MERCEDES TAKE EARLY HONOURS
Bottas fastest overall, Hamilton second in practice
MERCEDES AMG Petronas returned to the top of the timesheets on Friday in practice for a Brazilian Grand Prix that looks set to deliver them a fifth successive Formula One constructors’ world championship.
Finland’s Valtteri Bottas, who has yet to win in a season dominated by teammate Lewis Hamilton, set the fastest time of one minute 08.846 seconds on an overcast day at Interlagos with a few spots of rain.
Hamilton, who clinched his fifth title in Mexico last month with two races to spare and now has five stars on his helmet, was a mere 0.003 slower in a session briefly halted after Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg crashed heavily at the tight Juncao left-hander, one of the key bends on the track.
“The car felt better than it did in Mexico, but we are still working our way through some issues. The pace doesn’t seem too bad, so we just have to keep working on it and improving it,” said Hamilton.
“It’s very close between all of us at the front, but I think there’s more potential in our car, so we just need to try and squeeze it out.”
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was third fastest, 0.073 off the pace after complaining of something loose around his feet, and ahead of the Red Bulls of Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Dutch youngster Max Verstappen.
“The car’s been OK, but not good yet so still some work to do,” said Vettel. “We are in the ball park but I think we can still launch forward from where we are.”
Mercedes will retain the constructors’ championship today if Ferrari fail to outscore them by 13 points.
Mexican Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen had been fastest in the opening session, with a lap of 1:09.011, but was sidelined at the start of the second session as Red Bull worked to fix an oil leak.
“They think it’s something that might have actually started in Mexico,” said team boss Christian Horner. “It compromised his track time but we got enough to get some good data.”
Verstappen can still become the youngest driver to take a pole position late yesterday, but the 21-year-old played down the chances of that happening.
“I had to go a bit too quickly through my programme initially and I had some traffic as well. It’s not ideal but I don’t think we are going to fight for pole position anyway,” he said.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon will have a five-place drop after an unscheduled gearbox change.
Hamilton finished fourth in Mexico and has a habit of not winning again in a season where he takes the title early, something he is keen to end.
Mercedes AMG Petronas’ Valtteri Bottas during practice in the Brazilian Grand Prix on Friday.