Formula 1 News

Hamilton sets Brazil pace, Vettel edges Alonso

An Inspired Hamilton keeps dominating the action at Interlagos. His farewell weekend for McLaren seems to be bringing his best.
Friday, November 23, 2012

SAO PAULO, Nov 23, 2012 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton continued at Interlagos on Friday where he left off in Texas last Sunday by setting the pace in opening free practice for this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix title showdown.

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On a day of soaring heat and rising tension, the 27-year-old Briton clocked a best lap time in one minute and 14.026 seconds to outpace defending champion German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.

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Vettel, who leads the title race by 13 points ahead of Sunday's finale, only needs to finish in the top four to become the youngest triple world champion in Formula One history.

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His only rival for the title, two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, was fifth fastest, separated from the front pair by Vettel's Red Bull team-mate Australian Mark Webber and his own in-form Ferrari team-mate and local hero Felipe Massa.

Vettel was three-tenths of a second slower than Hamilton while Webber, Massa and Alonso were so closely matched that they were separated by just 0.007 seconds at the end of the afternoon session.

The defending champion was mindful of the forecasts for unpredictable weather with heavy rainstorms on Saturday night and Sunday.

"It was very slippery for everyone, quite hot today and in terms of track conditions not that easy. So everyone suffered the same kind of problems - track, stability and so on -- so we have to do our homework now no matter what the weather forecast says," said the German.

Asked if he felt confident he could clinch his third title, he said: "We will see. It is a bit unknown what is going to come. So far we can be happy.

We have to do our homework and improve the car, there is a lot still to come.

"Obviously we don't know what the weather is going to do. Today is incredibly hot, tomorrow is supposed to be hot with maybe some rain, and Sunday a bit cooler -- this is Sao Paulo so it could be anything."

Hamilton, who won the United States Grand Prix in Austin last weekend, and won the 2008 title in dramatic fashion at Interlagos, topped the times in both sessions and looked supremely confident and fast in his 110th and final race for McLaren before his impending move to Mercedes next season.

He showed his emotion by reportedly bursting into tears during a television interview on Thursday and by adding the slogan 'Thank You McLaren' to his bright yellow helmet.

"It's been a positive first day -- I hope we can maintain our form or even progress it tomorrow. 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," said Hamilton.

"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."

"It's great to have such a positive final Friday with the team -- it's been one of the best Fridays we've had for a long, long time. I'm savouring every moment of this weekend."

Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher was sixth fastest for Mercedes, in his final Friday practice session before heading off into retirement at the age of 43 and with tributes ringing in his ears.

His Mercedes team-mate and fellow-German Nico Rosberg was seventh ahead of Hamilton's McLaren team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Briton Paul Di Resta of Force India.

After a warm, bright morning, the afternoon session was run in hot, dry early summer weather with the air temperature rising to 33 degress and the track temperature into the mid-40s, conditions that meant tyres had to be treated with great respect.

The track peaked at 49 degrees. But a weather forecast of heavy rain due to arrive late on Saturday and into the weekend, posed questions for the teams' set-ups with some opting for more down-force than others.

Alonso and Ferrari were among the teams that seemed to favour higher levels of downforce, which would be an advantage in wet conditions, and after the early fast laps from Vettel, he jumped top of the times midway through the session.

Grosjean then replaced him as fastest man before he was, in turn, outpaced by Hamilton's crushing lap in one minute and 14.026 seconds with 37 minutes remaining as they switched to softer medium compound tyres.

Massa and Rosberg also lapped more quickly and clocked the second and third-fastest times before Vettel, on fresh tyres, went on a charge but was still 0.274 seconds slower than Hamilton who concluded his work with an impressive long run in the final minutes.

Pos No Driver Team Times Gap Laps
1 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:14.026 35
2 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:14.300 0.274 40
3 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:14.523 0.497 37
4 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:14.553 0.527 37
5 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:14.592 0.566 37
6 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:14.654 0.628 36
7 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:14.669 0.643 40
8 3 Jenson Button McLaren 1:14.863 0.837 40
9 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:14.994 0.968 37
10 11 Paul di Resta Force India 1:15.129 1.103 39
11 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:15.131 1.105 40
12 9 Kimi RŠikkšnen Lotus 1:15.371 1.345 39
13 19 Bruno Senna Williams 1:15.432 1.406 45
14 15 Sergio Perez Sauber 1:15.542 1.516 35
15 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:15.839 1.813 43
16 16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:15.902 1.876 39
17 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:15.953 1.927 47
18 17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:16.048 2.022 40
19 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1:16.126 2.100 39
20 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:16.655 2.629 42
21 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1:17.244 3.218 15
22 24 Timo Glock Marussia 1:17.675 3.649 42
23 25 Charles Pic Marussia 1:18.127 4.101 31
24 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1:18.139 4.113 15

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