SAOPAULO (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton set up what promised to be a tight Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying session after edging Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in final practice on Saturday.
The 34-year-old Mercedes driver, who secured his sixth Formula One world championship in Texas two weeks ago, lapped the Interlagos circuit with a fastest time of one minute 08.320 seconds.
Verstappen was 0.026 slower with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who will have a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday’s penultimate race of the season after an engine change, third and 0.291 off the Briton’s pace.
“It depends how much everybody’s got left in the tank for this afternoon but Max felt he left a little bit on the table on that lap, he had a lock up into turn 12,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
“I’m sure Lewis has got bits he can tidy up and the Ferraris haven’t shown their hand fully either yet,” he added. “If it goes like that session, it’s going to be a really exciting qualifying,”
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was fourth fastest ahead of Red Bull’s Alexander Albon and Hamilton’s Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas.
With the Mercedes drivers sure of finishing first and second in the championship, Sunday’s race is mainly about sporting statistics and the battle for bragging rights as best of the rest.
Leclerc is third overall, 14 points ahead of Verstappen and a further five clear of Vettel.
Hamilton, last year’s race winner after Verstappen tangled with back-marker Esteban Ocon while leading, meanwhile needs eight victories to equal Ferrari great Michael Schumacher’s record 91 wins.
Poland’s Robert Kubica, who crashed his Williams heavily in Friday practice, returned to the track in the team’s spare chassis.
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)