Track records already bettered as Hamilton set the pace at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Straight out the cargo containers at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, Lewis Hamilton laid down the pace with his fourth star sitting atop his helmet. The newly crowned champion bettered the Interlagos track record, set by the Rubens Barrichello 13 years ago, to edge his Mercedes team-mate in a special Formula One session featuring champions from four different categories of motorsport.
It was the first time ever, and the only for now, that the reigning champion of Formula One hit the track alongside the current champions from Formula 2 (formerly GP2), GP3 and the World Endurance Championship.
With Lewis Hamilton taking his title-winning Silver Arrow out of the Mercedes garage once more. While Mercedes’ young protege George Russel made his Formula One practice debut in place of Sergio Perez at Force India.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, the recently crowned champion of the inaugural Formula 2 season, also hit the track in FP1 in place of Sauber’s Mercedes-backed Pascal Wehrlein. While for the third time, Brendon Hartley took to an F1 session in his Toro Rosso having clinched the WEC title just last weekend as the series travelled to Shanghai, China.
For Brendon, however, his dash across the Pacific unfortunately saw the Kiwi that has won the 24 hours de LeMans endurance spectacular retire from yet another Formula One session, after another expected Renault power unit failed in a cloud of smoke.
Hartley’s Toro Rosso stable-mate also had a subpar opening session. With Pierre Gasly, the 2015 GP2 champion, resigned to just 5 laps, three more than his Kiwi team-mate, after the Frenchman suffered an MGU-H failure.
Hartley retired from the opening session of the Brazil Grand Prix weekend after 17-minutes and without posting a timed lap. Whilst the Mexican Grand Prix winner, Max Verstappen, took to the green Interlagos track to post the opening time with a 1:12.253.
Verstappen swiftly dipped that benchmark down to a 1:11.491 before shaving further tenths off his time. Having previously shown his expertise at Interlagos a year ago during a drenched affair.
While Verstappen posted his initial laps on the softest compound Pirelli has brought to Brazil, the supersoft red-branded tyres, Valtteri Bottas soon bettered the Red Bull’s pace on the yellow-walled soft compound. Moving to within a tenth of the 1 minute 10.736 second pole time set by Hamilton at the 2016 race.
The yellow flags for Hartley’s stricken Toro Rosso soon brought an end to the increasing string of fastest laps that saw Bottas improve and better the 2016 pole time. Later becoming the first to dip inside the 1:09s too.
Though, while Bottas dipped his toe in first, Hamilton ran into the wave and set the fastest ever lap of the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace. Comfortably bettering the lap record of 1:11.473 set by Juan Pablo Montoya during the 2004 Brazil GP, and bettering the 1:09.822 absolute track record set by Rubens Barrichello in qualifying for the ’04 race.
On the supersoft tyres, improving lap times later into the runs proved a more challenging affair than on the soft tyres. With Hamilton later finding the gains to go faster prior to the 40-minute mark, as Verstappen moved to within 8-tenths of his previous best.
Come the chequered flag, the margin at the top between Hamilton and Bottas sat at 1.2 tenths of a second. While Kimi Raikkonen sat third, half a second behind the title holder.
FP1 stand-in George Russel ended his debut F1 session six-tenths off Esteban Ocon for 12th place. While Charles Leclerc edged Marcus Ericcson by nine-hundredths of a second for 17th place. With only the non-running Toro Rosso’s behind Sauber on the timesheet.
Shortly after the Virtual Safety Car period for Hartley’s Toro Rosso ended, sixth fastest Sebastian Vettel suffered a lack of grip as he pushed hard into Turn 8 and spun out of Turn 9.
Top-place Hamilton also ventured off track mid-way through FP1 as he moved aside for Nico Hulkenberg to take the racing line. But as the Briton attempted to maintain some momentum, had the door shut on his nose and drifted over the kerb to avoid contact.
“That was very dangerous of Hulkenberg,” claimed Hamilton via the team radio.
|4||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||TAG||31||1’09.750||0.548|
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||TAG||38||1’09.828||0.626|
|9||Esteban Ocon||Force India||Mercedes||36||1’10.454||1.252|
|12||George Russell||Force India||Mercedes||29||1’11.047||1.845|
|15||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Renault||Renault||32||1’11.467||2.265|
|19||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||Renault||5||1’14.034||4.832|
|20||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso||Renault||2|