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Verstappen leads final Singapore F1 practice, Red Bull completes sweep

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Red Bull Racing will head into qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix fancying its chances of a first Formula 1 pole position in 2017 after completing a sweep of practice on Saturday afternoon courtesy of Max Verstappen.

Red Bull arrived in Singapore eager to make the most of the engine-limited track layout and take the fight to the front-runners, but was expected to struggle to match Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel.

However, Daniel Ricciardo was able to lead its charge throughout Friday, topping both FP1 and FP2, with Verstappen following in second place in the night-time session.

The Dutchman moved to the top of the timesheets in final practice on Saturday, posting a best lap time of 1:41.829 to edge out Ferrari’s Vettel come the checkered flag.

Verstappen had a late scare on his Red Bull car, appearing to slow and reporting it was “shifting by itself”, but got back out on-track a few minutes later with no further issues.

Vettel was left to settle for P2, 0.072 seconds behind Verstappen, but it nevertheless marked a solid improvement from Friday when he could only finish 11th-fastest. Lewis Hamilton was third for Mercedes, also recovering from a disappointing Friday.

McLaren enjoyed its best practice session so far this season as Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne took P4 and P5 respectively, also benefitting from the lack of engine power required at Marina Bay.

Friday pace-setter Ricciardo took sixth ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, with the Finnish pair of Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen slotting into eighth and ninth. Sergio Perez completed the top 10 for Force India.

Besides the late trading of lap times, the session’s other big incident of note came at the halfway point when Marcus Ericsson broke the rear wing of his Sauber by hitting the wall, causing a red flag period.

Qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 9am ET on Saturday.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.