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Hamilton: Spa Friday practice one of Mercedes’ strongest in 2017

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Lewis Hamilton feels Mercedes has made one of its strongest starts to a Formula 1 race weekend this season after outpacing Ferrari through second practice for the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday.

Hamilton turned in the fastest lap of the day at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, finishing two-tenths of a second clear of the field in FP2.

Mercedes has been tipped to pull clear of chief rival Ferrari at Spa given the high-speed nature of the circuit and the strengths of its W08 car, and the billing seemed justified given Hamilton’s post-session comments.

“Today felt like one of our strongest Fridays so far this season. The car felt strong all-around straight out of the box,” Hamilton said.

“We made some good steps wih the setup right from the start of FP1, which is a really encouraging way to kick off the weekend.

“It looks tight at the top on the long-run pace, but we’ve started the weekend in the best way possible.”

In the sister Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas had a less fruitful day as he finished sixth in FP1 and third in FP2, the Finn feeling he has ground to make up heading into the remainder of the weekend.

“Overall it was a tricky day. We had some trouble setting up the car, but in the end it was getting better, we made quite big steps,” Bottas said.

“It was not feeling too comfortable in the beginning, but it was getting better in the end. The performance of our car, in general, is looking good.

“However, there is still a lot of margin to optimise the car. The long runs in the end were interrupted by the rain, but that was obviously the same for everyone.

“I’m glad that we at least got a few laps in with high fuel.”

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.