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Vettel fastest in Malaysia FP2 as Grosjean crash ends session early

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Sebastian Vettel gave Ferrari a boost amid its ailing Formula 1 title bid by topping second practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Friday at Sepang, leading home teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

After seeing Max Verstappen finish P1 for Red Bull in a wet opening practice on Friday morning in Malaysia, Vettel made the most of the first dry running of the weekend to stamp his authority on proceedings.

Vettel turned in a fastest lap time of 1:31.261, finishing six-tenths of a second clear of Raikkonen in the sister Ferrari SF70H as rival teams Red Bull and Mercedes both struggled to keep up.

Daniel Ricciardo finished third-fastest for Red Bull ahead of Verstappen, while Fernando Alonso was a surprise name to feature in the top five for McLaren.

Mercedes entered the race weekend as the heavy favorite given the fast-flowing nature of the Sepang circuit, only for championship leader Lewis Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas to finish sixth and seventh, over 1.4 seconds off the pace.

Both drivers suffered early off-track excursions as they struggled for grip, with Hamilton spinning his car through the gravel at Turn 8 and Bottas heading off at Turn 11, damaging the underside of his Mercedes car.

The stand-out moment of the session came when a loose drain cover caused significant damage to Romain Grosjean’s Haas car, sending the Frenchman flying off the track and into the barrier at high-speed.

Grosjean was able to walk away unharmed, albeit a little shaken by the incident, with the session immediately being red flagged.

FIA race director Charlie Whiting ventured out onto the track to inspect the kerb where the drain cover had been kicked up, before quickly taking the decision to not restart the session due to the damage caused.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).