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Red flag delays scupper China FP1 running, Verstappen quickest for Red Bull

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Max Verstappen led Red Bull to the top of the timesheets in opening Formula 1 practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, squeezing a lap in as the majority of the session was red flagged due to poor weather conditions.

FP1 started with rain falling and was suspended after just four minutes when race control reported that the medical helicopter was unable to land at the local airport due to the poor visibility and weather conditions.

A 30-minute delay followed as conditions improved marginally, with the session eventually returning to green and allowing drivers to get out on the intermediate tire.

Verstappen managed to put in a lap of 1:50.491 for Red Bull, finishing 1.5 seconds faster than the rest of the field, but running was soon scrapped once again when Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg spun off at Turn 2. With his car beached, Hulkenberg had to walk back to the pits, with the marshals left to recover the R.S.17.

Minutes later, the session was red flagged once again, with race control declaring that the local airport had been closed entirely due to the poor weather conditions.

The final 25 minutes of the session ticked by without any track activity, with the checkered flag eventually emerging to bring an end to a largely fruitless practice for the F1 field.

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.