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Vettel tops final Russian GP practice after tight Ferrari, Mercedes battle

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Sebastian Vettel closed out Formula 1 practice for the Russian Grand Prix at the top of the timesheets following a tight battle between Ferrari and Mercedes on Saturday at the Sochi Autodrom.

Vettel headed up a one-two finish for Ferrari on Friday in Russia, suggesting the Italian marque had the march on the rival Mercedes team heading into the remainder of the weekend.

Mercedes was able to put up a more stringent challenge through FP3 as both teams experimented with their tire strategies, finding that the ultra-soft tires were at their best on the second hot lap.

Vettel eventually worked the fastest time down to 1:34.001 – the best-ever lap at the Sochi Autodrom – to finish three-tenths of a second clear at the top of the standings, heading up a one-two finish for Ferrari ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

Valtteri Bottas led Mercedes’ charge in third place, 0.363 seconds off Vettel’s benchmark, while teammate Lewis Hamilton struggled to keep his rear tires alive, leaving him fourth-quick and over half a second back.

Red Bull had a difficult session as Max Verstappen finished over 1.4 seconds off Vettel’s time in fifth place. There was worse news for Daniel Ricciardo, who suffered a stoppage late in the session after losing power on his car. Although Ricciardo was able to get the car back going, he could only finish eighth.

Felipe Massa led Williams’ charge once again in sixth place ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, while Carlos Sainz Jr. and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10 behind Ricciardo.

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Hamilton hails ‘greatest day’ after USGP victory, Mercedes title win

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Lewis Hamilton made no secret of his jubilation after taking a giant step towards his fourth Formula 1 championship win with victory in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix that also saw Mercedes clinch the constructors’ title.

Hamilton recovered from an early pass by F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel to take his sixth victory on American soil, five of which have come at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, to extend his lead to 66 points.

With just 75 left on offer this season, Hamilton needs just one top-five finish in the final three races to clinch his fourth world title, with the enormity of the victory not being lost on the Mercedes driver.

“Today has been amazing. It’s been the greatest day,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“I woke up a bit tired, felt the rain, then was like, ‘What the hell?’ But I didn’t mind. I won here in the rain in the past. Then it dried up, clear blue skies, amazing opening at the beginning of the GP.

“I lost first place into Turn 1. It was OK. That first section, we got through there, and it felt very reminiscent of 2012: ‘Game on. You have to save the tires’, and he wasn’t doing that. I kind of kept my cool.”

“I saw I got a good exit of Turn 1, this was the lap and it was. His tires were dropping off anyway.”

Hamilton’s victory saw Mercedes wrap up its fourth consecutive F1 constructors’ title with three races to spare, with the Briton having played a key part in each of its successes.

“I’m so proud of this team. Big congratulations to the guys, people don’t know the amount of work they do,” Hamilton said.

“It’s over 1,500 people in two factories, so much brainpower and a lot of people to manage to extract the best from each of those.

“To come into a new era of car and perform as we have. There’s been a newfound love within the team. Ferrari, we want to beat them, thrash them.

“So they put more hours of working in to do that. That’s for all their hard work.”