Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc edged out Lando Norris in practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which was red-flagged on two occasions.

A combined 30-minute delay wiped out half of the one-hour session after Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg both crashed out.

Leclerc saw off Norris by just 0.043 seconds, with Max Verstappen third, 0.173 sec off the pace. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished sixth and eighth respectively for Mercedes.

A week after he smashed into a loose drain cover in Las Vegas, Sainz was in the wars again, but on this occasion it was through driver error.

Sainz – who appeared to be put off by another car arriving from the pits – lost control of his machine through turn three and ended up in the barrier.

Although the Spaniard was unharmed in the high-speed smash – with the running just eight-and-a-half minutes old – he sustained significant damage to his car; with the sidepods, floor, rear suspension and front wing of his Ferrari all destroyed.

Sainz’s impact also left the barrier in a mess and a 22-minute delay ensued as the tyre wall was repaired.

But only moments after the running re-started, the red flag was out again – this time after Nico Hulkenberg crashed on the exit of turn one.

On cold tyres, the German was too hasty on the throttle, sliding into the barrier before stopping in his wounded machine.

The stoppages arrived as a blow to half the grid who sat out the opening session as 10 rookie drivers were blooded at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Mercedes are looking to hang on to second in the constructors’ championship and are only four points ahead of Ferrari with one race to go.

And the troubled team will be alarmed by Leclerc’s speed as the Monegasque, on pole position in Las Vegas, topped the order.

Russell finished three tenths adrift of Leclerc while Hamilton, who made way for the team’s Danish junior driver Frederik Vesti in the opening running, was half-a-second back.

Mercedes’ sluggish pace also leaves the grid’s once-dominant team facing up to a winless season – their first since 2011.

In the day’s first running, British drivers Zak O’Sullivan, 18, and Jake Dennis, 28, made their Formula One weekend debuts for Williams and Red Bull respectively.

Ollie Bearman, 18, who in Mexico became the youngest British debutant at a Grand Prix, was handed his second practice appearance by Haas.

Dennis, in Verstappen’s Red Bull machine which Hamilton has described as the fastest ever seen in F1, finished 16th of the 20 runners, 1.1 sec off the pace.

O’Sullivan was 18th – seven tenths behind Williams’ Logan Sargeant – with Bearman 20th and last, albeit only a tenth slower than Kevin Magnussen in the other Haas.

Lewis Hamilton cannot be blamed for considering a blockbuster switch to Red Bull following Mercedes’ failure to provide him with a winning machine, Christian Horner has claimed.

Red Bull team principal Horner confirmed on Friday that Hamilton’s father Anthony made an inquiry about the availability of a seat alongside Max Verstappen at the grid’s all-conquering team.

Verstappen has won the past three world championships, while Hamilton last took a victory at the penultimate round of the 2021 season in Saudi Arabia.

“I have known Anthony Hamilton for 15 years and I don’t think he was enquiring about himself to come and drive,” said Horner of Anthony, who managed his son in the formative years of his career.

“I don’t know who represents who, but with the surname you would think they are reasonably close.

“Anthony is a good guy, a proud racing father and inevitably when drivers go through tough spots – and Lewis has not won a Grand Prix for two years – questions will be asked up and down the paddock.

“Lewis is the most successful driver of all time and he hasn’t won a grand prix since 2021. You have not got to be a rocket scientist to work that out and I doubt I was the only one that an inquiry was made to.”

Red Bull will head into the season finale having failed to win just one of the 21 rounds so far. Verstappen has triumphed on 18 occasions – a record for any driver during a single campaign.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team are in a state of flux, but the seven-time world champion signed a two-year deal with the Silver Arrows, worth £100million, in August. Sergio Perez is contracted to Red Bull for 2024.

On Thursday, Hamilton denied seeking a move to Red Bull and claimed it was instead Horner who approached him.

“I have checked with everyone in my team and nobody has spoken to them. However, he (Horner) did reach out to me earlier on in the year about meeting up,” Hamilton said.

Horner added: “It is entirely normal for drivers, drivers’ representatives and drivers’ parents to have different conversations during the year.

“There was never a seat available and there was never any engagement. There are many drivers we hear from during the course of the year.

“We have not had any serious discussions with Lewis and there was never a seat available.”

Lewis Hamilton has denied seeking a blockbuster move to Red Bull – and claimed it was instead Christian Horner who approached him.

Hamilton accused Horner of being “lonely” and “stirring” the pot, following the Red Bull team principal’s claim ahead of this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi that the British driver’s camp inquired about a seat alongside Max Verstappen at the grid’s all-conquering team.

A front-footed Hamilton, who signed a two-year contract extension to remain at Mercedes until the end of 2025 in August, also said Verstappen would not want him as a team-mate.

Asked if he approached Red Bull about joining them, Hamilton, 38, replied: “No. I did not.

“I have checked with everyone in my team and nobody has spoken to them. However, he (Horner) did reach out to me earlier on in the year about meeting up.

“I picked up my old phone which I found at home. It has my old number. I switched it on, and hundreds of messages came through, and one was from Christian to get together and have a catch-up at the end of the season.

“He didn’t say (it was about driving for them). He just said about having a catch-up.

“I replied to him (Horner) on my new phone. It was quite late on that I found his message. It was from earlier on in the year, and it was months later (that I replied).

“I just said, ‘congratulations on the amazing season and I hope we are able to compete with you soon’, and he replied repeating the same thing.

“If you really think about it, there are a lot of people here that like to drop my name in conversations because they know it will make waves and if you are a little bit lonely, and are not getting much attention, that is the perfect thing to do, just to mention my name. He is stirring things.”

Hamilton is set to bring the curtain down on a second winless season. Verstappen has won the last three world championships and heads into the final round with a remarkable 18 wins from 21. Hamilton has described the Dutchman’s machine as the fastest ever seen in Formula One.

“I would be more than happy to race against Max in the same car,” added Hamilton. “That would be wonderful. But I don’t think he wants me to be his team-mate.”

Hamilton has been with Mercedes since 2013, and has said on numerous occasions that he could not envisage being at another team.

He continued: “I have so much respect for (team principal) Toto (Wolff).

“We have a great relationship. And I spoke to him when the story broke. I wanted my team to know because if people think those things (about leaving) it is never positive. Hopefully signing with them has shown my commitment to the team.

“Let’s be realistic, every single driver here dreams of being in a winning car. In my younger days, when I had not had a lot of success, joining Red Bull would have been more attractive to me.

“We have had two really difficult years, and if we were able to beat that Red Bull, that would be a way better feeling than just stepping into the best car.

“That wouldn’t do much for me – stepping into a car that has been the most dominant of all time – but working with my team to beat them. That would be better for my legacy.”

Max Verstappen overcame a five-second penalty, a collision with George Russell and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to claim a historic Las Vegas Grand Prix win.

On a wild night in Sin City, where the lead of the race changed hands on multiple occasions, it was Verstappen who prevailed to take his 18th win from the 21 rounds so far with popstar Justin Bieber waving the chequered flag.

Charles Leclerc passed Sergio Perez on the final lap to finish runner-up, while British driver Lando Norris was taken to hospital for precautionary checks after he crashed out on the third lap at 180mph.

The build-up to Formula One’s debut race on the Strip has been mired in controversy following Thursday’s practice washout and Verstappen comparing the Las Vegas race to football’s National League.

But the 3.8-mile venue served up a brilliant race which culminated in Verstappen passing Leclerc for the lead on lap 37 of 50.

A celebrity-jammed grid dispersed moments before the lights went out in Sin City, and it was Verstappen who raced away from his marks to gazump the pole-sitter into the opening bend.

However, Verstappen’s move courted the attention of the stewards with Leclerc forced off the track.

Behind, Fernando Alonso’s spin triggered a pile-up as Perez tagged Valtteri Bottas. Carlos Sainz also thudded into Lewis Hamilton, but the latter escaped without damage.

The virtual safety car was deployed following the first-corner chaos and when the race resumed three laps later, Norris was in the wall.

Norris lost control of his McLaren through Turn 11 and was soon a passenger as he thudded backwards into the concrete wall amid a flurry of orange sparks, before the car righted itself and Norris went head-on into the run-off barriers at Turn 12.

Norris’s machine was wrecked in the high-speed smash, but the 23-year-old was on the radio to report he was okay, before he made his way into the medical car.

Out came the safety car and Verstappen was dealt a five-second penalty for forcing Leclerc off the road at the first bend.

“Yeah, that is fine,” he said over the radio. “Send them my regards.”

Verstappen might have felt he would have the sufficient speed in his Red Bull to open up a gap to Leclerc, but the Ferrari man was soon in his mirrors. And on lap 16 the Monegasque swept by to take the lead. In came Verstappen for new tyres.

Further back, and Hamilton, who had been on the charge, sustained a puncture following a collision with Oscar Piastri.

The seven-time world champion limped back to the pits for repairs, but he emerged 19th and last, and a credible result on American soil was in tatters.

In the other Mercedes, Russell, now ahead of Verstappen following the Dutchman’s penalty, had the Red Bull swarming in his mirrors.

Verstappen threw his Red Bull underneath a surprised Russell at Turn 12 and the British driver turned into his rival as they duelled for a net third.

Russell made contact with Verstappen’s Red Bull with debris falling off both of their machines.

The safety car was out for a second time and Leclerc took the lead with Perez moving up to second by virtue of a free pit stop.

When the safety car came back in, Perez passed Leclerc to take the lead on lap 32 while Verstappen was also on the move as he swatted Piastri aside for third.

Three laps later, and Leclerc was back on top after fighting his way back past Perez. A lap later, Verstappen moved ahead of Perez on the Las Vegas Boulevard for a second, and then on lap 37, he slung his Red Bull underneath Leclerc’s scarlet machine for the lead.

Perez looked to have completed a one-two for Red Bull when he made his way ahead of Leclerc with seven laps to go only for the Monegasque to fight his way back past on the last tour.

Russell crossed the line in fourth, but was demoted to eighth after he was hit with a a five-second penalty for his collision with Verstappen. Esteban Ocon took fourth, one place ahead of Lance Stroll with Carlos Sainz sixth and Hamilton seventh.

Max Verstappen compared Formula One’s £500million Las Vegas Grand Prix to the fifth tier of English football – and suggested the sport’s new generation of fans are only interested in partying.

Verstappen will start from second place for Saturday’s 50-lap race on the strip after Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari on pole position with a dazzling lap under the Las Vegas lights.

F1 has sold the sport’s Sin City comeback after four decades away as the greatest show on Earth, but fans witnessed just eight minutes of practice on Thursday after a drain cover broke free and tore a hole into the underbelly of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.

A delayed second practice – which concluded at 4am on Friday local time – took place in front of empty grandstands after angry spectators were turfed out to comply with local employment laws.

An estimated crowd of 70,000 watched qualifying on Friday night while organisers had been expecting 100,000 attendees each day.

Earlier this week, Verstappen criticised F1’s maiden street race on the strip as “99 per cent show, and one per cent sport”. And in the moments after qualifying, he took another swipe at the event.

“Monaco is Champions League and this is National League,” he said.

“I feel like the show is important, but I like emotion. When I was a little kid it was all about the emotion of the sport that I fell in love with and not the show. As a real racer the show shouldn’t matter.

“An F1 car does not come alive on a street circuit. It is not that exciting. It is about proper race tracks. And when you go to Monza and Spa, these kinds of places have a lot of emotion and passion, and for me seeing the fans there is incredible. When I jump in the car, I am fired up. I love driving at these kind of places.

“I understand fans need things to do around the track, but it is more important that they understand what we do as a sport. Most of them just come to have a party, drink, see a DJ, or a performance act.

“I can do that all over the world. I can go to Ibiza and get completely s***-faced and have a good time. People come here, but they become a fan of what? They want to see maybe their favourite artist and have a few drinks with their mates, and then go out and have a crazy night.

“But they don’t understand what we are doing, and they don’t understand what we are putting on the line to perform.”

John Legend and Kylie Minogue were among a number of high-profile artists to perform in a dazzling 30-minute Superbowl-style show here on Wednesday, designed to kick-start the penultimate round of the season in style.

Verstappen and his fellow drivers were introduced to the crowd via an elevating platform. Verstappen, who secured his third world title in Qatar last month, later said he felt like a “clown”.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, he continued: “As a little kid I grew up wanting to become a world champion. More time should be invested into the actual sport, and what we are trying to achieve.

“The sport should explain what the team has done throughout the season, and what they are working for. That’s way more important than having these random shows all over the place. I am not passionate about that. I like passion and emotion.

“I love Vegas, but not to drive an F1 car. I love to go out, have a few drinks, throw everything on red and be crazy, but emotion and passion is not there compared to the old-school tracks.”

Despite starting behind Leclerc when the lights go out at 10pm local time here on Saturday (6am Sunday GMT), Verstappen will be favourite to take his 18th win of the season. George Russell will line up from third but Lewis Hamilton will start only 10th.

Hamilton, who finished half-a-second behind team-mate Russell, said: “I was lacking confidence and grip. I struggled.

“Yesterday, the car felt better and I was more competitive and I made changes overnight and it didn’t feel great today. I have got a lot of work to do.”

Charles Leclerc danced his way to pole position with an emphatic performance for Ferrari under the Las Vegas lights.

At just after 1am local time – the latest conclusion to a qualifying session in Formula One history – Leclerc finished just 0.044 seconds clear of team-mate Carlos Sainz.

However, Sainz will start down in 12th after a loose drain cover destroyed his Ferrari in practice and triggered a 10-place grid penalty.

Triple world champion Max Verstappen, a winner in 17 of the 20 rounds so far, took third spot for Red Bull, but will move up to second following Sainz’s demotion. Lewis Hamilton was eliminated in Q2, leaving him only 10th on the grid.

Hamilton finished half-a-second behind team-mate George Russell, who hauled his Mercedes into Q3 before taking advantage of Sainz’s penalty to secure third on the grid for Saturday’s 50-lap race.

Following the shambolic start to F1’s Sin City comeback here on Thursday night, qualifying passed off without significant incident – much to the relief of the sport’s under-fire bosses.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali stopped short of issuing an apology to the furious spectators, who saw just eight minutes of practice before they were ejected from the stands.

However, in the early hours of Saturday morning, the estimated 90,000 fans who filled the 3.8-mile street venue – 30,000 down on capacity – were treated to an uninterrupted session which saw Leclerc romp to top spot in his scarlet machine.

“I am happy,” said Leclerc. “To have first place in Las Vegas is great.

“I was a bit disappointed because my lap was not great but it was all we needed. In the race we usually lack pace but hopefully we can put it all together in the race.”

Against the backdrop of Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand and Bellagio hotels, Ferrari delivered, but it was another underwhelming showing for Hamilton.

A fortnight after the seven-time world champion finished eighth in Brazil – 63 seconds behind winner Verstappen – he struggled for pace in his underperforming Mercedes.

“Couldn’t go faster, mate,” said Hamilton following his elimination. Behind Hamilton, Sergio Perez qualified one place back.

Lando Norris arrived in Nevada as the grid’s in-form driver after scoring more points across the last three rounds than anyone else.

But the British driver failed to make it out of Q2 with his McLaren machinery not suited to the three long straights here coupled with slow corners.

He qualified only 16th, three places ahead of team-mate Oscar Piastri who also fell at the first hurdle.

“Very disappointed,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown. “We thought we’d struggle this weekend but I didn’t think either car would be out in Q1.

“Not a good start to the weekend and now all we can do is focus on the race tomorrow.”

Lewis Hamilton has told Max Verstappen to stop complaining after his rival criticised Formula One’s maiden race on the Las Vegas strip as “99 per cent show, and one per cent sport”.

Verstappen’s controversial remarks – which will irk F1’s American owners’ Liberty Media following their estimated £400million gamble to bring the sport back to Sin City for the first time in 41 years – arrived just moments after a glittering Superbowl-style opening ceremony on Wednesday night.

John Legend and Kylie Minogue were among a number of high-profile artists to perform in a dazzling 30-minute show designed to kick-start the penultimate round of the season, billed as the greatest show on earth.

The grid’s 20 drivers were also presented to the crowd ahead of Saturday night’s 50-lap race which F1 executives are using to build on the sport’s growing popularity in the United States. The race in Nevada joins Austin and Miami as the third in America.

But moments after a fireworks display brought the curtain down on the glittering welcome party, Verstappen, crowned triple world champion in Qatar last month, was quick to pour scorn on the event.

“It is 99 per cent show and one per cent sporting event,” said the 26-year-old. “I was just standing up there, looking like a clown.

“I guess they (F1) still make money whether I like it or not. So it’s not up to me. But I’m not going to fake it.

“I voice my opinion on positive things and negative things. That’s just how I am. And you know, some people like the show a bit more. I don’t like it at all.

“I grew up just looking at the performance side of things. And that’s how I see it as well. I like to be in Vegas, but not so much for racing.”

However, responding to criticism, Hamilton, 38, said: “I hear there are a lot of people complaining about the direction that (F1 CEO) Stefano (Domenicali) and Liberty has gone. But they are doing an amazing job.

“The sport continues to grow. It is a business and you will still see good racing here. It is a country to tap into and really captivate the audience.

“We needed to have at least two races in the US, one wasn’t enough, and this is one of the most iconic and unique cities that they have here.

“It is a big show for sure, and it is never going to be like Silverstone, but maybe over time, the people in this community will grow to love the sport.

“Maybe the track will be good, and maybe it will be bad. It was so-so on the simulator. But don’t knock it until you try it.”

The debut race on the strip, which starts at 10pm local time, comes after three consecutive rounds in Austin, Mexico and Brazil and ahead of next weekend’s concluding race in Abu Dhabi – a weary time swing of 12 hours.

The circuit itself features 17 corners over 3.8 miles along the famous Las Vegas Boulevard, and against the backdrop of Caesars Palace, the Venetian and the Bellagio.

It is expected that the drivers will hit speeds in excess of 210mph, but Verstappen said: “The track is not very interesting with not many corners.

“It will depend a little bit on how grippy it is. It doesn’t look like there’s much grip.”

Verstappen has won 17 of the 20 rounds so far, while it is approaching two years since Hamilton, in his Mercedes, has tasted victory.

Hamilton, who will get his first taste of the street track in opening practice at 8:30pm local time on Thursday (4:30am GMT on Friday) continued: “From a racer’s perspective, you want to have the best show here.

“If the track provides a race like Baku – which is one of the best races with lots of overtaking – than that would be amazing, rather than just one car disappearing into the distance.

“Everybody I know in Hollywood is coming and there will be a lot of business going on this weekend.

“It will be a good spectacle to watch, even for those back home who have never been to Vegas. They will get to learn what it is all about.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he is fuelled by a personal anger and drive to help Lewis Hamilton win the record eighth world championship he was denied in Abu Dhabi.

In an interview with the PA news agency ahead of this weekend’s blockbuster Las Vegas Grand Prix,  team principal Wolff also revealed his own succession plan at Mercedes – in which he plans to skip as many as 10 races each season – and claimed Hamilton, 38, could compete in Formula One for at least another five years.

Wolff has arrived in Sin City for the inaugural night race on the Las Vegas strip following Mercedes’ abysmal performance last time out in Brazil – one he described as the worst of his career.

Hamilton finished 63 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen, and gloomily predicted he will not be a championship contender for the next two years.

Next month will mark two years since the seven-time world champion last won a race, and that ill-fated evening in Abu Dhabi where race referee Michael Masi’s failure to imply the correct rules left him at the mercy of Verstappen. The Dutchman took the championship in the desert before quickly racking up another two titles in his all-conquering Red Bull.

“We are living in a hamster wheel where time passes so quickly that it doesn’t feel like it has been two years,” said Wolff.

“You can see how quickly the pecking order changes. We won eight constructors’ championships in a row, and it has been two years since Red Bull have been taking the trophy home. But we have to look forward, learn from the past, and the push now is to make Lewis win quickly again.

“I have a personal anger, and drive to make him win the eighth title because he should have had it.

“As a team principal, it is important to be fair and open with both drivers. But there is a big part of us that will always want to be a part of that story in undoing and overcoming 2021.”

Hamilton will start a new two-year deal with the Silver Arrows next season, worth an estimated £100million. He will be nearly 41 at the conclusion of the contract, but Wolff does not believe it will be his last with Mercedes.

“We are living from contract-to-contract, and it is important that we are doing what we think is right and what we feel is right, and at the moment I personally feel he can go longer,” added the Austrian.

And could he carry on for another five years?

“He is 39 in January, and Fernando (Alonso – 42) is still going strong,” replied Wolff. “As long as you look after yourself, you do the best preparation, physically and mentally, and develop different areas to when you are 25, then yes.

“We just need to give him a car that is quick enough. And, as a driver, I have no doubt about him. You have seen in the last races that his performance, speed and race craft are all there. But, if he doesn’t have the car underneath him, he cannot win.”

Wolff oversaw Mercedes’ crushing dominance which led to Hamilton winning six of his record-equalling seven world crowns.

But Wolff’s future as team principal is in the spotlight following Mercedes’ dramatic demise. And although he admitted he intends to stay on as team principal, the 51-year-old, who also holds a one-third shareholding in Mercedes, is plotting his succession plan.

“The clear aim is to build a structure for the future and that is my sheer responsibility for the team,” said Wolff, who was absent from the races in Japan and Qatar earlier this season following knee surgery.

“A stone could fall on my head and how does it look afterwards? That is why I would like to see myself in a few years maybe not going to 24 races, and just to 15.

“But that is many years away. I see myself in this role for a long time. I cannot imagine doing something else.

“I really struggled in 2020 to make a decision on whether I wanted to stay active in the sport or to be a shareholder and go back to my finance world. I was tired, mentally and physically, but then I came to the realisation that I wanted to continue.

“I feel I am contributing to the team in the crossover world of finance and motor racing, and I have a passion for both, and that is why I continue to do it.”

Over at Red Bull, Verstappen has won 17 of the 20 rounds so far – which included a record 10-in-a-row streak – in the most dominant season the sport has ever witnessed.

Wolff caused controversy when he poured scorn on Verstappen’s achievements, calling them “irrelevant” and “only for Wikipedia and nobody reads that anyway”.

“It was not an intelligent thing to say,” said Wolff.

“There were all these numbers about how many races we had won, and we used to joke that who cares about the numbers? It only goes on Wikipedia, and nobody reads that anyway. It was a joke, but it is much easier to joke about your own records than somebody else’s.

“His records are unbelievable and what he has been able to achieve clearly ranks him amongst the greatest drivers in the sport at that young age. I have clarified that with him.”

Max Verstappen completed an emphatic victory at the Brazilian Grand Prix after Daniel Ricciardo escaped injury when his car was struck by a flying tyre.

Lando Norris finished second for McLaren, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso holding off Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez by just 0.053 seconds for third.

But it was an abysmal afternoon for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton eighth and George Russell forced to retire his car with an engine failure 12 laps from the end. Hamilton crossed the line an eye-watering 63 seconds behind.

The race in Sao Paulo was suspended following a chaotic start which saw a loose tyre hit Ricciardo’s rear wing following a collision between Alex Albon and Nico Hulkenberg.

Albon, 13th on the grid, drew alongside Hulkenberg ahead of the first corner, but the two machines made contact, sending the London-born driver into Hulkenberg’s Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen and then into the barrier.

The force of the impact tore the left-rear off Albon’s Williams, with the bouncing tyre – which weighs 13 kilograms – narrowly flying over the top of Ricciardo’s head before smashing into the back of his AlphaTauri.

Footage from Ricciardo’s cockpit shows him turning sharply to the left to avoid the flying rubber.

“I tried to miss it, but the tyre was in the air and it clipped my rear wing,” he said.

The Australian driver, 34, was able to limp back to the pits for the repairs following the fortunate escape, while both Albon and Magnussen emerged unscathed.

Hulkenberg was able to carry on before the race was red-flagged for 25 minutes as the tyre barrier on the approach to the opening bend was repaired following Albon’s shunt.

Norris lined up in second place for the restart following a fine getaway by the British driver from sixth. Hamilton made up two places from fifth to take third on the grid for the second start.

Verstappen mastered the getaway to keep his Red Bull ahead of Norris before Alonso made light work of Hamilton to gazump the British driver at the Curva do Lago.

On lap eight, Norris was suddenly in Verstappen’s slipstream and for a handful of corners it looked as though he could do the unthinkable and take the lead.

Norris drew alongside Verstappen at the outside of Turn 4 to provide the Dutchman with a rare fright. But by the start of the lap, Verstappen had established a lead of more than one second, and for Norris, Verstappen was out of DRS range.

Behind, and it was starting to unravel for Mercedes. Performances at the previous two rounds had afforded Hamilton and the grid’s once-all-conquering team hope that they were closing the gap to the top. But they were dealt a desperate reality check here.

On laps 14 and 18, Perez cruised ahead of Russell and Hamilton respectively before Russell bemoaned that he was being held up by his team-mate.

“Are we working together, or are we just doing our own races?” Russell asked.

Hamilton stopped for rubber, with Russell following his team-mate in on the next lap. Perez came in three laps later than Hamilton and had to re-pass the seven-time world champion, which he did with ease on lap 23. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll then blasted his way past the out-of-sorts Mercedes pair.

Russell, now seventh, was growing increasingly frustrated with Hamilton struggling for pace. Russell wanted Mercedes to order Hamilton out of his way.

“Do you want me to race or concede positions?” he asked.

Later, he added: “I haven’t been on the radio because I thought it was quite obvious about the pace.”

Mercedes were unmoved as Russell tried and failed to make his way ahead of Hamilton.

Carlos Sainz was soon all over the back of the squabbling Mercedes men, cruising past Russell on lap 35, and then Hamilton two laps later.

The Silver Arrows tumbled back through the field, with Alpine’s Pierre Gasly moving ahead of Russell for eighth on lap 43.

Russell stopped for a second time on lap 45 with Hamilton in a lap later, only for Gasly to take another position off Hamilton to leave the seven-time world champion in eighth – that is where he would finish.

Hamilton now trails Perez by 32 points in the race for runner-up after the Mexican failed to take the final spot on the podium.

Perez got ahead of Alonso on the penultimate lap only for the Spaniard to blast back ahead on the last lap. The two drivers then went toe to toe on the drag to the finish line, with Alonso narrowly remaining ahead.

Lando Norris saw off triple world champion Max Verstappen to take pole position for today’s sprint race in Brazil.

The British driver, 23, beat Verstappen to top spot by 0.061 seconds in Interlagos with Sergio Perez third.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will line up from fourth and fifth respectively for Mercedes.

Norris believed he could have taken pole for tomorrow’s 71-lap main event, but for a McLaren strategy blunder in Friday’s rain-hit qualifying session.

However, the young Briton made amends by delivering the quickest time for today’s 24-lap dash to the chequered flag.

Norris, who is seeking his first win in Formula One, said: “It felt like one of the worst laps I have done so I am a little bit surprised to be on pole.

“But I feel like we have made up for yesterday. I have no idea how the sprint will go, but the pace has been good this weekend and the car has been quick.”

Perez was a tenth back from Norris, while Russell finished 0.235 sec behind, with Hamilton 0.318 sec adrift.

Yuki Tsunoda qualified sixth ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo.

Q1 ended early after Esteban Ocon crashed out following a collision with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

Ocon was on a hot lap, but briefly lost control of his Alpine though the left-hander at Turn 3, and thumped into Alonso.

The Spaniard was off the racing line, affording space for Ocon, but the Frenchman clipped Alonso’s Aston Martin which sent him into the tyre barrier at Curva do Sol.

“F****** idiot, Fernando,” said Ocon after he sustained significant damage to the rear of his machine.

Alonso limped back to the pits with front suspension damage leaving his mechanics scrambling to get his machine ready for Q2.

A 28-minute delay followed as the barrier was repaired but Alonso was unable to continue. He will start 15th.

The double world champion’s team-mate Lance Stroll qualified an impressive third for Sunday’s grand prix. But the Canadian will line up three places from the back for today’s sprint which gets under way at 3:30pm local time (6:30 pm GMT).

Max Verstappen completed a practice double for Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix by edging out Lando Norris.

After leading the way in the first running at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Verstappen – who has won 15 of the 18 rounds so far – set the fastest time in the day’s concluding running.

The Red Bull driver finished 0.119 seconds clear of McLaren’s Norris, with Charles Leclerc a quarter of a second back in his Ferrari.

Home favourite Sergio Perez finished fifth, three tenths behind Red Bull team-mate Verstappen, while Lewis Hamilton took seventh for Mercedes, a third of a second down.

Verstappen has dominated this year, and wrapped up his third successive world championship in Qatar earlier this month.

And the Dutchman will head into the remainder of the weekend in the breathless Mexico City air as the man to beat.

The high-altitude venue, which sits 2,200 metres above sea level, can often throw up anomalies, and Valtteri Bottas was a surprised fourth for Alfa Romeo, with Daniel Ricciardo sixth in his AlphaTauri, just three tenths off the top.

Hamilton finished a close second to Verstappen in the United States a week ago before he was disqualified for running an illegal floor on his Mercedes.

But despite his post-race exclusion, Hamilton hoped his speed in Austin would enable him to challenge Verstappen here.

However, the seven-time world champion failed to challenge the top of the leaderboard on Friday, finishing 11th and seventh respectively in the two sessions.

George Russell, who sat out the opening running as Mercedes blooded academy driver Frederik Vesti, finished 10th, half-a-second behind Verstappen.

Earlier on Friday, Ollie Bearman made history by becoming the youngest British driver to take part in a Formula One weekend.

Bearman, 18, competing for American outfit Haas, ended his F1 debut in 15th, only 1.6 sec slower than Verstappen and three tenths adrift of Nico Hulkenberg – a veteran of 200 grands prix – in the other Haas.

Bearman also finished one place ahead of double world champion Fernando Alonso.

F1 teams must run a rookie driver at least twice during the season and Chelmsford-born Bearman was handed his chance to impress, breaking the British record previously held by Norris.

Norris was three months shy of his 19th birthday when he took part in practice for McLaren in Belgium in 2018 before he was promoted to a race seat the following season. Bearman turned 18 in May.

The teenager, a member of the Ferrari academy, has taken four victories in F1’s feeder series Formula Two and is sixth in the standings ahead of next month’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Max Verstappen has beefed up his personal security as he prepares for a hostile reception at Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez’s home race in Mexico.

Verstappen was jeered by Perez’s supporters at last weekend’s podium presentation in Austin as the triple world champion celebrated his 15th win of the season.

Chants of “Checo, Checo” – in support of Perez – were also audible during the Dutch national anthem.

A crowd of nearly 400,000 are expected at the high-altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez over the course of the weekend, with practice starting on Friday and it is understood Verstappen will be flanked by multiple security guards in the paddock.

Perez’s fans are unhappy Verstappen did not help the Mexican secure second place in last season’s championship after he ignored a team order at the penultimate round in Brazil.

Perez has won only twice this season – his last victory in Azerbaijan on April 30 – with Verstappen racing to his third title in as many years.

The paddock in Mexico City has become one of the most manic on the calendar, with drivers mobbed as they make their way from the motorhome to the garage.

And Perez is also expected to have a bigger entourage than normal to cover-off his enthusiastic fanbase.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and the team’s motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko will also be accompanied by security guards.

Speaking after last weekend’s race in Austin, Horner said: “I don’t think Max is going to get the warmest reception in Mexico, but that is water off a duck’s back to him.

“One year you are the villain and the next year you are the hero.”

Perez heads into this weekend’s round 206 points behind Verstappen. However, he is 39 points clear of third-placed Lewis Hamilton, who was disqualified from second at the Circuit of the Americas for running an illegal floor on his Mercedes.

Max Verstappen saw off Lewis Hamilton’s early challenge to claim victory in Saturday’s sprint race at the United States Grand Prix.

For the first time since their 2021 championship duel for the ages, Verstappen and Hamilton ran line astern in the 19-lap dash at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

But Hamilton was unable to prevent Verstappen from taking the spoils, and accumulating yet another win of this most one-sided of Formula One campaigns.

Hamilton took the chequered flag a distant 9.4 seconds adrift of Verstappen with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc third.

Verstappen, crowned champion of the world for a third time in Qatar a fortnight ago, took pole position earlier on Saturday and then put his elbows out at the start to ensure Leclerc did not sneak up his inside on the uphill drag to the opening bend.

Verstappen moved over to his left to squeeze the Ferrari man allowing Hamilton a clean shot at Leclerc on the exit of the first corner.

Hamilton ran over the kerbs and past the Monegasque, and then set his sights on Verstappen.

Hamilton has not won a race for nearly two years, the longest losing streak of his career. Indeed, 685 days have passed since he claimed victory at the penultimate round of the 2021 campaign in Saudi Arabia.

But for half-a-dozen laps here, Hamilton will have dared to dream that a victory could be on the cards.

Hamilton has triumphed six times in America – with five of those victories in the Lone Star State – and his early pace certainly provided Verstappen with food for thought.

The seven-time world champion stayed within one second of Verstappen to provide him with a possible DRS slingshot past his Red Bull rival.

“Driveability is not there,” moaned Verstappen on the radio. “I lost the rear completely.”

Hamilton then hinted his nemesis was gaining an advantage by using more of the track than is allowed.

“Max has gone off quite a few times,” said the Mercedes driver.

Hamilton has lauded the improvements from his updated machine, but the superiority of Verstappen’s Red Bull came to the fore.

Six laps had passed and Verstappen was suddenly out of DRS range. A slim hope of victory for Hamilton was dashed.

Yet the 38-year-old, who starts third for tomorrow’s 56-lap main event, will expect to be a contender again.

And his chances of a possible win will be aided by Verstappen starting only in sixth after his pole lap in Friday’s qualifying was deleted for exceeding track limits.

Lando Norris took fourth spot ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, with Carlos Sainz sixth.

George Russell finished seventh but was demoted to eighth after he served a five-second penalty for an illegal move on McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.

Lewis Hamilton raised the prospect of challenging Max Verstappen for pole position at the United States Grand Prix after he finished third in practice.

Hamilton trailed Verstappen by 0.281 seconds in the sole running before qualifying later on Friday with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc splitting the rivals.

But the seven-time world champion, in his upgraded Mercedes, clocked the fastest first and second sectors before hitting traffic in the final part of his speediest lap at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

Verstappen claimed his third world title in as many years at the previous round in Qatar.

But Hamilton’s early pace at a track where he has enjoyed so much success over the years suggests he might be able to give the Dutchman a run for his money in qualifying for Sunday’s 56-lap race.

Leclerc could also be a contender in the Lone Star State after he finished just 0.156 sec behind Verstappen.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez took fourth spot, three tenths back, a place ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen with George Russell sixth for Mercedes.

Oscar Piastri survived a hairy moment when he temporarily lost control of his McLaren through Turn 8.

The Australian rookie, who won the sprint race in Lusail a fortnight ago, looked destined for the barriers after he ran on to the grass at high speed.

Piastri wiggled one way to the next but managed to catch his out-of-control machine to avoid a big shunt. He sustained minor damage to the floor of his McLaren in the accident and finished only 19th.

Lance Stroll was rooted to the foot of the time charts after he completed just five laps following a brake failure on his Aston Martin.

Qualifying takes place at 4pm local time (10pm BST).

Mario Andretti has come to the defence of Sergio Perez, claiming that the Mexican is "very valuable" to Formula One champions Red Bull.

Despite being in the best car on the grid, Perez has struggled since last tasting victory at the Azerbaijani Grand Prix back in April.

While his team-mate Max Verstappen was crowned champion for a third successive year after the Qatar Grand Prix, Perez fell to a disappointing tenth-placed finish.

It continued his recent run of poor performances following a mistake-laden performance in Japan – in which he ultimately failed to finish – and an eighth-place finish in Singapore the week prior. 

Perez's contract with Red Bull runs until the end of the next season, but a host of other drivers have been linked with the seat to partner Verstappen.

However, the 1978 drivers' champion Andretti believes Perez still has the ability to partner the Dutch driver moving forward.

"He has shown moments of brilliance, there are times when Max had some issues, and he picked up the ball and ran with it, and he won some great races," he told Stats Perform.

"We've seen his speciality in street races, for instance. So he brings something very valuable to the table. 

"And I think, to me, from where I stand, as a driver, that's a perfect team. Actually, they don't get into each other's way."

Perez has admitted to being frustrated by his own performances, particularly after his display in Japan, and Andretti believes the 33-year-old needs to look inward and make the necessary adjustments to get back to his best.

"There may be setups or something not totally to his liking," he added. 

"But it's a matter of adjusting, for every driver, that's the whole trick, to be able to adjust and compensate for some of the things that don't always go your way."

While Perez and Verstappen have combined to retain the constructors' championship, the latter has emerged as the clear star and number one driver in the Red Bull team.

Other teams have opted not to keep both drivers on an equal footing, but Andretti is unsure if such a system breeds the “optimal” environment for success. 

"There are teams that have got two number ones, and that's fine. I don't know if that's the optimal situation. But nevertheless, that's the way it goes, nothing is defined," he ended.

"They should give equal attention, equal commitment and everything is equal opportunity. But it's really up to the individual to earn the position of number one."

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