Mercedes topped the timesheets in the second free practice session for Formula 1’s Brazilian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton leading a one-two having set a best lap of 1m09.515s.
Hamilton led the way at the end of the soft tyre runs, and reprised his role as pace setter on the supersoft compound, finding half a tenth over team-mate Valtteri Bottas almost half-way through the session.
In FP1, Hamilton’s 1m09.202s had beaten the all-time Interlagos lap record of 1m09.822s – set by Rubens Barrichello in 2004 F1 qualifying – but the new champion was marginally slower in the second session (as last year) as attention turned to race simulations in the final half.
“It was pretty exciting to come to the track with the cars being so much faster this year,” said Hamilton. “It’s physically more demanding than before which is great and it’s obviously quite warm out there today.” Hamilton’s time today was 2.6 seconds faster than the best Friday lap in 2016 and 1.5 secs inside last year’s pole position time of 1m 10.736s.
Allowing for standard track improvement across a weekend, plus engines turned up, in dry conditions that should mean a pole position time of around 1m08.1 or maybe even a high 1m07s lap.
Mercedes looked strongest on high fuel and on both tyre compounds used today. Red Bull’s chassis works well here but the engine gives a bit away on the long pull up the hill from the final corner to the start line.
This is likely to be an entertaining race as the front runners all have nothing to lose now that the titles have been decided, so they will be going for it. The same cannot be said of the midfield where quite a bit can still change.
Williams looks safe in fifth on 76 points, but there could be some sorting out behind with Toro Rosso on 53, Renault on 48 and Haas on 47.
Sebastian Vettel set the early pace on the soft tyres, setting an early benchmark of a 1m10.993 before whittling his time down by a further two-tenths.
Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen then went quicker at the end of the first ten minutes, but the duo were quickly shaded by the Mercedes pair and Max Verstappen on their first runs, the Dutchman falling one hundredth of a second behind the Mercedes driver.
Raikkonen was the first driver to show his hand on super-soft tyres, but his first flying run still emerged 0.4s slower than Hamilton’s best time on softs. Vettel reached for the super-soft compound moments later, but was also unable to overhaul Mercedes.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo then clocked in the third fastest time ahead of the Ferraris, although the Australian takes a ten-place grid penalty for the race having used a new MGU-H outside his allowance. Vettel was fourth fastest, marginally faster than Verstappen and Raikkonen.
As always at Interlagos, the midfield is very tight; Esteban Ocon was seventh fastest ahead of Felipe Massa, who announced his second retirement ahead of his home race. This battle for best of the rest behind the top three teams is set to be intense.
Ninth fastest Nico Hulkenberg outpaced Carlos Sainz Jr. by three tenths, although the Renault duo was split by the McLaren of Fernando Alonso.
Sergio Perez, returning to his Force India after GP3 champion George Russell took over FP1 duties, set the 12th best time ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne – who sustained a brief spin at the Senna S half-way through the session – and Lance Stroll, who was visibly aggrieved by traffic on his faster runs.
Antonio Giovinazzi – taking over Kevin Magnussen ‘s car for FP2 – set the slowest time overall having not run on super-softs, 1.117s adrift of Haas team-mate Romain Grosjean in 15th.
Brendon Hartley recovered from an engine failure in first free practice, falling 0.399s behind team-mate Pierre Gasly en route to 17th, and making up for a lost FP1 by managing 54 laps in the afternoon session.
Like Ricciardo, both Toro Rosso drivers have taken fresh engine components, also having to serve grid penalties as a result.
Losing the rear of his Sauber at Mergulho, Marcus Ericsson amazingly kept his car going after kissing the barrier, but was outpaced by team-mate Pascal Wehrlein by just over a tenth of a second.
Newly crowned F2 champion Charles Leclerc had another outing for Sauber in FP1, outpacing Marcus Ericsson by 2/100ths of a second, as did the new GP3 champion George Russell at Force India, setting the 12th fastest time, six tenths off Estaban Ocon.
Meanwhile Antonio Giovinazzi stood in for Kevin Magnussen in FP2 as the Dane swapped FP1 for FP2 with him.
Afterwards Sauber boss Fred Vasseur said that he hoped to be announcing the 2018 driver line up during the Abu Dhabi weekend. Both Leclerc and Giovinazzi are candidates for a seat, as is the encumbant Ericsson.
Force India’s Otmar Szafnauer said the engineers were “very impressed” with Russell, who will also get a run in FP1 in Abu Dhabi. He added: “We’re definitely talking to him about doing some more with us next year.
“We’ll see how he goes in Abu Dhabi but I expect he’ll be as good as here, if not better because he’ll be used to the team and the car. And then next year, although he’ll be doing GP2, he’ll do some stuff with us. He’s definitely on our radar.”
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