Raikkonen seeking third win in Australia upon Ferrari return

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Kimi Raikkonen will be gunning for his third Australian Grand Prix victory live on NBCSN next Sunday, as he makes his second debut for Ferrari following five years away from Maranello.

The Finn joined Ferrari in 2007 and won on debut for the team at the Australian Grand Prix, and eventually clinched the world championship at the final round in Brazil. However, relations with the team soured in 2009, leading to Raikkonen’s departure and the arrival of Fernando Alonso to partner Felipe Massa.

Now, with Massa moving to Williams, Raikkonen has returned to the Scuderia on a two year deal. Having also won the race last year with Lotus, the Finn will be looking for his third win at Albert Park next weekend.

“I remember very well my first win with Ferrari,” he explained. “It couldn’t have been a better start to my seventh year in Formula 1, with a dominant win from pole.

“Winning always feels great for me. Nothing could be better. Last year, we also managed to win, which certainly surprised people because unlike 2007, at Lotus we weren’t favourites, so if I had to compare the two Australian wins, somehow, winning it last year for the second time felt even a little bit nicer after such a difficult pre-season testing period.”

Just like last year, though, Raikkonen is not the favorite to win the Australian Grand Prix as Mercedes and Williams have shown an impressive pace during testing. Nevertheless, the Finn believes that it is impossible to predict who will come away from Melbourne with the winner’s trophy.

“Making predictions has never been my habit and this year there is even more reason not to,” Raikkonen explained. “We are heading Down Under with brand new cars and I reckon it is wide open and anything can happen.

“In Maranello, we have worked hard and the F14 T seems to be a good car, but the track will tell who is quickest. When we start running to see where we are, we will at least have some data to give us a starting point.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN next weekend. For the complete schedule, click here.

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.