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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.

F1: Valtteri Bottas urges Lewis Hamilton to clear up Mercedes future and sign

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MONACO (AP) — Valtteri Bottas is urging Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to sign a new contract, even though his own future is uncertain.

Bottas needs to convince Mercedes to give him a new deal for next year. Hamilton, meanwhile, is stalling on signing a new one even though an offer is in place. Hamilton was again asked about his contract situation on Wednesday, and maintains he’s in no hurry.

“There isn’t any sticking point. There just hasn’t been any rush,” Hamilton said. “There’s no discussion with anybody else, there’s no consideration for anybody else, it’s just (me) taking my time.”

But Bottas would like Hamilton’s future cleared up.

“For sure I would. First of all, I would like to stay here. That is my goal for the long term. It would be nice if Lewis wants to stay and finds an agreement,” Bottas said at the Mercedes motorhome. “I enjoy working with him, I enjoy the challenge he gives me. I enjoy the fact he’s four-time world champion and at the moment I’m none. It makes me try harder to be better.

“It wouldn’t change my mind that I want to stay here, but I think we work well together,” he added.

Last season was their first together. Bottas was drafted in from Williams as an emergency replacement after Nico Rosberg retired. He won three races but he stood out more as the ideal support driver as Hamilton reclaimed the F1 title.

Bottas understands Mercedes expects improvement.

“We had a chat before the season and naturally we expect performance gains compared to last year, being closer to Lewis,” Bottas said. “That’s what you need to do in the second season.”

However, Bottas says he has not been set a specific target in terms of points or where he finishes overall.

“There’s no magic number,” he said. “There’s no clause or anything, so it’s how the team feels I’m performing.”

Bottas finished third overall last year behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton.

He is in the same overall position – 20 points behind Vettel and 37 adrift of Hamilton – heading into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver would be closer if not for a dramatic finish at the Azerbaijan GP last month. With victory seemingly guaranteed, he sustained a tire puncture and ended up with no points. He bounced back with a fine drive for second place in Spain two weeks ago.

“I feel like I’ve met my performance targets. Pace-wise I’m on the level I need, but result-wise I’m not happy,” Bottas said. “It’s been strange. But I know if I keep improving very good things will come.”

He has faced a considerable amount of criticism with observers questioning whether he can compete at the top level. Yet driving under the constant pressure of having a point to prove has also made him more resilient.

“For sure it makes you tougher and better,” he said. “From each difficult weekend, I feel I’ve been able to turn it (around).”