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Wolff: F1 misses ‘the odd hand grenade’ from Ecclestone

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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says the paddock misses “the odd hand grenade” thrown by former ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone since the takeover of the series by Liberty Media.

Ecclestone’s long-running stint as F1’s CEO came to an end in January when Liberty completed its $8.8 billion takeover, installing American executive Chase Carey as the sport’s new chief.

Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will mark the end of Liberty’s first full season at the helm, with its approach differing greatly from that of Ecclestone.

Numerous changes have been made, including a greater investment in marketing and infrastructure, as well as more obvious alterations such as a new F1 logo, set to be unveiled after today’s race.

Asked about the changes felt in F1 over the past year, Wolff said that the paddock missed Ecclestone’s more direct approach and off-the-cuff remarks, with Liberty taking a different, more long-term approach to its management.

“12 months ago Bernie was around. We miss the odd hand grenade flying through the paddock, but this is new times and what we need to do is support the new owners and the management to grow Formula 1,” Wolff said.

“I wouldn’t want to predict what will be in 12 months from now. There are some things that have been kicked off, some good, some less so to us, but most importantly we are all stakeholders of this fantastic sport.

“Coming back in 12 months I would like to wish that this sport is growing in audiences, growing in fan appeal and that’s basically it.”

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner echoed Wolff’s comments, saying the fruits of Liberty’s current efforts would begin to show in the coming years.

“As Toto says, many things have changed. This time last year Bernie was still running the show, and obviously in January the business was sold and a new management structure came into place,” Horner said.

“I think what’s been quite interesting and quite dynamic about that is that there has been a steep learning curve for the new guys involved but they have embraced ideas and concepts.

“They’ve come with a very fresh, unbiased approach and while they have been going through a learning phase, a building phase over the last nine or ten months, a lot of things that may seem trivial have changed – just how we deal on a day-to-day basis.

“I think what is going to be fascinating is to see the lessons that been made this year, the infrastructure that’s been put in place, the people that have recruited, how that’s going to affect future years.

“Because it’s not going to be just next year, it’s going to be the next three to five years.”

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.