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Sainz ‘unlikely’ to remain with Toro Rosso beyond end of ’17

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Carlos Sainz Jr. is unlikely to stay with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Formula 1 beyond the end of 2017 as he bids to move up the grid and secure a top-line seat to progress his career.

Following an impressive run of form throughout 2016 and a strong start to the current season, Sainz has been linked with a number of top drives for next year.

The Spaniard has been part of Red Bull’s program for the majority of his career, but a move up to its senior F1 team seems unlikely as both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen look poised to retain their seats for 2018.

Speaking about his future during Thursday’s FIA press conference ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix, Sainz said that his main goal was to secure a seat with Red Bull in the future, but added he would look elsewhere for 2018 if a drive did not come up.

“It’s still a very long season ahead. Obviously rumors are always going to come at this stage,” Sainz said.

“As you all know, my target number one is to be with Red Bull next year, fighting for podiums, wins, or whatever they’re fighting for next year. And I’m going to keep pushing for this.

“If that doesn’t happen, a fourth year in Toro Rosso is unlikely, and I don’t want to close the door to any opportunity.

“I’m definitely ready to take a step forward in my career. I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready.

“As I said before, I’m not closing any doors, and we will see.”

Sainz confirmed he was aware of the speculation about his future, yet he stressed the importance of doing his talking on-track.

“There are obviously rumors going around the paddock I heard. Silly season, as you all name it, it’s good fun, but for me the good fun is actually here on track,” Sainz said.

“Up until now it has been a really good season, and we will see. I’ll leave that to other people in my team.

“For me, I have a job to drive a car and do it as fast as possible.”

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.