WATCH LIVE: FP1 for the Japanese Grand Prix

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Amid concerns about the approach of typhoon Phanfone and a possible rescheduling of the race weekend, the first free practice for the Japanese Grand Prix is going ahead as planned on Friday morning at Suzuka.

You can watch the complete session live on Live Extra from 9pm ET on Thursday evening.

CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

The first session in Japan will give us a first idea of how the pecking order may shape up this weekend at one of F1’s most famed and infamous circuits, but most of the attention will be paid to our two championship protagonists: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton retook the lead of the drivers’ championship in Singapore after winning his seventh race of the season as Rosberg was forced to retire due to an electrical issue on his Mercedes car. With five races to go, the gap stands at just three points, meaning that there is plenty to play for in the final quarter of the 2014 season.

Mercedes can clinch the constructors’ championship at Suzuka this weekend by outscoring nearest-rivals Red Bull, and it would be the first for the German marque. During its last heyday in the ’50s, there was no championship for the teams, with it only coming into existence three years after Mercedes withdrew from F1 in 1955.

However, Sebastian Vettel will be hoping to continue his good form at Suzuka in a bid to put the Silver Arrows’ celebrations on hold. In five races at Suzuka, Vettel has won four and finished third on the only other occasion (in 2011, when P3 was all he needed to win the world title). He will be keen to keep this form up during FP1 today.

There are two driver changes for the first session in Japan:

  • Max Verstappen is the most notable runner in FP1. At the tender age of 17 and three days, he will smash the record for being the youngest driver to take part in an F1 race weekend session as part of his preparation for a full-time role with Toro Rosso in 2014. Jean-Eric Vergne will step aside before returning to the seat for FP2.
  • Roberto Merhi will replace Kamui Kobayashi for FP1 at Caterham. The Japanese driver will get a first chance to head out in front of his home fans in FP2 (live on NBCSN from 1am).

Will Stevens was due to make his first appearance on an F1 race weekend in FP1 for Marussia. However, as his paperwork did not clear in time, the team will run with its regular drivers.

You can watch the full session live on Live Extra from 9pm ET on Thursday night. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Please note that there will be no commentary from the NBCSN team for this session, but it will instead purely be the FOM world feed.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”