SAOPAULO (Reuters) – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel kept Mercedes off the top of the timesheets with a track record time in final practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Saturday.
The German, his Formula One championship hopes already over for another season after Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton won his fifth title in Mexico last month, produced a best lap of one minute 07.948 seconds.
Vettel’s time was about half a second quicker than last year’s pole position, set by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, at Interlagos.
Hamilton was 0.217 seconds slower, with Bottas third and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen fourth.
The two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who has a five-place grid penalty after a turbo swap, were fifth and sixth fastest.
Mercedes will clinch their fifth successive constructor’s championship with a race to spare on Sunday unless Ferrari score 13 points more than them.
If that happens, and a Ferrari one-two finish would do the trick, then the battle stays open to the final round in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton missed about 15 minutes of the session with mechanics working on his car after smoke was seen coming from the back of his Mercedes.
A team spokesman said a breather pipe had come adrift and needed to be put back in place with everything checked over before Hamilton could go back out.
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)