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Sainz focused on 2017 duties at Toro Rosso, not ’18 seat rumors

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Carlos Sainz Jr. says he is not thinking about a possible move away from Toro Rosso for 2018, instead preferring to focus on his current duties with the team in Formula 1 this year.

Sainz has impressed during his two years in F1 so far with Toro Rosso, giving the highly-rated Max Verstappen a run for his money while they were teammates in 2015 and the early part of 2016.

The Spaniard’s performances have led to speculation that he could be due to move away from Red Bull’s B-team in F1, and was even linked with the vacant Mercedes seat following Nico Rosberg retirement last December.

Sainz admitted that he was looking at 2018 last winter, but is now fully focused on his commitments at Toro Rosso ahead of the new F1 season.

“It is something that I thought about last November, and I did an analysis and pictured it,” Sainz told the official F1 website when asked about his future.

“But once the season gets started the only thing that helps you be in a good position at the end of 2017 is to push like hell!

“You are only as good as your last race and nobody will remember what you’ve done in 2016. When a contract arrives at the end of 2017 it is not thanks to my 2016 performance.”

Sainz’s future opportunities under Red Bull’s F1 umbrella seem somewhat limited given senior team drivers Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are both locked in to long-term contracts, suggesting his next step in F1 may lay outside of his current parent team.

For now though, Sainz isn’t thinking about what he would do if the call from a big name rival came.

“This is a combination of decisions between Red Bull and myself, and a combination of interests,” Sainz said.

“I still don’t think about it! I swear I haven’t thought about the end of the 2017 season. This season is so important, but is would be so stupid for me to think about the end even before it has started, or how I would approach Red Bull, if Ferrari arrives, or Renault arrives, or Mercedes.

“Because it is not going to happen unless I deliver this season.”

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.