For the first time this weekend, Sebastian Vettel topped the timing screens at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in Free Practice 3 for this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
Vettel’s time of a 1 minute 07.948 seconds, a new track record at Interlagos, proved to be two-tenths faster than Lewis Hamilton‘s best effort. The Brit, who suffered with a brief mechanical problem that stunted his progress, was three-tenths faster than his Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Scuderia Ferrari were the early pacesetters in a cloudy, but dry, São Paulo. Kimi Räikkönen was the first man to set a fast time with a 1:09.424; he improved slightly on his second attempt, but Vettel soon lowered the pace by six-tenths on the super-soft tyres.
In the Mercedes camp Bottas managed to split the Ferraris, while Hamilton embarked on a very slow outlap – immediately returning to the pits complaining of an engine fault. Worried faces gathered by the gently smoking Mercedes in a bid to diagnose the problem, but after ten minutes in the pits, a dislodged breather pipe was described as the problem child and Hamilton returned to the track.
Räikkönen continued to find improvements in his pace, toppling Vettel’s time, as Hamilton used a very strong middle sector to his advantage to slot behind the Finn. That stasis failed to last, Vettel perfecting his run out of the last corner and up the hill to become the first man into the 1 minute 07 seconds bracket – a time that could not be beaten.
Hamilton came close on his last run, but continued to lose time in the final sector – suggesting that Mercedes are yet to unleash their full arsenal this weekend. After choosing to attempt another quick lap, running deep into Turn 13 put an end to his challenge.
Räikkönen held fourth, half a second behind Vettel, ahead of both Aston Martin Red Bull Racing cars of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Verstappen complained of a lack of front-end compliance mid-way through the session, with engine performance also plaguing their chances.
Ferrari‘s power advantage was evident once more, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean seventh and eighth for the Haas F1 Team. Charles Leclerc also made the top ten for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, narrowly behind the Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda of Pierre Gasly.
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