The title chases may be over now but after a taxing week, Lewis Hamilton showed his dominance finishing fastest in the first and second practice sessions for the Brazil Grand Prix.
After clinching his last world title, the rest of the season was all a bit of a disappointment with then team mate Nico Rosberg winning the last three races of the season. The newly crowned champion has pledged that won’t happen again this time as Mercedes bid to continue their dominance over Ferrari.
Mercedes had a 1-2 in the first practice session with Lewis Hamilton finishing 0.127 seconds ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas. Kimi Raikkonen was in third but 0.415 seconds adrift of Bottas with the two Red Bulls in fourth and fifth. Max Verstappen was in fourth only 0.006 seconds behind Raikkonen with his team mate Daniel Ricciardo in fifth and Sebastian Vettel only sixth. Verstappen would have done better but for his Red Bull struggling for grip, while Vettel had a spin as his disappointing second half of the season continued.
British driver George Russell made his debut for Force India and finished an impressive 12th. An inevitable part of these reports is the latest news on grid-penalties. This time around, Daniel Ricciardo has a penalty of at least ten places after a new MGU-H has been fitted after the engine problems in Mexico. Both Toro Rosso drivers are also in the same boat this weekend and the first practice session didn’t show any signs of them having an enjoyable weekend. Gasly has a 25-place penalty and Hartley just the ten. They only managed seven laps between them in this practice session due to continuing engine problems.
The Mercedes dominance continued with another Hamilton-Bottas 1-2 in the second practice session. It was close between the pair with Hamilton just 0.048 seconds faster. Ricciardo was third but 0.228 seconds adrift of the British driver with Sebastian Vettel in fourth a further 0.132 seconds behind. The same set of drivers filled the top six with Verstappen fifth and Raikkonen in sixth.
Signs look good for another Hamilton win on Sunday with his Mercedes ahead of Vettel in the race-simulation runs, especially when on the soft tyres. Hamilton was 0.5 seconds faster than Bottas and both comfortably faster than Ricciardo, who will of course be starting down the grid thanks to that penalty.
Hamilton was impressed with his Friday performance accepting that the track is physically demanding and that means tyres don’t last too long. He commented, “We’re in a decent position, but I think it could be quite close.” Sebastian Vettel wasn’t too disappointed believing that Ferrari can “fine-tune the balance and that should help us get the pace up for qualifying and race,” but admits even with that it might be difficult to match the Mercedes this weekend.
It wasn’t an easy time for McLaren either with Fernando Alonso’s car having engine problems and Stoffel Vandoorne spinning during his qualifying simulation run.
I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on the final practice and qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.