hulkenberg complained over the radio that the marshals were taking too long to recover the car, but with only a couple of minutes remaining, very running time was lost.

At the front though, Red Bull continued to dominate proceedings with both Vettel and Webber putting in strong displays. With the United States Grand Prix being the only race on the current calendar that Red Bull has not won, the team will be pushing to finish the season in style by righting that wrong this weekend.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”