Vettel fastest again in rain-hit final Austrian GP practice

0 Comments

Sebastian Vettel continued his good form during practice for the Austrian Grand Prix by topping the final free practice session on Saturday morning.

Vettel posted a fastest lap of 1:09.994 to finish 0.017 seconds clear of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton as rain prevented any of the drivers from improving their times in the final 20 minutes of the session.

WATCH REPLAY: Austrian GP FP3

On the soft tire runs in the first half of the session, Ferrari once again managed to compete closely with Mercedes as Kimi Raikkonen slotted into third place behind Vettel and Hamilton.

However, a red flag period caused by another stoppage for Fernando Alonso meant that no-one was able to complete a qualifying simulation as originally planned.

When the session went to green again, a number of drivers had already parked at the end of the pit lane on super-softs, only to then have to tentatively crawl back to the pit lane around due to the sharp rain shower that had hit the circuit.

With the forecast for qualifying suggesting that rain could grace the Red Bull Ring once again, Force India opted to send drivers Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg out on track to gauge the conditions, with the latter saying that it was “very slippery”.

Perez’s dry pace had been impressive enough to secure him fourth place in the final timesheets ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, whilst Williams finished sixth and seventh with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.

Toro Rosso youngster Max Verstappen managed to finish the session in P8 at the checkered flag ahead of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean in the Lotuses, rounding out the top ten.

A number of drivers follow Force India’s lead late on, venturing out on track for a few laps, but many still struggled for grip and ended up going off the track. Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen were fortunate to continue after nearly colliding in the spray, but the few laps completed will still have provided all of the teams with some important information.

Qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Saturday.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
0 Comments

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.