Lewis Hamilton followed up his win in Austin last Sunday with a strong performance in practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix season finale.
The McLaren driver set a fastest time of 1m 14.028 to head championship leader Sebastian Vettel by 0.274 secs.
Having set the fastest low-fuel time on the medium tyre, his performance on the long runs also looked good, however he did give the tyres a breather from time to time, which he will not be able to do in race conditions. Rivals did unbroken sequences of laps, so the picture is not as clear as it may look. It seems that the Pirelli tyres are blistering in the heat, with track temperatures nudging 50 degrees. This would push teams into making two stops on Sunday, however the latest weather forecast suggests that Sunday will be wet, with rain starting to fall on Saturday evening after qualifying.
“It’s been one of the best Fridays we’ve had for a long, long time,” said Hamilton. “We’re certainly looking strong, but this place can be so tough on tyres that it’s hard to make any accurate predictions at this stage.
“The track and ambient temperatures were so high today that it felt almost as though I was sliding around the track with the tyres melting! Having said that, our long runs are usually tougher on the tyres [than shorter runs], but our long runs still looked quite good today.
McLaren has set itself the target of a 1-2 finish this weekend, which would give them second place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Ferrari, worth an extra $10 million to them compared to third.
Hamilton ran a higher downforce set-up on his car in the afternoon session than team mate Jenson Button, who started the afternoon session with low downforce and as a result had a straight line speed advantage of 11km/h over his team mate. However Button will need to improve from his 8th place today if he is to give McLaren a big payday on Sunday.
Mark Webber set the third fastest time, with Felipe Massa again faster than team mate Fernando Alonso, who was fifth. Ferrari looked like they have the speed to qualify on the second or third rows, but they will be wary of Button and the Lotus cars improving one lap pace tomorrow in final practice.
Ferrari split the work load on long runs, with Alonso running the hard tyre and Massa the soft. This will give them plenty of data to work with when planning Sunday’s race, although if the promised rain arrives it will be academic.
* This morning the teams tried out an evaluation specification of the 2013 Pirelli hard tyre. The tyre, which will have an orange sidewall, was close to the current hard tyre on performance, but has a different construction to even out the temperature across the tyre.
“We wanted to give teams the opportunity to try out our tyres before the first official test in February next year,” sad Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery. “So that they can start to understand how the new tyres interact with the current cars.
“The initial feedback we received has been very positive: the tyre that the teams tried today has a different structure with a faster warm-up. This delivers extra performance within a wider working range, due to increased cornering grip.”
BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX, Interlagos, Free Practice 2
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m14.026s 35
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m14.300s + 0.274 40
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m14.523s + 0.497 37
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m14.553s + 0.527 37
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m14.592s + 0.566 37
6. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m14.654s + 0.628 36
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m14.669s + 0.643 40
8. Jenson Button McLaren 1m14.863s + 0.837 40
9. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m14.994s + 0.968 37
10. Paul di Resta Force India 1m15.129s + 1.103 39
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m15.131s + 1.105 40
12. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m15.371s + 1.345 39
13. Bruno Senna Williams 1m15.432s + 1.406 45
14. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m15.542s + 1.516 35
15. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m15.839s + 1.813 43
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m15.902s + 1.876 39
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m15.953s + 1.927 47
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m16.048s + 2.022 40
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m16.126s + 2.100 39
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m16.655s + 2.629 42
21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m17.244s + 3.218 15
22. Timo Glock Marussia 1m17.675s + 3.649 42
23. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m18.127s + 4.101 31
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m18.139s + 4.113 15