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Bottas tops opening Mexican GP practice, Celis crashes out

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Valtteri Bottas led Mercedes to a one-two finish in first practice for the Mexican Grand Prix, beating Formula 1 teammate Lewis Hamilton by four-tenths of a second on Friday morning at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Bottas and Hamilton arrived in Mexico off the back of clinching Mercedes its fourth straight constructors’ title last Sunday in Austin, but were tipped to face a sterner test due to the high-downforce setup required for this weekend given the high altitude levels.

Bottas was able to make a strong start to the weekend regardless, topping his first FP1 since the British Grand Prix back in July with a fastest time of 1:17.824 on Friday morning.

The Finn was followed by Hamilton in P2, four-tenths of a second further back, although Mercedes was the only front-running team to go out on the ultra-soft compound tire.

Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo slotted into P3 and P4 respectively, half a second off Bottas’ time. Verstappen was limited to just 16 laps after Red Bull boxed him early, putting the car up on jacks in order to make a number of setup changes, as per the team.

F1 title outsider Sebastian Vettel wound up fifth for Ferrari, seven-tenths of a second down on Bottas, with teammate Kimi Raikkonen taking sixth overall.

Flying the flag for Mexico on home soil this weekend, Sergio Perez made a good start to the weekend by finishing seventh overall as the leading midfielder.

However, teammate for the session Alfonso Celis Jr. had a more troubled homecoming, crashing out at the final corner and causing a red flag stoppage, as well as a decent amount of damage to the car that will go back to Esteban Ocon for the rest of the weekend.

Fernando Alonso led McLaren’s charge in P8 as teammate Stoffel Vandoorne completed just three laps due to an engine issue, while Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10.

FP1 in Mexico also saw Antonio Giovinazzi (Haas), Charles Leclerc (Sauber) and Sean Gelael (Toro Rosso) all enjoy run-outs, taking positions 15th to 17th respectively, while Brendon Hartley’s session was cut short after a hydraulic leak.

FP2 takes place at 3pm ET later today in Mexico, live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

It’s official: Laguna Seca to host INDYCAR for at least next 3 seasons

Laguna Seca, from the 1991 CART race there. Photo: Getty Images
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INDYCAR made it official today: the 2019 season-ending race will move a couple of hours down the Northern California coast to WeatherTechRaceway Laguna Seca.

Sonoma Raceway, which has hosted INDYCAR since 2005 – including the last five season-ending races (that includes this year’s upcoming season finale) – will not be part of next season’s schedule.

Earlier today, the Monterey County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors, which oversees operation of the iconic racing facility, approved a three-year agreement with INDYCAR to host next year’s season finale on Sept. 20-22, 2019.

The remaining two race dates for 2020 and 2021 will be announced later, according to an INDYCAR media release.

The 2.238-mile permanent road course previously hosted CART and Champ Car World Series Indy car races from 1983 through 2004, including the season-ending races from 1989 through 1996.

“I can’t imagine a more attractive destination location for INDYCAR’s season finale,” Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a statement. “Monterey is a place people want to be, and we will bring all of our guests. I think it’s a great choice for us.”

Bobby Rahal, former CART/CCWS driver and current INDYCAR team co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won four of the prior 22 previous Indy car races at Laguna Seca, all consecutively (1984-87).

“It’s great news, but I might be biased,” Rahal said. “I personally won four Indy car races there and won my first Can-Am race there. Our Indy car team won with Bryan Herta and Max Papis and our sports car team won IMSA races there.

“So I would almost bet you that Laguna Seca is the site of more victories for me as a driver and team owner combined of any track I’ve ever raced on.

“There is nothing better than the Monterey Bay area, and it’s a great circuit that always drew great crowds. So I’m thrilled to have Indy car racing coming back to a circuit I love so much. We will put on a good show, for sure.”

In addition to Rahal as a multiple winner, two-time winners at Laguna Seca were fellow current INDYCAR team co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta, INDYCAR on NBCSN analyst Paul Tracy, Danny Sullivan and Patrick Carpentier.

“The return of INDYCAR to its spiritual road racing home of Laguna Seca is a tremendous honor and testament to the appeal of Monterey, and through the support of the County of Monterey will provide a significant economic benefit to our area businesses,” said Timothy McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, “We are looking forward to creating more memories in race fans’ minds like Bobby Rahal’s four consecutive Indy car wins from 1984-1987, Mario Andretti’s farewell race in 1994 and Alex Zanardi’s last-lap overtaking of Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew in 1996 that simply became known as ‘The Pass.'”

NBC Sports Group has secured exclusive domestic television and digital media rights for INDYCAR races beginning in 2019. Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, agreed that Laguna Seca is an ideal venue to close out the schedule.

“We commend INDYCAR for returning to Laguna Seca, a historic track and an inspired place for the 2019 season finale,” Miller said. “The 2019 season will be our first as the exclusive media rights partner of INDYCAR, and we could not be more pleased to broadcast the championship from beautiful Monterrey.”

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