Sebastian Vettel leads Ferrari 1-2 in dry final Chinese GP practice

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Sebastian Vettel headed up a one-two finish for Ferrari in the final Formula 1 practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday as drivers got the chance to complete some dry running in Shanghai.

After losing the majority of Friday’s running due to thick fog in the city that prevented the medical helicopter from operating, drivers were pleased to arrive at the Shanghai International Circuit in dry conditions on Saturday morning.

The final hour of running before qualifying was busy as drivers pushed to make up for the time lost, with teams splitting programs in a bid to gather data on both optimum tire compounds.

All drivers made the switch to super-softs for the final third of the session in order to complete their qualifying simulations, with Vettel laying down an impressive marker of 1:33.336 early on.

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas struggled to get close with their first attempts, going over three-quarters of a second slower, spiking concern for the Silver Arrows, particularly when Kimi Raikkonen rose to second place in the second Ferrari.

Both drivers rallied later in the session, though, with Bottas lapping 0.371 seconds off Vettel’s time. Hamilton had been due to go even quicker, going faster than Vettel in the first sector, only to then run wide at the hairpin. The Briton still improved, but ended the session fourth, half a second off the pace.

Ferrari’s one-two finish acted as a warning shot to Mercedes, putting the Italian marque in the pound seat to claim its first pole since Singapore 2015 in qualifying later today.

Outside of the Ferrari/Mercedes stronghold, Felipe Massa finished as the best of the rest in fifth place for Williams, with the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo following in P6 and P7.

Ahead of his second F1 race, Lance Stroll put in an impressive display to finish eighth for Williams, with Jolyon Palmer and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounding out the top 10 in P9 and P10 respectively.

Qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 3am ET.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.