Teenager Verstappen tops 1st practice at Mexico Grand Prix
MEXICO CITY (AP) Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg posted the fastest practice time of the day Friday as Formula One ran its first official laps at the revamped Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez since 1992 in preparation for this weekend's Mexican Grand Prix.
Nico Rosberg was fastest in the second practice with a lap of 1 minute, 21.531 seconds. He is chasing Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel for second place in the driver standings with three races left. Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton won the season championship last week at the U.S. Grand Prix.
''It's very exciting to race here in Mexico for the first time,'' Rosberg said. ''It feels like a kart circuit with a lot of very tight corners and the two stadiums are really spectacular with all the fans.''
Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen topped the first practice with a lap of 1:25.990, topping a driving session for the first time in his career.
The rookie, who turned 18 in September and only recently earned his Dutch driver's license, didn't fare as well in the later session: The tricky course caught him in the second practice when he crashed minutes in and had to get a ride back to his garage where he spent the rest of the session.
''I went into the last turn very normally then I lost the wheel a little bit,'' Verstappen said. ''I hit maybe a damp spot and got unlucky with the runoff because it wasn't a hard hit.''
Verstappen has nearly reached the podium twice, with fourth-place finishes in Hungary and the United States. Verstappen has earned points in eight races this season and ranks 10th in the driver standings.
The refurbished and repaved racetrack was a challenge even for veteran drivers, who slid and skidded through both sessions as they learned their way around the course.
''The car is sliding. The thin air is not helping the grip, but we seemed to struggle a bit less than the others today which is good,'' said Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.
Although track designers reconfigured the dangerous old Peraltada turn near the finish line, the softened version was still proving difficult and was the spot where Verstappen hit the wall.
Williams driver Valtteri Bottas wobbled near the end of the high-speed straightaway, where cars approached 225 mph. His car skidded along the left wall and shredded the nose. Bottas was able to return later in the session.
''On braking, I lost the rear of the car,'' Bottas said. ''It's up to us to find whatever we can with tire pressures to make them work better with the surface.''
Even pit lane proved tricky. Vettel's nearly spun as he entered pit lane straightened at the last second. Hamilton found himself facing the wrong direction after a spin.
In the first session, Rosberg slammed on the breaks to avoid head-on collision with the wall near where Verstappen later crashed. The sudden stop sent flames shooting from Rosberg's brakes.