Max Verstappen tops Practice 3 for Sakhir GP; George Russell seventh

Verstappen Sakhir GP practice
Clive Mason/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — Max Verstappen boosted Red Bull by posting the fastest time in the third and final practice session for the Sakhir Grand Prix on Saturday.

He moved up the leaderboard late in the session to finish .21 seconds ahead of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas and .36 clear of Bottas’ temporary teammate George Russell who posted the seventh fastest time.

Verstappen has won one race this season in a slower car than Mercedes.

Russell topped both of Friday’s practice sessions in an impressive performance after stepping in as a replacement for world champion Lewis Hamilton, who is self-isolating for 10 days after contracting the coronavirus earlier this week.

Hamilton sealed his record-equaling seventh F1 title last month in Turkey in a season where he extended his record number of pole positions to 98 and broke the F1 record for GP wins.

Hamilton has 95 wins compared to 91 for seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher, whose son Mick is set to clinch the F2 title this weekend ahead of his move into F1 with the Haas team next season.

Drivers again raced at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, but on a smaller outer track of 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) instead of 5.4 kilometers (3.3 miles) and with 87 laps rather than 54, making for a somewhat dizzying experience.

Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who escaped a horrific crash at last Sunday’s Bahrain GP with minor burns and a sprained ankle, was replaced by Pietro Fittipaldi. He is the grandson of two-time F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi and is the fourth member of Fittipaldi to race in F1. Fittipaldi was 19th fastest in the 20 car field ahead of the other driver making his F1 debut this week. Jack Aitken was 20th.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.