Vettel closes out practice in Austin quickest; Hulkenberg impressive

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Sebastian Vettel has continued to dominate proceedings ahead of qualifying for the United States Grand Prix by finishing quickest in the final practice session at the Circuit of the Americas.

The German driver set a fastest time of 1:36.733 to finish two-tenths ahead of teammate Mark Webber whilst Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg continued his good form to finish the session in fourth place just behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

The session got underway in far less problematic fashion than first practice had on Friday morning, and Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were quick to get out on track and set a time, being split by just 0.094 seconds early on. Adrian Sutil soon spoiled the Faentini party by going quickest ahead of Nico Rosberg and Paul di Resta. All of the drivers opted to head out on the hard tire at first in order to evaluate their pace for Q1 before switching to the softer compound later on in the session, but many remained in the pits.

When the front-runners did eventually emerge, Sebastian Vettel set about resuming normal service and went fastest ahead of Romain Grosjean and teammate Mark Webber with around forty minutes remaining. Jenson Button and Esteban Gutierrez both continued their good form to lie well within the top ten after their first runs on the hard tire, but Ferrari and Fernando Alonso struggled for pace despite topping the first practice session on Friday.

Nico Hulkenberg continued to prove his worth by jumping up into second place on the hard tire, three-tenths shy of Vettel’s time. However, the German driver was soon bumped down the standings by Webber and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, with the Finnish driver’s pace suggesting that the team has made a step forward this weekend.

With ten minutes remaining, the drivers switched to the softer medium tire for one final assault of the circuit ahead of qualifying. Jenson Button was the first driver to post a serious time on the rubber, moving into second place with Sutil jumping up to fouth place. Nico Hulkenberg ended Vettel’s sojourn at the top by going 0.077 seconds quicker than his compatriot. Mark Webber improved yet he could only split the German drivers at the head of the field, but Hulkenberg did not relent and improved further to open up a lead of over one-tenth from Webber and Grosjean, who had now popped up into third place.

However, Vettel eventually found his feet and pulled out a quicker lap with less than one minute remaining, moving half a second ahead of Hulkenberg. Webber cut this gap to just two-tenths, but no-one could deny the four-time world champion from finishing quickest.

All eyes will be on Vettel to see if he can secure a second pole position at the Circuit of the Americas, with qualifying being broadcast live on CNBC from 1pm ET.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).