By Marcelo Teixeira
SAOPAULO (Reuters) – Mexican Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen picked up where he left off by lapping fastest for Red Bull in first practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Friday.
The Dutch driver, whose Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo will have a five-place grid penalty for a change of turbocharger, lapped the anti-clockwise Interlagos circuit with a best time of one minute 09.011 seconds.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was second on the timesheets in 1:09.060 with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, his fifth Formula One championship won in Mexico City last month and reflected in the five stars on his helmet, third on an overcast morning.
The top three, all on super-soft tyres, were separated by less than a tenth of a second, however.
Sunday’s main focus is the battle for the constructors’ championship, with Mercedes poised to win for the fifth year in a row and with one race to spare providing Ferrari do not outscore them by 13 points.
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.
Ricciardo, who started on pole in Mexico but suffered an agonising retirement, was fourth fastest ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes Valtteri Bottas, who lost time as Mercedes investigated a possible oil leak.
Verstappen can still become the youngest driver to take a pole position on Saturday but the 21-year-old has played down his chances of beating Mercedes and Ferrari.
“I think that there are not enough corners here to make up losses we have on the straights,” he had told reporters on Thursday.
Haas were best of the rest, with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen seventh and eighth.
Antonio Giovinazzi, who will replace Ferrari-bound Charles Leclerc at Sauber next season, took Marcus Ericsson’s car for the opening session and was 13th fastest.
British teenager Lando Norris, another 2019 rookie, was also on track in Fernando Alonso’s McLaren and was faster on the quicker soft tyres than the team’s departing Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne on mediums.
Force India also gave a practice outing to Canadian Nicolas Latifi, who was bottom of the timesheets.
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London; editing by Martyn Herman)