Max Verstappen, Lance Stroll crash during an eventful second F1 practice at Portugal

F1 Max Verstappen crash
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PORTIMAO, Portugal — Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas was fastest in an eventful second practice session Friday for the F1 Portuguese Grand Prix , with French driver Pierre Gasly’s car catching fire midway through and a crash involving Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll.

Bottas was 0.6 seconds quicker than Red Bull’s Verstappen and 0.8 ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fourth best, and championship leader Lewis Hamilton struggled for tire grip and was only eighth fastest, a considerable 1.37 seconds behind his teammate Bottas.

Gasly parked his car on the side of the track when it suddenly caught fire. He scampered out unharmed and rode back to the AlphaTauri team garage on the back of a scooter as track marshals quickly put out the billowing flames. The session was suspended for about 15 minutes while a crane removed the car.

Soon after it restarted, the red flag came back out again following a crash between Verstappen and Stroll’s Racing Point car.

The drivers do not get on, and Verstappen was unhappy when Stroll would not let him pass on a straight.

Because he did not, Verstappen then dived into Turn 1 to gain position on him, but Stroll, who is back this weekend after testing positive for COVID-19 and missing the race two weeks ago, moved slightly right at the same time, and Verstappen ended up crashing into the side of his car.

Stroll’s car flew off into the gravel and was removed by crane, while Verstappen was able to continue. Both drivers were unharmed and summoned before the race stewards, who decided neither driver was at fault and took no action.

There was a near miss right at the beginning of second practice, too, when Kevin Magnussen nearly hit the McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr.

Hamilton, meanwhile, struggled for grip during a tricky session on a new circuit. He comfortably leads the championship and his victory two weeks ago at the Eifel GP in Germany tied Michael Schumacher’s F1 record of 91 wins.

There were mask-wearing fans scattered around the 4.6-kilometer (3-mile) circuit in Portimao, which is undulating with frequent elevation changes. Overtaking is difficult.

It was used for preseason testing in 2008 but never before held an F1 race. It is the second new one on the coronavirus-hit calendar after the Tuscan GP in Mugello last month.

In the first practice earlier Friday, Bottas was 0.34 seconds faster than Hamilton and 0.78 ahead of Verstappen.

Both he and Leclerc had problems with grip, with Leclerc going off track and into some gravel. The car was undamaged and he finished with the fourth-best time.

Portugal last hosted a race in 1996, when three F1 champions made the podium after Jacques Villeneuve won ahead of Damon Hill and Schumacher.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.