MERCEDES TAKE EARLY HON­OURS

Bot­tas fastest over­all, Hamil­ton sec­ond in prac­tice

New Straits Times - - SPORT -

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.

REUTERS PIC

Mercedes AMG Petronas’ Valt­teri Bot­tas dur­ing prac­tice in the Brazil­ian Grand Prix on Fri­day.

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