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Vettel edges Hamilton to lead opening Abu Dhabi GP practice

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Sebastian Vettel made a flying start to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend by leading the opening Formula 1 practice session at the Yas Marina Circuit for Ferrari on Friday afternoon.

A three-time winner in Abu Dhabi, Vettel enters the final race weekend of the season eager to score back-to-back victories for the first time in four years, having hit the top step of the podium last time out in Brazil.

Vettel sent out an early warning shot to Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton by beating the recently-crowned drivers’ champion by one-tenth of a second in FP1, turning in a fastest time of 1:39.006.

Hamilton was left to settle for second place ahead of Max Verstappen, who finished a mere 0.148 seconds slower than Vettel for Red Bull.

Kimi Raikkonen took fourth after finishing half a second down on his teammate at the top of the timesheets, with Valtteri Bottas ending the session fifth in the second Mercedes.

Sergio Perez ended FP1 as the leading midfield driver in sixth for Force India ahead of the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, while Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top 10.

The final FP1 session of the year saw the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection appear on a number of cars ahead of its introduction for the 2018 season, with Bottas and Haas’ Antonio Giovinazzi among the drivers trialing it.

Giovinazzi was one of two junior drivers to feature in the session, with Force India running Mercedes youngster George Russell in place of Esteban Ocon. Russell ended the session 11th overall, while Giovinazzi took P18.

Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

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