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Honda targets F1’s top three with Toro Rosso in 2018

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Honda has set its sights on breaking into Formula 1’s top three in 2018 after agreeing an engine partnership with Scuderia Toro Rosso from next season.

After three difficult years working together, McLaren and Honda announced on Friday they would be parting company at the end of the season by mutual consent.

Honda confirmed a new multi-year deal with Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s B-team, with the existing Renault supply used by the outfit shifting to McLaren.

McLaren currently sitting ninth in the constructors’ championship with just three points finishes to its name, but Honda believes it can vault up the order with Toro Rosso next year, ambitiously targeting a breach of the top three positions.

“It is my pleasure that we can start a new relationship with Toro Rosso, a team with a very youthful energy and a history of nuturing the stars of the future,” Honda chief officer of brand and communications Katushide Moriyama said.

“It is our goal to overcome this tough challenge and get back to fighting with the front-runners of the sport. Our spirit, Honda’s spirit, is going to come back.

“For next year, our goal is to fight for the top three at the front of the grid.”

Despite securing a works engine deal for next year, Toro Rosso F1 chief Franz Tost was more reserved about his team’s chances next year given its resources and facilities compared to the sport’s bigger players.

“Toro Rosso is not Ferrari or Mercedes. We have another infrastructure,” Tost said.

“But I can promise you that we, without our possibilities, will do the best possible job and then the rest we will see. It is not always and only the money which is decisive for the success.

“I hope at Toro Rosso we will work efficiently, because this is our slogan, and to get the most out of the package. The future will show.

“If necessary, then of course, maybe we will bring in more people, increase the infrastucture, whatever is necessary to have the success that Honda wishes.

“It is too early a sstage to talk about the details of the infrastructure. But I am convinced we are in a position to fight successfully within the midfield or the forward part of the midfield.”

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.