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Wolff warns against ‘dangerous’ assumptions about Mercedes’ form

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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff has warned against making “dangerous” assumptions about the team’s form heading into the second half of the 2017 season as it bids for a fourth straight championship double.

Mercedes has faced its most stringent challenge yet at the front of the F1 field after Ferrari made great strides with its car over the winter, allowing Sebastian Vettel to pick up four wins through the opening 11 rounds of the season.

While Mercedes still leads the constructors’ championship ahead of Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton trails Vettel by 14 points in the drivers’ standings heading into this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

“Our targets remain the same as they were before the first race: to win both championships,” Wolff said previewing the race at Spa.

“History has shown that the fastest car usually brings you the drivers’ title, and the best and most consistent driver pairing wins you the constructors’.

“So the priorities are clear: we must keep bringing performance to the car at every race – and keep racing without mistakes to maximize our performance potential at every track.”

Mercedes has been tipped to enjoy an edge over Ferrari through the second half of the season given the high-speed nature of many of the circuits, but Wolff feels such assumptions are dangerous to make.

Instead, he expects the advantage to swing back and forth throughout the remainder of the season from track to track, with Red Bull even coming into play at points.

“From what we have seen in the first half of the season, the competitive balance will swing one way and another from circuit to circuit,” Wolff said.

“Red Bull will be a threat if they can build on the performance they showed in Hungary. So we need to keep our heads down, stay humble regarding our strengths, diligent about our weaknesses and take the season weekend by weekend.

“On paper, people will assume that Spa should suit our car because it is a circuit where aerodynamic efficiency is extremely important.

“But assumptions are dangerous – we have seen too many times already this season that the form book can be rewritten from one weekend to the next.

“So we will be making no assumptions. We have to tick off the items on our work list and make sure we do the best job to maximise our potential points score.

“The motivation and determination in the factory are greater than ever. Hungary showed the strength of our team – and we intend to use the second half of this season to prove that strength.”

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.