Lewis Hamilton set the early pace in Brazil, heading the timing sheets in Free Practice 1 ahead of his Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team colleague Valtteri Bottas and Scuderia Ferrari‘s Kimi Räikkönen.
Hamilton’s blistering 1:09.202 will surely be beaten as the weekend progresses, but it was enough to earn a new ultimate track record at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace. Bottas ran the four-time World Champion close, ending the session a tenth shy, with Räikkönen over half-a-second off of Hamilton.
In the early stages of the session, a flurry of cars flocked onto the Interlagos track, bathed in brilliant morning sunshine – Max Verstappen set the first lap in anger, with a 1:12.253 on the super-soft compound; less than five-tenths of a second away from Hamilton’s pole position effort last year.
The times started to fall soon after. Verstappen bettered his time by eight-tenths before proceeding to break into the 1 minute 10 barrier.
However, Mexico‘s race winner only proved to be a warm-up act. Bottas proved Mercedes’ pace, a 1:10.102 set on the soft tyres knocking the Dutchman off of top spot.
Red Bull Racing were no match for that – on the same compound, Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t even get within one and a half seconds of the Finn.
Their sister team were also having problems. Scuderia Toro Rosso‘s Brendon Hartley – fresh from clinching the World Endurance Championship crown with the Porsche LMP1 Team – saw his weekend start in a similar vein as the last one, his Renault power unit exuding plumes of smoke before spiralling into a major failure near the pit entrance.
As the waved yellows were put away, Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel showed their opening hand. Vettel jumped up to second with a 1:10.321 before spinning at Turn 9 on his second attempt.
His former championship rival Hamilton set the timing screens alight moments later, immediately venturing into the 1 minute 09’s, well clear of team-mate Bottas.
Briefly, Bottas retook the lead, but the Brit brought the track record down once more with a 1:09.202, a fraction over one-tenth ahead.
As attentions turned to long runs – due to the threat of rain in Free Practice 2 later – few times were bettered.
Felipe Massa, in his actual final Brazilian race, proved to be the best of the rest in his Williams Martini Racing car, settling in seventh, just under a second slower than Hamilton. His team-mate Lance Stroll couldn’t quite break into the top ten.
McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team duo Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso did manage to secure top-half finishes, the Belgian in eighth with Alonso – who remains coy on his links with the Toyota GAZOO Racing team for next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans – rounding out the top ten.
In his first official session in a Formula 1 car, GP3 champion George Russell put in a healthy showing for the Sahara Force India F1 Team, ending the morning in twelfth; whilst Esteban Ocon was the filling in a McLaren sandwich.
Haas F1 Team managed to get the beating of the Renault Sport Formula One Team, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen assuming thirteenth and fourteenth respectively, ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Nico Hülkenberg.
The poor Toro Rosso pairing brought up the rear of the field. Pierre Gasly endured another disrupted session with a similar – albeit less dramatic – problem as team-mate Hartley, not managing to set a representative lap time.
In the Sauber F1 Team battle, Charles Leclerc edged ahead of full-time driver Marcus Ericsson.
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