SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton had the fastest time in practice for the inaugural Russian Grand Prix on Friday.
Hamilton was second in the morning session behind Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg but dominated the afternoon run by a wide margin. Rosberg dropped to fourth.
Kevin Magnussen of McLaren was second, with Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso third. Valtterri Bottas of Williams was fifth behind Rosberg, and Jenson Button in the second McLaren completed the top six.
Hamilton’s fastest lap of 1 minute, 39.630 seconds on the Sochi Autodrom, built around the Olympic Park that was used for the Winter Games in February, was an improvement of nearly three seconds from his morning run on the unfamiliar circuit making its debut on the F1 calendar. He was nearly a second ahead of Magnussen.
Mercedes can clinch its first constructors’ title with a victory in Sunday’s race. Hamilton leads Rosberg by 10 points in the drivers’ standings.
Hamilton’s promising practice time makes him a clear favorite to win his ninth race of the season and close in on the title, with three races remaining after Sunday’s contest.
Hamilton was .864 seconds ahead of Magnussen. Alonso was .874 seconds behind and Rosberg was .912 adrift.
The Marussia team ran only one car in respect to driver Jules Bianchi, who remains in critical but stable condition with severe head injuries after crashing into a mobile crane at the Japanese GP last Sunday.
Bianchi’s father, Philippe, told the newspaper Nice Matin that “Jules is fighting as he always did, the same way as if he was racing. He is strong.”
With the French driver’s car in the garage in pit lane, Marussia’s other driver, Max Chilton, placed last in the first practice.
“It is going to be a very emotional weekend for the whole team, but we will try to get through it and keep praying for Jules,” Chilton said.
Alonso’s car bore a sign saying “Forza Jules” (Go Jules), while other drivers had a sticker on their helmets saying in French, “Tous avec Jules” (Everybody with Jules).
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