Five-star racer Hamil­ton third in prac­tice

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - Sport - BY PA SPORT

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.

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