Lewis Hamilton insists he is expecting a “close” weekend at the Brazilian GP despite topping both Friday practice sessions in a dominant Mercedes.
The newly-crowned 2017 world champion led a comfortable double Mercedes one-two at Interlagos, out-pacing Valtteri Bottas by a tenth of a second in Practice One and a slender 0.047s in Practice Two.
But while the duo enjoyed a tight intra-team battle at Interlagos, they were rarely challenged by Ferrari and Red Bull for one-lap speed – with Daniel Ricciardo closest of all, two tenths off Hamilton in the second practice session.
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However, only three tenths split the top five, completed by Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, and Hamilton is still braced for a close fight as he looks to seal his sixth win in eight races since the summer break.
“We’ve started off on the right foot,” said Hamilton, who was adamant that he would not be taking his foot off the gas despite sealing a fourth F1 crown. “We’re in a decent position but I think it could be quite close.”
And Mercedes executive Niki Lauda added: “Lewis is happy because everything comes to him and he is better than ever before.”
The Silver Arrows’ Friday form was certainly ominous and was noted by their rivals.
Sebastian Vettel, so disappointed after losing out on the title to Hamilton, explained: “Mercedes looked very strong so I think they are a bit ahead, both of them. Then it’s very close between us and Red Bull.
“It will be tough to beat Mercedes, they look very, very quick in all conditions and on all tyres.”
Long run average: Supersoft tyre Driver Team Average time Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:13.127 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:13.449 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:13.505 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:13.596 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:13.722 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:13.726 Long run average: Soft tyre Driver Team Average time Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:12.612 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:12.992 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:13.227 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:13.510 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:13.597 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:13.769
Hope for Ferrari and Red Bull?
Encouragement for Mercedes’ rivals would appear to be the long run pace.
Vettel, who recovered from an early spin, was within a tenth of the Englishman’s average lap time on the supersoft tyre in Practice Two, while Verstappen was fastest of all on the compound.
The Dutchman completed his supersoft stint at the end of the session, most likely with low fuel, but Red Bull still appear to have a strong race car once again in Brazil.
“I think Mercedes is quick but if we make some improvements then we are there or thereabouts [for victory on Sunday],” said Verstappen, winner of two of the last four Grands Prix.
“We know that in qualifying they can step up their engine a bit more, so we need to be at least the same speed or faster in final practice.”
Ted Kravitz gives his advice on where to go and what to see in Brazil this weekend, supported by FairFX – Sky Sports F1 sponsor.
BRAZILIAN GP SCHEDULE – LIVE ON SKY SPORTS F1
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 11
12.45pm – Brazilian GP Practice Three build-up
1pm – Brazilian GP Practice Three LIVE!
3pm – Brazilian GP Qualifying build-up
4pm – Brazilian GP Qualifying LIVE!
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 12
2.30pm – Brazilian GP Track Parade LIVE!
3pm – Brazilian GP Pit Lane LIVE!
3.30pm – Brazilian GP Race Build-up LIVE!
4pm – THE BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX LIVE!
6.30pm – Brazilian GP Paddock LIVE!
The 2017 title race may be over, but the racing definitely isn’t! Get set for Mercedes v Ferrari v Red Bull in the Brazilian GP LIVE ONLY on Sky Sports F1. The race begins at 4pm on Sunday. Want to watch but not got Sky F1? Buy a NOW TV pass from £6.99!