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Tuesday January 18th, 2022 4:40AM

Red Bull's Perez fastest before US. Grand Prix qualifying

By The Associated Press
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Sergio Perez topped Formula One's final practice ahead of Saturday qualifying for the U.S. Grand Prix. It was a drama-free session despite an earlier flare-up between championship leaders Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen leads Hamilton by six points in the championship and was third-fastest in the session as he and Perez showed that Red Bull is ready to compete at the Circuit of the Americas. Hamilton and Mercedes have dominated on the permanent road course, but Hamilton was only sixth on the speed chart ahead of qualifying.

The rivalry between Verstappen and Hamilton flared Friday in practice when Verstappen flipped a middle finger at the seven-time champion and called him a “stupid idiot” as the two raced down the starting grid straightaway.

Verstappen is chasing his first championship. Hamilton has won a record-tying seven titles, including the last four.

Hamilton has won the U.S. Grand Prix at COTA five times since it opened in 2012. His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas won in 2019. The race was canceled last year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Alpine said before practice it had changed the power unit for Fernando Alonso following a failure Friday. Alonso will start Sunday's race at the back of the grid.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Red Bull's Perez fastest before US. Grand Prix qualifying
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