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Toro Rosso will consider Honda requests on F1 2018 driver line-up

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Scuderia Toro Rosso chief Franz Tost says the team will take into consideration any requests from Formula 1 engine partner Honda when it comes to decide on its driver line-up for next season.

Toro Rosso and Honda announced a new engine partnership on Friday starting from next season, the Japanese marque having agreed a mutual split with existing customer team McLaren at the end of the year.

An off-shoot of the deal was Carlos Sainz Jr. moving up to Renault for 2018, freeing up at least one seat at Toro Rosso for next year, which currently also fields Daniil Kvyat.

Red Bull has used Toro Rosso as a first step in F1 for its young drivers, with 2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly waiting for an opportunity to step up.

Honda has also aided the career of Japanese racer Nobuharu Matsushita in recent years as part of McLaren’s junior program, leading him to be linked with the Toro Rosso seat.

When asked about Toro Rosso’s driver plans for 2018, Tost said that no decision would be rushed into, with considerations from all parties being taken into account.

“Currently we have two quite successful and competitive drivers with Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz, and I assume that they will finish the season with us,” Tost said.

“Regarding the drivers for next year, Red Bull will decide who is driving with us, and of course we will also take into consideration any request from our partners.”

While Gasly appears to be a shoo-in for one of the Toro Rosso F1 seats in 2018, Matushita’s chances of stepping up seem limited given the requirement to score 40 FIA super license points in a three-year period.

As things stand, Matsushita has four points to his name, scored for coming ninth in GP2 in 2015, meaning he must finish in the top three of the F2 standings this year to hit the required figure.

With four races to go, Matsushita is sixth in the standings, 37 points shy of third-placed Artem Markelov.

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.