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Engine issue leaves Verstappen at the back, praying for rain in China

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Max Verstappen was left frustrated after a shock exit in the first stage of Formula 1 qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix due to an engine issue that left him down on power.

Verstappen was a surprise drop-out in Q1 as he finished a lowly 19th, having endured a difficult session that was made shorter when he was called to the weighbridge early on.

A power issue soon arose on his Renault engine, forcing the Red Bull driver to pit before heading back out and trying to resolve the issue by changing engine modes regularly on his flying laps.

Despite his best efforts, Verstappen failed to make it through, qualifying 19th overall and matching the slow-going McLaren’s for straight-line speed due to the engine issue.

“There was something misfiring in the engine which meant we were down on power, I tried to do a lap that could at least get me through to Q2 but the issue just wouldn’t let me,” Verstappen explained.

“The guys will investigate this evening and I’m confident they can resolve it for the race. It is of course very unfortunate but these things happen and we need to move on.”

Rain is forecast for Sunday’s race in China, with Verstappen welcoming a wet race as he bids to charge back up the field.

“A bit of rain tomorrow will definitely help us but I think even in the wet it will be tough to challenge Ferrari and Mercedes,” Verstappen said.

“We need to concentrate on what we have and do the best we can. I will go home tonight, get some good rest and sleep, then come to the track ready to attack on what will hopefully be a wet track.

“If it is dry tomorrow you lose too much time starting from where I am on the grid. We will see, some good overtakes and exciting racing is what I’m hoping for.”

One positive for Verstappen is that he will rise two places on the grid to 17th after Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer were both hit with grid penalties, causing them to fall to the last row.

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Sunday.

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.