With the drivers’ championship decided in Mexico, the F1 circus rolled into Brazil with the knowledge every battle now was for the glory of winning a race.
In Free Practice One however, it was the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton once again topping the timesheets with a new lap record as he led a dominant Mercedes one-two. The newly crowned four-time world champion topped the timesheet with a 1:09.202, beating the previous all-time lap set in 2004 to finish a tenth clear of his team mate Valtteri Bottas in second.
Hamilton didn’t have it all his own way though, as he was forced to take to the grass when the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg tried to make a pass on him during the first practice session. The Renault driver angered Hamilton after pushing the Mercedes onto the grass as he made a move up the inside while on a fast lap.
“That was very dangerous,” complained Hamilton over team radio.
The Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen finished the session third in his car, albeit half a second off the pace of the Mercedes of Hamilton. He finished ahead of the Red Bull’s of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session fourth and fifth respectively. The sister Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel was in sixth place following a spin onto the grass into turn nine during his opening stint.
Felipe Massa was an impressive seventh for Williams just a tenth of a second off of Vettel’s time. The race will be the Brazilian’s final Grand Prix after he announced his retirement earlier on this week. Stoffel Vandoorne in the McLaren, Esteban Ocon in the Force India, and Fernando Alonso in the McLaren completed the top 10.
There were several drivers being fielded by teams in the Free Practice session, including the 2017 GP3 champion, 19-year-old Briton George Russell, who impressed in the Force India and posted the 12th fastest time. He was not the only 2017 champion out there testing, as Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc also did well in his latest run in the Sauber, finishing just ahead of regular driver Marcus Ericsson.
However, for 2017 World Endurance Champion Brendon Hartley, and Toro Rosso it was a disastrous session after both drivers were hit by fresh engine problems after their problems they had in Mexico last race out.
Hartley was unable to set a time after being forced to stop his car in a cloud of smoke on his opening lap during the session. While Pierre Gasly was limited to just one timed lap before his session was halted by an MGU-H problem.
Both drivers, along with the Red Bull of Ricciardo, were already facing a 10-place grid penalty for taking on new MGU-Hs
The First Practice Session marked the first time ever the current Formula 1 champion (Hamilton), Formula 2 champion (Leclerc), GP3 champion (Russell) and World Endurance Championship champion (Hartley) had taken part in a F1 session at the same time.
In Free Practice Two Hamilton once again made a faultless start to the session, improving on the new track record he had set in FP1, with a lap of 1:09.515. His Mercedes team-mate Bottas was just a tenth behind Hamilton on an ominously-impressive day for the Silver Arrows. Critically Bottas is just 15 points behind Vettel in the driver’s standings, and could still potentially steal second from the championship from the Ferrari driver with the final race in Abu Dhabi to go. And finishing ahead of the German in the two sessions is the best way to start that charge.
Ricciardo was able to set the third fastest time, and came almost within two tenths of a second of Hamilton’s lap time. The Australian will still have to serve his 10 place grid penalty however, though the result shows there is genuine pace in the Red Bull this weekend, which Verstappen and Ricciardo may be able to exploit for points.
“I’m pretty happy with Friday,” said Ricciardo after. “For what we’ve got here we looked competitive. The long runs looked okay but the Mercs looked really strong. We can definitely find a little bit more for tomorrow but I don’t think we’re far off and we don’t have to make many changes tonight.
Vettel was fourth quickest for Ferrari and only three tenths down on Hamilton’s Mercedes. Importantly for Ferrari, Vettel looked to be very close to Hamilton when running on the supersoft tyres. There was on average a tenth between the two drivers, which shows we could be up for a fight for the victory this weekend.
“Mercedes looked very strong, they are a bit ahead,” said Vettel. “But it is very close between us and Red Bull. Mercedes look very quick in all conditions and all tyres.”
Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull ahead of the Ferrari of Raikkonen. The remaining top 10 slots were filled by a car each from Renault, McLaren, Force India and Williams. With Ocon in the Force India finishing ahead of Massa in the Williams, Hulkenberg in the Renault, and Alonso in the McLaren.
With such a short lap and inter team battles to settle, qualifying could lead to one of the most interesting sessions we’ve seen for a while.
Brazilian GP Free Practice One Timesheet
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: 1:09.202
2) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: +0.127
3) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: +0.542
4) Max Verstappen, Red Bull: +0.548
5) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull: +0.626
6) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: +0.782
7) Felipe Massa, Williams: +0.900
8) Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren-Honda: +1.200
9) Esteban Ocon, Force India: +1.252
10) Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Honda: +1.274
11) Lance Stroll, Williams: +1.430
12) George Russell, Force India: +1.845
13) Romain Grosjean, Haas: +1.986
14) Kevin Magnussen, Haas: +2.261
15) Carlos Sainz, Renault: +2.265
16) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault: +2.406
17) Charles Leclerc, Sauber: +2.600
18) Marcus Ericsson, Sauber: +2.696
19) Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso: +4.832
20) Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso: No time set
Brazilian GP Free Practice Two Timesheet
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: 1:09.515
2) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: + 0.048
3) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull: + 0.228
4) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: + 0.360
5) Max Verstappen, Red Bull: + 0.371
6) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: + 0.602
7) Esteban Ocon, Force India: + 0.791
8) Felipe Massa, Williams: + 0.858
9) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault: + 0.881
10) Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Honda: + 1.140
11) Carlos Sainz, Renault: + 1.170
12) Sergio Perez, Force India: + 1.180
13) Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren-Honda: + 1.387
14) Lance Stroll, Williams: + 1.549
15) Romain Grosjean, Haas: + 1.785
16) Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso: + 1.907
17) Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso: + 2.306
18) Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber: + 2.342
19) Marcus Ericsson, Sauber: + 2.474
20) Antonio Giovinazzi, Haas: + 2.902