Sauber sets dubious record in Austria, longest it’s started a season without points

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Long considered one of Formula One’s leading privateer operations, the 2014 season for Sauber has been nothing short of a disaster thus far.

Its failure to score points at the Austrian Grand Prix Sunday etched the 2014 campaign in the record books for all the wrong reasons: it marks the longest stretch of races to start a season the team has had without scoring a single World Championship point. This is for a team that started in 1993, and managed to score points in its first ever Grand Prix.

Austria was the eighth round of the season. The longest it had taken Sauber to score points in the past was the seventh round of the 2010 season, when Kamui Kobayashi broke through for a 10th-place finish in the Turkish Grand Prix. That year saw the team barely back on the grid as Sauber regained control of the team from BMW, which had pulled out at the end of 2009.

On Sunday, Esteban Gutierrez’s first Austrian Grand Prix ended with him last car running in 19th, following a pit stop error where his right rear wheel was left unattached. That earned him a 10-spot grid penalty for the next round at Silverstone.

A less eventful race saw Adrian Sutil in 13th, but still shy of the points.

This is perhaps small consolation, but Sauber’s also been known for massive second-half turnarounds. Nico Hulkenberg had only two points-scoring finishes in the opening seven Grands Prix of 2013, but from Round 8 at Silverstone through to the final round at Brazil, Hulkenberg scored in eight of the last 12 races.

The team can only hope for something close to an encore this time around.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.