Mexico Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen finished fastest in the opening practice session in Brazil, with Sebastian Vettel and newly re-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton less than a tenth adrift.
Having topped all three practice sessions at the last race in Mexico City, Verstappen’s 1m09.011s benchmark propelled the Red Bull driver to the top of a fourth consecutive practice timesheet in FP1 at Interlagos.
Hamilton had seemed to be Verstappen’s closest challenger for most of the session. The five-time champion had led after the first 40 minutes of running, despite complaining of significant understeer.
However, the Mercedes driver suffered front locking on several laps in the second half of the session and was unable to improve on his earlier pacesetting time.
This allowed not only Verstappen but Ferrari’s Vettel to leap-frog him. Vettel finished the morning 0.049s adrift of the lead Red Bull, while Hamilton was a still slender 0.096s behind.
Daniel Ricciardo ended FP1 in fourth. He waited at the end of the pitlane for 10 minutes before the start of the session, as Red Bull aimed to minimise the effect of a five-place grid penalty which Ricciardo faces as a result of a turbocharger change.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen may have finished 0.562s behind Verstappen in fifth place, but the Finn posted his session-best time on the soft compound tyres. He was the only driver in the top 14 to not post a faster time on the quicker supersoft rubber.
Even on the soft tyres, Raikkonen managed to beat Valtteri Bottas. Like Hamilton, Bottas struggled to improve in the second half of the session and finished sixth on the timesheet.
The Haas pairing of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were immovable in the ‘best of the rest’ positions of seventh and eighth. Grosjean was over three tenths faster than his team-mate, who has the potential to clinch their tight 2018 qualifying head-to-head this weekend.
Antonio Giovinazzi was provided more seat time by Sauber. He was the fastest of the three Friday drivers, finishing in 13th.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was 16th on soft tyres, while Force India reserve Nicholas Latifi finished at the foot of the timesheet in 20th.