Five-star racer Hamilton third in practice
World champion Lewis Hamilton finished third as Max Verstappen set the pace in opening practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hamilton, back in his Mercedes cockpit for the first time since winning his fifth world championship in Mexico a fortnight ago, was just 0.096 seconds slower than Verstappen at the Interlagos circuit.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel split Verstappen and Hamilton, half-a-tenth off the Dutchman’s pace.
Hamilton has failed to win a race after clinching the championship with rounds in his pocket. In 2015, Nico Rosberg won the last three grands prix of the season, before Vettel and Valtteri Bottas claimed a win each last year.
But the British driver, sporting a fifth championship star on his crash helmet to honour his latest title triumph, is keen to add to his tally of just one victory at the home of his boyhood hero, Ayrton Senna, yet on the evidence of the opening running may have his work cut out.
Just as in Mexico, Verstappen, who claimed his second win of the year, set the early pace, while Vettel and Ferrari, who must outscore Mercedes by 13 points on Sunday to stop them from winning a fifth straight constructors’ crown, was also ahead of Hamilton in the pecking order.
Daniel Ricciardo was fourth for Red Bull, 0.384secs down on his team-mate, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth, and Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Bottas was sixth in the order.
British teenager Lando Norris replaced Fernando Alonso for the first session as he continues his preparation ahead of his full debut for McLaren next year.
Norris finished 16th, fourtenths of a second faster than Stoffel Vandoorne in the sister car. Norris has now finished faster than Vandoorne in all four practice sessions that they have taken part in together this season.
In a relatively incident-free session, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finished seventh and eighth for Haas ahead of the Ferrari-bound Charles Leclerc, and Force India’s Esteban Ocon.