F1 Mugello practice
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Valtteri Bottas leads both F1 practices for Tuscan Grand Prix

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MUGELLO, Italy — Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas has some cause for optimism after leading F1 practice in both sessions Friday at the Mugello circuit for the Tuscan Grand Prix.

His confidence needs boosting because he trails teammate and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton by 47 points in the standings, and not won a race since the season opener in Austria.

“It’s been a lot of fun today and I’ve enjoyed every single lap,” Bottas said. “There’s still quite a bit of lap time to unlock, both in the car and also as a driver. This track is definitely one of the most physically demanding.”

Mugello’s 5.2-kilometer (3.2-mile) Autodromo Internazional track, nestled amid a stunning backdrop of the Tuscan hills, usually plays host to MotoGP. This will be its first F1 race

“The whole opening section with the high-speed chicanes and the second sector is just amazing,” Bottas said. “This track is definitely one of the most physically demanding.”

The succession of fast corners even left a big impression on Hamilton, who took a bit of time to settle into his driving.

“I have to say, this track is pretty intense. So fast and challenging, it’s amazing to experience. I love it,” he said. “There’s no time to play around here and it’s one of the most physically demanding that I’ve driven for a while.”

But whereas Hamilton was driving on it for the first time, Bottas was one of a handful who had tested here. Hamilton was about half a second slower than Bottas in the first session – where he was only fourth – but improved in the afternoon by placing 0.207 behind Bottas in second.

Encouragingly for Red Bull, Max Verstappen was only 0.246 behind Bottas in third place in the second practice, having been even closer in P1 when he was second.

“I’m pretty pleased with how the car was behaving,” Verstappen said. “We were not too far off Mercedes so that was a good thing.”

Celebrating its 1,000th F1 race on a track it owns, and where its drivers tested in June, made little difference for struggling Ferrari. Charles Leclerc was 10th and Sebastian Vettel 12th. Worse still, Vettel’s engine cut out right at the end, and he was left stranded on the side of the track. Last weekend, both Ferraris failed to finish the Italian GP.

Friday’s afternoon session was briefly suspended twice after minor crashes left debris scattered around.

Approaching the halfway point of the 90-minute session, McLaren driver Lando Norris lost the rear of the car and went backward into the barriers.

Then about 15 minutes from the end, the red flag came out again when Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo spun into gravel. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, who announced this week he will be leaving the team after the season, was just behind him, and a crash was narrowly avoided. Both drivers were summoned by the stewards over the incident, and Perez was given a one-place grid penalty for Sunday.

There is a third practice Saturday ahead of qualifying in the afternoon.

Fans were present for the first time at the ninth race this season amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The 3,000 spectators were split into three stands.

Earlier Friday, Bottas was 0.048 quicker than Verstappen with Leclerc third and Hamilton fourth.

Pierre Gasly, who won his first race last weekend in Monza, was fifth.

Vettel was a lowly 13th, and Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto tried to explain why.

“Charles (Leclerc) drove very well this morning, I think Seb’s searching for confidence in the car a bit,” Binotto said. “Which is the real Ferrari? I think it’s neither one nor the other.”

Haas driver Romain Grosjean almost crashed into the back of Perez and had to swerve suddenly to the left. Grosjean then sat out the last 30 minutes of P2 because of an electronic failure.

Andretti United team names drivers for inaugural Extreme E season

Extreme E drivers Andretti
Extreme E
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The Extreme E team formed by Andretti Autosport and United Autosports named Catie Munnings and Timmy Hansen as its drivers Monday for the series’ inaugural 2021 season.

Munnings is a successful veteran of rally series. Hansen is a past winner and champion in the World Rallycross Championship.

They both will race in the environmentally conscious electric SUV series that will hold events in five areas around the world that are threatened by climate change. Chip Ganassi Racing and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton also are fielding cars in Extreme E, which will feature male and female co-drivers on every team.

Catie Munnings

“I’m so excited to join Andretti United Extreme E,” Munnings said in a release. ““I was really intrigued when I first heard about Extreme E, I just knew I had to be involved. The male / female racing partnership is a fantastic and exciting new concept. The season has incredible locations and the racing will be very exciting. It will be a new challenge for the teams and drivers, and I’m so thrilled to be working with such a strong team.

“The championship is a really innovative concept, it’s combining motorsport and science and will produce an important legacy in each race location. Bringing the platform that motorsport has in line with the awareness that the planet needs right now is awesome and a really important message.”

Timmy Hansen

Said Hansen: “Going into the Extreme E will be a new chapter in my career, one that I am extremely excited about. It is something brand new, not only for me, but the whole of motorsport. The format is something

we’ve never seen before. I’m also delighted to be able to carry the message of something bigger – talking about the environment and doing something good for the world – that’s something that really drives me. It’s going to be a big adventure in life to see these locations and I’m going to do my best in carrying this responsibility and hopefully making people aware of the challenges we have in the world, together with our passion for racing.”