Lewis Hamilton has announced he will leave Mercedes at the end of the 2024 season ahead of a blockbuster move to Ferrari.

The 39-year-old is entering the first year of a new two-year deal with Mercedes worth £100million.

But the seven-time Formula One world champion has activated a release clause in the deal, and Ferrari subsequently announced he will join the Italian team on a multi-year contract that starts in 2025.

Mercedes issued a statement confirming Hamilton’s early exit on Thursday evening, signalling the end of an extraordinarily successful partnership during which Hamilton won six of his world titles in the space of seven years from 2014-20.

Although they enjoyed incredible success, the team have since fallen off the pace and Hamilton has not won a race since controversially missing out on a record eighth world championship in 2021.

Hamilton said: “I have had an amazing 11 years with this team and I’m so proud of what we have achieved together. Mercedes has been part of my life since I was 13 years old. It’s a place where I have grown up, so making the decision to leave was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make.

“But the time is right for me to take this step and I’m excited to be taking on a new challenge. I will be forever grateful for the incredible support of my Mercedes family, especially Toto (Wolff, Mercedes team principal) for his friendship and leadership and I want to finish on a high together.

“I am 100 per cent committed to delivering the best performance I can this season and making my last year with the Silver Arrows one to remember.”

Wolff said Mercedes accepted Hamilton’s decision to leave.

“In terms of a team-driver pairing, our relationship with Lewis has become the most successful the sport has seen, and that’s something we can look back on with pride; Lewis will always be an important part of Mercedes motorsport history,” he said.

“However, we knew our partnership would come to a natural end at some point, and that day has now come.

“We accept Lewis’s decision to seek a fresh challenge, and our opportunities for the future are exciting to contemplate. But for now, we still have one season to go, and we are focused on going racing to deliver a strong 2024.”

Following the Mercedes statement, Ferrari issued a one-line statement announcing Hamilton’s move.

“Scuderia Ferrari is pleased to announce that Lewis Hamilton will be joining the team in 2025, on a multi-year contract,” the statement said.

Charles Leclerc recently agreed a new long-term deal with Ferrari, so it will be Carlos Sainz that makes way for Hamilton, with the Spaniard’s contract expiring at the end of the 2024 season.

Sainz issued his own statement, which said: “Following today’s news, Scuderia Ferrari and myself will part ways at the end of 2024. We still have a long season ahead of us and, like always, I will give my absolute best for the team and for the Tifosi all around the world.

“News about my future will be announced in due course.”

Hamilton began his Formula One career with McLaren and won his first world title with them in 2008 before switching to Mercedes in 2013.

In terms of race wins, he is the most successful driver in the sport’s history with 103, 12 ahead of Michael Schumacher, with whom he shares the record for the most world titles.

Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton has been linked with a surprise move to Ferrari for the 2025 season.

Reports in the Italian media have suggested the British driver could leave Mercedes at the end of the upcoming campaign.

Hamilton, 39, has raced for Mercedes since 2013 and signed a contract extension with the team last year.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he is an “active legal exchange with the FIA” after the governing body launched an investigation into claims of an alleged conflict of interest with his wife, Susie.

The FIA has since dropped the controversial probe, which arose after a report in Business F1 magazine claimed that other team principals were concerned Wolff was benefiting from information shared by his wife, who is the managing director of the F1 Academy.

A day after the FIA announced its compliance inquiry, the sport’s other nine teams said they had not complained about the relationship between the Wolffs and, on Thursday night, the FIA said there is “no ongoing investigation”.

But on Friday the saga took another twist, when Wolff, who has overseen six of Lewis Hamilton’s record-equalling seven world championships, said Mercedes are considering legal action.

“We understand that there is significant media interest in the events of this week,” said the Austrian, 51.

“We are currently in active legal exchange with the FIA. We await full transparency about what took place and why, and have expressly reserved all legal rights.

“Therefore we ask you for your understanding that we will not be commenting officially for now, but we will certainly address the matter in due course.”

Forty-eight hours after the FIA said its compliance department was “looking into” the allegations, the federation said on Thursday that it “can confirm that there is no ongoing investigation in terms of ethical or disciplinary inquiries involving any individual”.

But Susie – who had already vehemently denied the allegations – calling them “intimidatory and misogynistic” – took another swipe at the FIA shortly before her husband’s statement.

Susie, who, in her role as boss of the all-female series, reports to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, said: “When I saw the statement issued by the FIA yesterday evening, my first reaction was: ‘Is that it?’

“For two days, insinuations have been made about my integrity in public and through background briefings, but nobody from the FIA has spoken to me directly.

“I might have been collateral damage in an unsuccessful attack on somebody else, or the target of a failed attempt to discredit me personally, but I have worked too hard to have my reputation called into question by an unfounded press release.

“We have come a long way as a sport. I was extremely thankful for the unified support of the Formula 1 teams. I have worked with so many passionate women and men at F1 and the FIA, who have the very best interests of our sport at heart.

“However, this episode has so far taken place without transparency or accountability. I have received online abuse about my work and my family. I will not allow myself to be intimidated and intend to follow up until I have found out who has instigated this campaign and misled the media.

“What happened this week is simply not good enough. As a sport, we must demand, and we deserve, better.”

Mercedes driver Hamilton is due to face the media later on Friday at the FIA’s prize-giving gala in Baku.

The FIA has dropped its investigation into a potential conflict of interest between Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and his wife Susie Wolff after concluding they did not share confidential information.

A report in Business F1 magazine said there was concern among other Formula One team principals that Toto Wolff was benefiting from information, via his wife, which was not being shared with them.

Susie Wolff, who is F1 Academy managing director, vehemently rejected the allegations after the FIA announced on Tuesday its compliance department was “looking in to the matter”.

The governing body concluded no wrongdoing has taken place and announced there is no ongoing investigation involving any individual.

“Following a review of Formula One Management’s F1 Code of Conduct and F1 Conflict of Interest Policy and confirmation that appropriate protective measures are in place to mitigate any potential conflicts, the FIA is satisfied that FOM’s compliance management system is robust enough to prevent any unauthorized disclosure of confidential information,” read a statement.

“The FIA can confirm that there is no ongoing investigation in terms of ethical or disciplinary inquiries involving any individual.

“As the regulator, the FIA has a duty to maintain the integrity of global motorsport. The FIA reaffirms its commitment to integrity and fairness.”

In her role at the all-female F1 academy, to which she was appointed in March, Susie Wolff reports directly to F1 president and chief executive Stefano Domenicali.

A social media post from her on Tuesday read: “I am deeply insulted but sadly unsurprised by the public allegations that have been made this evening.

“It is disheartening that my integrity is being called into question in such a manner, especially when it seems to be rooted in intimidatory and misogynistic behaviour, and focused on my marital status rather than my abilities.

“Throughout my career in motorsport, I have encountered and overcome numerous obstacles and I refuse to let these baseless allegations overshadow my dedication and passion for F1 Academy.”

She continued: “In the strongest possible terms, I reject these allegations.”

Christian Horner maintains Red Bull did not raise any official complaint with the FIA over allegations F1 Academy managing director Susie Wolff and her husband, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, shared confidential information.

A report in Business F1 magazine said there is concern among other Formula One team principals that Toto Wolff has had access to information, via his wife, which is not being shared with them that he is using to his benefit.

In her role at the all-female F1 academy, to which she was appointed in March, Susie Wolff reports directly to F1 president and chief executive Stefano Domenicali.

The FIA announced on Tuesday that its compliance department was “looking in to the matter”.

Susie Wolff issued a statement on social media saying she was left “deeply insulted” by the allegations, which she rejected “in the strongest possible terms.”

Horner has dismissed suggestions Red Bull instigated the action from the FIA and pointed to the team’s involvement with the Academy as well as praising the “great job” done by Susie Wolff.

“We have a big rivalry (with Mercedes) on track, but we haven’t raised any official complaint, either about Susie or Toto or Mercedes to the FAI,” Horner said on Sky Sports News.

“In fact, Red Bull has been the team which has got most involved with Formula One Academy from its inception, to the point that between the two Red Bull owned teams we will be entering three cars.

“We have been working closely with Susie, who has been doing a great job on Formula One Academy.

“I think we, like others, were quite surprised at the statement that came out last night, but it certainly wasn’t instigated or required or set off by Red Bull.”

Pressed again over any possible involvement across the organisation’s group, which also includes the AlphaTauri F1 team, Horner said: “We have not raised any official complaint or made any requests to the FAI or to FOM (Formula One Management).

“Indeed, we have been working very closely with Susie on the Formula One Academy – we are the only group that is going to be entering three cars in the academy for 2024.

“It is great work that they are doing with the academy and we are certainly exited about that.

“As far as the other teams, I can’t talk on behalf of others. This is an FAI thing, they have taken this action and, as I say, (it is) certainly nothing to do with Red Bull.”

Later on Wednesday, other F1 teams also went on record to distance themselves from the reported allegations.

A statement from Ferrari read: “We can confirm that we have not made any complaint to the FIA regarding the allegation of information of a confidential nature being passed between an F1 team principal and a member of FOM staff.

“We are pleased and proud to support F1 Academy and its managing director through our commitment to sponsor an entrant in our liveries from next season.”

Using the same wording in statements posted on social media, McLaren, Williams and Haas also rejected suggestions the team had been involved.

Mercedes also released a statement in response, which said it “wholly rejected” what had been alleged.

A statement from Formula One, meanwhile, said it had “complete confidence” the allegations were wrong.

“We have robust processes and procedures that ensure the segregation of information and responsibilities in the event of any potential conflict of interest,” the statement added.

“We are confident that no member of our team has made any unauthorised disclosure to a team principal and would caution anyone against making imprudent and serious allegations without substance.”

F1 Academy managing director Susie Wolff has rejected allegations that she and her husband, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, have shared confidential information.

A report in Business F1 magazine said there is concern among other Formula One team principals that Toto Wolff has had access to information, via his wife, which is not being shared with them that he is using to his benefit.

In her role at the all-female F1 academy, to which she was appointed in March, Susie Wolff reports directly to F1 president and chief executive Stefano Domenicali.

The FIA announced on Tuesday that its compliance department was “looking in to the matter”.

Susie Wolff said in a post on social media: “I am deeply insulted but sadly unsurprised by the public allegations that have been made this evening.

“It is disheartening that my integrity is being called into question in such a manner, especially when it seems to be rooted in intimidatory and misogynistic behaviour, and focused on my marital status rather than my abilities.

“Throughout my career in motorsport, I have encountered and overcome numerous obstacles and I refuse to let these baseless allegations overshadow my dedication and passion for F1 Academy.”

She continued: “As a woman in this sport, I have faced my fair share of challenges but my commitment to breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations to succeed remains unwavering.

“In the strongest possible terms, I reject these allegations.”

The FIA’s statement said: “The FIA is aware of media speculation centred on the allegation of information of a confidential nature being passed to an F1 team principal from a member of FOM (Formula One Management) personnel. The FIA compliance department is looking in to the matter.”

Mercedes released a statement which said it “wholly rejected” what had been alleged.

“We note the generic statement from the FIA this evening, which responds to unsubstantiated allegations from a single media outlet, and the off-record briefing which has linked it to the team principal of Mercedes-AMG F1,” it said.

“The team has received no communication from the FIA compliance department on this topic and it was highly surprising to learn of the investigation through a media statement.

“We wholly reject the allegation in the statement and associated media coverage, which wrongly impinges on the integrity and compliance of our team principal.

“As a matter of course, we invite full, prompt, and transparent correspondence from the FIA compliance department regarding this investigation and its contents.”

A statement from Formula One said: “We note the public statement made by the FIA this evening that was not shared with us in advance.

“We have complete confidence that the allegations are wrong, and we have robust processes and procedures that ensure the segregation of information and responsibilities in the event of any potential conflict of interest.

“We are confident that no member of our team has made any unauthorised disclosure to a team principal and would caution anyone against making imprudent and serious allegations without substance.”

Formula One’s newly crowned world champion Nico Rosberg announced his retirement from the sport on this day in 2016.

Mercedes driver Rosberg had claimed his maiden title at the season-deciding race in Abu Dhabi just five days earlier – and then made the shock revelation at a press conference in Vienna ahead of the FIA’s official prize-giving awards ceremony.

The German, 31, confirmed he took the final decision to walk away from the sport in the hours after his championship triumph.

Rosberg began his grand prix career with Williams in 2006 and competed in more than 200 races.

He joined Mercedes in 2010 and partnered compatriot Michael Schumacher, the seven-time champion, before Lewis Hamilton, his long-term rival, joined the team from McLaren in 2013.

Hamilton beat Rosberg to the drivers’ championship in both 2014 and 2015, with the German finally ending his long-running losing streak by claiming the 2016 title at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Following his shock revelation, Rosberg later posted a message on Facebook giving more details behind the decision.

“Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula One World Champion,” he said.

“Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target. And now I’ve made it.

“I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.

“I pushed like crazy in every area after the disappointments of the last two years, and they fuelled my motivation to levels I had never experienced before.

“Of course that had an impact on the ones I love, too – it was a whole family effort of sacrifice, putting everything behind our target.”

The German later returned to motorsport after establishing Rosberg X Racing to compete in the all-electric off-road racing series Extreme E, with the team winning both the 2021 constructors’ and drivers’ titles.

Lewis Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff has conceded Mercedes will have to scale Mount Everest to topple Max Verstappen’s Red Bull team next season.

Mercedes clung on to second place in the constructors’ championship by the skin of their teeth – and a £10million cash boost – as Verstappen ended the most dominant season in Formula One history with another victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Dutchman, taking his 19th win from 22 rounds, finished 17 seconds clear of team-mate Sergio Perez. But, mercifully for Mercedes, the Mexican driver was demoted to fourth following a five-second penalty for a collision with Lando Norris.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was elevated to second with Mercedes’ George Russell third. Lewis Hamilton finished ninth in the other black-liveried machine.

Had Perez outscored Russell, Mercedes and Ferrari would have been tied, with the Prancing Horse second in the team standings by virtue of Carlos Sainz’s win in Singapore.

But following Perez’s sanction, Mercedes ended the campaign three points clear of Ferrari to land a £105million reward, rather than £95m.

However, it marked a second straight season without a victory for Hamilton – a losing streak which now stands at 45 races – and Mercedes’ first winless campaign in a dozen years.

They finished an eye-watering 413 points behind Red Bull, who have long since turned their focus to next year’s machine. Last season, Mercedes were 244 points behind the world champions.

“Red Bull won by 17 seconds today, and haven’t touched the car since July or August, so you can pretty much guess where they’re going to be next year,” said a despondent Hamilton.

Picking up the baton, Wolff added: “From Lewis’ perspective, he had a bad weekend. Fact. But that doesn’t do anything on him being the greatest driver in the world.

“If we are able to give him a car, he will be fighting for a world championship. I have no doubt. But it is clear if you have a car like we have now, you are not at ease with it.

“Red Bull started the new regulations in 2022 with a massive advantage and they have been able to maintain it.

“We have a lot of respect for their achievements – from the engineering side, and the driver – and beating them under the current regulations is against the odds. Mount Everest is in front of us.”

Hamilton and Mercedes will hope a brand new design will fire them back to winning ways following their no-sidepod flop abandoned on the eve of the opening race in Bahrain.

Wolff continued: “We had to be honest that this car was never going to be good enough to fight for a world championship. We took the decision in April to go back to the drawing board and come up with something different for next year.

“We are changing the concept. We are moving away from how we laid out the chassis, the weight distribution, the airflow, literally every component has been changed because only by doing that do we have a chance. You could get it wrong also. Everything is possible.”

Mercedes have carried Hamilton to six of his record-equalling seven world championships. But the 38-year-old will head for the off-season wondering if he will ever win again, let alone mount a season-long championship challenge.

With only minor tweaks to the sport’s technical rulebook before a complete overhaul in regulations in 2026, Hamilton has already expressed his fear that Verstappen will be untouchable for the next two years.

Wolff added: “We have a board in our factory that shows all the world constructors’ championships since 1958. The table runs until 2050 so there are 27 open. And I would like to look back in 20 years and see many more Mercedes stars.

“I hate retrospective views. But when we look back and consider the decade we had – second, first, first, first, first, first, first, first, first, third, second – and when you look at it from that perspective, you say, ‘that was OK’.

“But from a micro-view there is one guy (Verstappen) that has won 19 races, and that of course, is not good enough.”

Lewis Hamilton said he could not wait for the season to end after he qualified only 11th for Sunday’s finale in Abu Dhabi – leaving Mercedes on the backfoot to salvage second in the Formula One world championship.

As Max Verstappen put his Red Bull on pole position for the final race of his all-conquering campaign – with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc runner-up and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri third – Hamilton was left staring at another abysmal performance in his underperforming machinery.

Indeed, Hamilton, six tenths behind Verstappen and a third-of-a-second back from team-mate George Russell, who qualified fourth, even claimed there was something wrong with his car.

His failure to progress to Q3 means the fight between Mercedes and Ferrari for second place in the constructors’ championship, worth nearly £10million, hangs in the balance.

The Silver Arrows head their Italian rivals by just four points ahead of Sunday’s race in the desert. And Leclerc finished ahead of both Russell and Hamilton to hand Ferrari the initiative.

“I don’t have any answers,” said Hamilton, who gloomily predicted his Q2 demise here 24 hours previously.

“It is just a very unpredictable car and it has been all year. I wouldn’t say I am relieved, but I am definitely happy it is nearly over.”

Hamilton’s comments were echoed by Toto Wolff.

“I’m fed up with having explanations as to why it didn’t go well,” said the Mercedes team principal.

“I’m happy that this was the last qualifying of the season and we will be back with a new car.”

Hamilton’s poor result came after it emerged that his father – and one-time manager Anthony – had enquired about a seat for his son at Red Bull.

Hamilton has recorded just one podium in his last six appearances following Mercedes’ tumble down the grid and he faces an uphill task to salvage a respectable result at the Yas Marina Circuit.

“There is something not right with this car, mate,” said the 38-year-old on the radio as he shook his head.

“The car is more inconsistent than ever before,” he later explained. “It is up-and-down from the moment you hit the brakes, the moment you turn, the moment you hit the apex, it is massively out of balance and hard to predict what is going to happen.

“George and I set our cars up the same, but they don’t read the same so there is something not right on our side. I have been off all weekend and struggled. Eleventh…it takes some good going for me not to get into Q3.”

Hamilton is third in the individual standings, 317 points Verstappen, with the Dutchman the overwhelming favourite to claim a remarkable 19th victory from the 22 rounds.

Mercedes are a staggering 430 points behind the Dutchman’s Red Bull team, who have won every race bar one this year.

Mercedes were handed a minor boost after Carlos Sainz was a surprise eliminated in Q1. Sainz bemoaned traffic for his lowly 16th grid slot.

But Leclerc’s improvement on his final run, to finish just 0.139 seconds behind Verstappen, provides the Prancing Horse with a spring in their step.

“The target is to beat Mercedes, so I hope Carlos gets a good start and joins me in the fight,” said Leclerc.

“Let’s look to put both of our cars in front of Mercedes because finishing second in the constructors is all that matters to me.”

Elsewhere, Lando Norris qualified a disappointing fifth after he got out of shape on his last lap.

“I don’t know why it happened,” he said. “I’ve not done that all weekend so it’s frustrating. I’m just doing a s*** job on Saturday.”

Asked if he was being too hard on himself, the 24-year-old replied: “Not at all. I was fighting for second and I end up fifth because of a stupid mistake. I’m too soft on myself.”

Lewis Hamilton said there was something wrong with his Mercedes after he qualified only 11th for Sunday’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.

As Max Verstappen put his Red Bull on pole position for the final race of his all-conquering campaign – with Charles Leclerc second and Oscar Piastri third – Hamilton was left starting at another poor performance in his underperforming machinery.

The seven-time world champion, facing up to a second season without a victory, finished six tenths behind Verstappen and a third-of-a-second back from team-mate George Russell, who qualified fourth.

Hamilton’s failure to progress to Q3 – as he gloomily predicted here on Friday night – leaves the fight between Mercedes and Ferrari for second place in the constructors’ championship firmly in the balance.

The Silver Arrows head their Italian rivals by just four points ahead of Sunday’s finale in the desert. And Leclerc finished ahead of both Russell and Hamilton to hand Ferrari the initiative.

However, Mercedes were handed a minor boost after Carlos Sainz was a surprise eliminee in Q1.

A day after he crashed out in practice, Sainz bemoaned traffic for his lowly 16th grid slot.

It emerged earlier this week that Hamilton’s father and one-time manager Anthony had enquired about a seat for his son at Red Bull.

Hamilton has recorded just one podium in his last six appearances following Mercedes’ tumble down the grid, and he faces an uphill task to salvage a respectable result at the Yas Marina Circuit.

“There is something not right with this car, mate,” said the 38-year-old as he headed back to the pits shaking his head.

Hamilton is third in the standings, an extraordinary 317 points Verstappen, with the Dutchman starting Sunday’s 58-lap race as the overwhelming favourite to claim a remarkable 19th victory from the 22 rounds this year.

Verstappen finished 0.139 seconds ahead of Leclerc, while McLaren’s Lando Norris was a disappointing fifth. The British driver got out of shape on his final lap in the last sector, losing him considerable time.

“The whole weekend has been a struggle,” said Verstappen. “But we improved the car for qualifying so I am very happy to be on pole.”

Quizzed about Ferrari’s battle against Mercedes, Leclerc said: “I hope it is going to go well.

“The target is to beat them, so I hope Carlos get a good start and joins me in the fight.

“Let’s look to put both of our cars in front of Mercedes because finishing second in the constructors is all that matters to me.”

Elsewhere, Yuki Tsunoda impressed to take sixth spot for AlphaTauri, one place ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso. Sergio Perez’s final lap was deleted for exceeding track limits, leaving him in ninth.

Lewis Hamilton fears Mercedes could lose second spot to Ferrari in the constructors’ championship after he admitted it will be a scramble to qualify in the top 10 for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc topped practice at the Yas Marina Circuit, seeing off McLaren’s Lando Norris by just 0.043 seconds, with world champion Max Verstappen third.

But George Russell and Hamilton finished only sixth and eighth respectively for Mercedes, with the latter half a second behind Leclerc.

Mercedes, who are facing up to their first winless season since 2011, hold only a four-point lead over Ferrari heading into Sunday’s finale in the desert.

And Hamilton said: “It was not the greatest of days. We have had difficult qualifying sessions this year, and getting out of Q1 and into Q2 has always been a tough battle, and getting into Q3 is a challenge.

“The work tomorrow is to try and get into Q3. But it is going to be close.”

Hamilton completed only four timed laps on Friday. He made way for the team’s Danish junior driver Frederik Vesti in the opening running, before a combined 30-minute delay wiped out half of the one-hour second session after Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg both crashed out.

Russell fared better than Hamilton, but he still finished three tenths behind Leclerc.

However, it was not a day without incident for Ferrari following Sainz’s crash.

A week after a loose drain cover tore through his Ferrari 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 after just eight and a half minutes, 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 restarted, 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 pulling up in his wounded machine.

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

British drivers Zak O’Sullivan, 18, and Jake Dennis, 28, made their Formula One weekend debuts for Williams and Red Bull respectively, while Ollie Bearman, 18, who in Mexico became the youngest debutant from Britain 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 secs 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.

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 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.”

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