Hamilton closes out Monaco GP practice on top

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Lewis Hamilton has finished fastest in the final practice session ahead of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix later today, which is live on NBCSN from 8am ET.

The British driver is chasing a fifth straight win this weekend, and his practice form suggests that he has every chance of doing exactly that after finishing ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Nico Rosberg on Saturday morning in Monaco.

The final practice session got underway under perfect blue skies, but Monaco’s serenity was broken when the 22 drivers headed out on track. Mercedes soon went about resuming normal service as Rosberg and Hamilton moved into the top two places.

Marcus Ericsson’s session took an early setback when he locked up at Sainte Devote and had to take to the run-off area. However, he was able to find reverse gear and get back onto the track. Rosberg and Hamilton continued to put in the laps and improve their times, with the German driver remaining one-tenth ahead after the prime tire runs. Hamilton had been working up a very quick lap, but a mistake at Tabac prompted him to return to the pits and request a setup change.

Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo continued to prove that Red Bull is slightly closer to Mercedes in Monaco, slotting into third and fourth place respectively ahead of Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen on the prime tire.

With 15 minutes to go, the first drivers pitted to switch to the option tire, and Ricciardo soon put it to good use by going quickest of all. In the other Red Bull, Vettel went into second place, some four-tenths down on his teammate as Hamilton headed back out again. However, Rosberg remained in the pits as the team fixed a problem on his car.

Hamilton used his first two laps to warm up his tires, but then duly went fastest of all with a lap that was just half-a-tenth quicker than Ricciardo’s benchmark. With five minutes remaining, Rosberg finally got out on track and started his final run, but traffic on his flying lap meant that he could only finish in third place, one-tenth of a second behind his teammate.

The pressure will now be on Mercedes in qualifying as Red Bull hints at a resurgence, but all of the signs suggest that Hamilton remains the driver to beat in Monaco.

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.”