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F1 fans – and Darth Vader – raise a laugh on gray Friday in China

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Friday’s Formula 1 running ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai is unlikely to be remembered very fondly by any of the drivers, with their days reduced largely to sitting in the back of the garage.

Wet weather wasn’t the issue. Instead, the thick fog that hung over Shanghai meant the medical helicopter was unable to land at the local hospital, putting the sessions on hold.

It wasn’t the weekend F1 wanted in China. At a time when Liberty Media is looking for ways to improve the sport and increase its entertainment value, to have Friday’s running written off felt like a bit of an own goal.

And yet the passionate fans in China were able to offer some brilliant scenes as they refused to have their mood dampened by the drab weather.

Despite only hosting F1 since 2004, China is home to some of the sport’s most passionate fans, with even the engineers having fan clubs come out in support in Shanghai. Haas engineer Ayao Komatsu was given a cheer by a banner in the grandstands on Friday.

But naturally, it is the drivers who garner the most attention. Sebastian Vettel had a small group of fans out in force, although clearly one of them didn’t get the memo about who was ‘L’…

They got there in the end though.

Lewis Hamilton went the extra mile to go and speak with his fans, throwing a number of signed Mercedes caps into the crowd after being given the green light to cross the track during a session.

“I have an amazing following here, there are a lot of British flags out there. It’s a real shame they everyone drives out because it’s a long way from the city and people have traveled from all over to come out,” Hamilton said.

“Then the weather’s not great for us, but they sit there patiently waiting, do one lap in practice in P1 and then no laps in P2. I’m just grateful that the FIA opened up to let me go on the track, let me run across to get to the other side. You’re normally not allowed to do that.”

But the undoubted surprise of FP2 was the appearance of actual Darth Vader in the grandstands.

How do we know it’sĀ actual Darth Vader? He even got a tag on the FOM world feed as ‘Sith Lord’.

So for all of the woe about the lack of on-track action, F1 fans were able to come through with the goods once again on Friday in Shanghai, making FP2 one of the most entertaining sessions-that-wasn’t-a-session in recent memory.

That said, it’ll still go some way to topping the rain stoppage in qualifying for the USGP back in 2015…

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.