IndyCar: Power on top in Houston first practice

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The old sparring partners, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, were 1-2 in first practice for the  Verizon IndyCar Series Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Race 1 (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Power set down a best time of 1:00.4427 late in the first 45-minute practice session, in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to lead the time sheets at the 1.6-mile M.D Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park.

Pagenaud, back in the orange Oculus-backed No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda after running the white Lucas Oil colors last race at Texas, was second at 1:00.6956.

“The bump in Turn 1 has been smoothened, so it’s definitely a better standard for us,” Pagenaud told IndyCar Radio at the end of the session. “It’s a lot of fun to drive… you have to be very committed in the braking zones. It’s actually very enjoyable so far.”

Sebastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato, and Tony Kanaan completed the top five. Each of the top nine runners got into the 1:00 bracket; the top 16 were within 0.9972 of a second down to Carlos Munoz.

This first practice had one brief red flag interruption as part of the sealant surface in-between Turns 9 and 10 at the 20-minute mark, but this was repaired and the session resumed.  There were a few incidents, including a spin by rookie Mikhail Aleshin at Turn 4, but nothing major or that forced damage.

Second practice occurs from 2 to 2:45 local time, with a 10-minute standing start practice to follow.

Here’s your first practice times.

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F1 2017 driver review: Max Verstappen

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Max Verstappen

Team: Red Bull Racing
Car No.: 33
Races: 20
Wins: 2
Podiums (excluding wins): 2
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 168
Laps Led: 133
Championship Position: 6th

Max Verstappen rise as a once-in-a-generation talent continued through the 2017 Formula 1 season, even if reliability issues meant we were made to wait for his best form to arrive.

Verstappen stole the show in a wet-dry Chinese Grand Prix by charging from 16th to seventh in the opening lap before ultimately finishing third for Red Bull, yet he would not grace the podium again until the Malaysian Grand Prix at the start of October.

A combination of power unit problems and on-track clashes saw Verstappen retire from seven of the 12 races in the intermittent period, with incidents in Spain and Austria being avoidable.

Perhaps most embarrassing of all was his stoppage due to a power unit failure in front of a grandstand swathed in orange at the Belgian Grand Prix, a race tens of thousands of Dutch fans had attended to cheer Verstappen on.

But when Verstappen got things right, it was – as he frequently quoted – simply, simply lovely. There was plenty left in the tank, as proven by his sheer domination of the races in Malaysia and Mexico as he took the second and third wins of his career.

Perhaps even more impressive was Verstappen’s victory over Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the qualifying head-to-head battle this year, an area the Australian has traditionally been strong in. Verstappen outqualifed his teammate 13-7 – it wasn’t even close…

All in all, Verstappen once again proved that on his day, he is one of the finest talents to grace F1 in recent years. With the right car underneath him next year, a title fight is certainly possible and will be the target – but there is always room for improvement.

And that is the scary part: Verstappen is only going to get better and better.

Season High: Dominating in Malaysia after an early pass on Lewis Hamilton.

Season Low: Crashing out on Lap 1 in Austria.