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Vettel adamant Mercedes still favorite for F1 titles in 2017

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Sebastian Vettel is confident that Mercedes remains the favorite for both Formula 1 championships in 2017 despite leading Ferrari to victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Mercedes entered 2017 looking to claim a fourth-straight set of titles, having won over 50 races in the last three years as part of its domination of the V6 hybrid era.

Ferrari enjoyed a strong pre-season and delivered on its winter pace by beating Mercedes in Australia, with Vettel jumping Lewis Hamilton through the pit stops en route to his 43rd F1 win.

Vettel arrives in China expected to challenge for victory once again, but urged caution amid talk of Ferrari competing for its first world title since 2008 by stressing that Mercedes remained the favorite.

“Well I think Mercedes has to be still the favourite. Obviously we had a very strong first race, but I think at least the way we look at it inside the team, we really go race by race,” Vettel said.

“We know we have a good package, which puts us in a strong place, but there’s lots of things we need to do to keep up with them and keep the position that we are in now to fight for good races.”

Vettel’s victory in Australia was both his and Ferrari’s first in 18 months following a winless 2016 campaign, and although the four-time world champion stressed that last season was not as bad as critics have suggested, he admitted it was key to end the drought last month.

“Well it wasn’t that bad last year. It was not the best year we had, but still I think we had a decent amount of podiums,” Vettel said.

“We had races where things were not going our way, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Maybe my memory is wrong, but I remember it better than what people make out of it now.

“For sure it wasn’t the season that we wanted to have, so after one race, it’s easy to say that this year is better than last year, but it’s only one race. It’s the start of the season.

“But for sure, a lot of things have changed since last year, the team has evolved. I think we generally are in a much better position. People are more comfortable throughout the whole team.

“I think the work that is going in is a lot more targeted and overall I think we’re more confident with the way we work now. Hopefully we can keep up that trend to show that on the track.”

The Chinese Grand Prix is live across NBCSN and the NBC Sports app this weekend.

Hamilton tops second Abu Dhabi F1 practice with new track record

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Lewis Hamilton swept to the top of the timesheets in second Formula 1 practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday evening, beating Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel by one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton trailed Vettel through the daytime-run opening practice session, but managed to strike back by recording a new track record at the Yas Marina Circuit for Mercedes.

Hamilton recorded a fastest lap time of 1:37.877 to finish one-tenth of a second clear of Vettel at the checkered flag, appearing to have an edge across a single lap on the ultra-soft tire.

Red Bull threw its hat into the ring as a possible rival for pole through Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session third-fastest, three-tenths of a second back from Hamilton at the head of the field.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP2 in fourth place in the sister Ferrari, finishing within half a second of Hamilton, and managed to edge out fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was a further two-tenths back in P5.

Max Verstappen failed to get in a quick flying lap during FP2, ending the session one second down in P6 for Red Bull.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon’s tight intra-team fight at Force India continued through FP2 as the pair were separated by just 0.01 seconds, taking seventh and eighth respectively to finish as the leading midfield drivers.

Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 for Renault and McLaren, with Felipe Massa following in 11th for Williams on his final Friday appearance in F1.

Massa was fortunate to avoid an accident with Ricciardo during the final 15 minutes of the session after a mix up at the hairpin when the Brazilian tried to get a wider line for the back straight.

Running in Abu Dhabi continues with final practice at Yas Marina on Saturday morning from 5am ET on the NBC Sports app, followed by qualifying at 8am ET on NBCSN.