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F1: Mercedes drivers Bottas, Hamilton pace 1st practice session in Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton have set the pace in the first practice session for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Bottas was fastest with a lap of 1:18.148 seconds at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, nearly a second quicker than Hamilton.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who trails Hamilton by four points in the drivers’ standings after four races, was third fastest.

Daniel Ricciardo, who crashed with Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen in Azerbaijan, had a tough start to his weekend in Barcelona by going off the track and hitting a tire barrier midway through the session. He had to retire and lost a lot of track time.

Ricciardo still finished with the seventh-fastest time, while Verstappen was fourth-quickest.

Kimi Raikkonen was fifth with Ferrari, just ahead of crowd favorite Fernando Alonso with McLaren.

Robert Kubica, Williams’ reserve driver, was back in an official F1 session for the first time since almost losing his hand in a rally crash in 2011. He participated in preseason testing this year, but his last race had been in the Abu Dhabi season finale in 2010.

The team had to make some modifications to Kubica’s car because the Polish driver doesn’t have full movement of his right hand.

Kubica, who had a spin toward the end of the session, finished with the second-to-last time – in front of teammate Lance Stroll.

Stroll nearly hit the tire barriers after going off the track with about a half-hour left in the session.

Drivers will return to the track for another 90-minute session in the afternoon.

Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

Road to Indy
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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

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