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Hamilton throws down the gauntlet


Though there isn't much of it, on the evidence thus far, Ferrari is back to its pre-Austin pace, which will no doubt reassure Charles Leclerc who faces a ten-place grid penalty following his engine change.

On the high fuel long runs however, it was Lewis Hamilton, who never got to complete a proper flying lap earlier, who had the edge, though the Ferraris were there or thereabouts.

Losing out to the Ferraris in terms of sheer grunt, one can expect Red Bull to be busy seeking clarification and technical directives from the FIA, while Hamilton says that securing both titles early essentially gives Mercedes two "freebie" races in which to "try things" for next season.

The slogan, be afraid, be very afraid, comes to mind.

The mixed conditions, particularly in FP1, made life difficult for a number of teams, and while Alex Albon was the only 'casualty' in the opening session, Robert Kubica crashed out early in the second session and both Toro Rossos were sidelined by engine issues.

Overnight, Williams has built the spare chassis for Kubica, and while both engines at Toro Rossos were the Friday versions, the failure must give cause for concern, not least to Max Verstappen.

Early days, but Kevin Magnussen was at the right end of the timesheets yesterday, as was Kimi Raikkonen, though it remains to be seen how they manage when it really matters, this afternoon and tomorrow.

Air temperature is 20.1 degrees C, while the track temperature is 31.2 degrees. Though it remains overcast, it is warmer than yesterday with only a 10% chance of rain.

The lights go green and Norris leads the way, followed by Albon and Grosjean. The Briton is on softs while the others are on hards.

There's a familiar face at the back of the Ferrari garage, it's Bernie, who is in conversation with Vettel.

"DRS doesn't work," warns Magnussen, however he is told that this is because it was an out lap.

Verstappen is told to keep within the white lines and not to shortcut the pitlane entry.

The first driver to post a time (14.407), Kubica is told to stay out and push.

No sooner has Kubica improved to 13.998 on the softs than Sainz (medium) totally destroys his confidence with an 11.058.

Sainz is told that he's quicker in Turn 4 and the final corner than he was yesterday on softs.

There is lots of activity, but all of it - other than Kubica and Sainz - is in the garages.

Both drivers continue to improve their times, Sainz to 10.756 and Kubica to 13.818.

Fifteen minutes in and Ricciardo is the third driver to post a time, the Australian crossing the line at 10.577.

Vettel is the first of the big guns to head out, the German no doubt aware that Sainz has continued to improve his time the more laps he completes.

The Silver Arrows head out also, both, like Vettel, on softs.

Locking-up in Turn 1, Vettel aborts his first flyer.

No such problem for Leclerc who posts 9.871 to go quickest. However, Vettel responds with a 9.666.

Bottas splits the Ferraris with a 9.763, only to be demoted when Hamilton stops the clock at 9.562.

Hulkenberg is fifth (10.276), ahead of Norris, Ricciardo, Stroll, Sainz and Magnussen.

Hamilton asks if wing has been added. He is told "only a small amount".

Leclerc improves to 9.599 but remains 0.037s off Hamilton's best. Vettel aborts after encountering Magnussen in S2. "I don't know what he was doing," says the German.

Albon goes seventh with a 10.297, as teammate Verstappen is one of three drivers yet to post a time.

No sooner has Verstappen gone quickest in S1, than Vettel goes quicker. The Dutchman goes purple again in S2, finally crossing the line at 9.327. Vettel aborts his lap.

"Feels like the fronts are really overheating," reports Albon, who has improved to sixth (9.777), as Verstappen improves to 9.063, courtesy of a two from Kvyat.

"It is impossible with the brakes like this," says Kvyat.

"He tried to force me off the track," complains Grosjean. "OK mate, we saw it," comes the reply. The Mexican subsequently pits.

It is noticeable that it is remarkably calm in the Ferrari garage.

A 10.019 sees Gasly go best of the rest.

The Ferraris head out with 23 minutes remaining, both sporting fresh softs as the qualifying sims get underway, albeit slightly earlier than usual.

No sooner has Vettel gone quickest in S1 than Leclerc goes even quicker. Meanwhile, Verstappen has raised the bar with a 9.059.

Vettel posts 8.664 but Leclerc hits back with an 8.611.

The silver arrows head out, Bottas leading the way.

"I think it might make sense to go for a double cool-down, what do you think?" asks Vettel. "We'll leave it to you," he is told.

On the first run, Bottas slows on the back straight, following a mistake in Turn 1, to allow his teammate through, having given him a tow in the final stages of the previous lap.

Quickest in S2, Hamilton crosses the line at 8.320 to go quickest.

At the second attempt Bottas improves but remains 0.904s off the pace.

Norris goes sixth with a 9.585, ahead of Albon, Gasly, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg.

Despite yesterday's promise, the Haas pair are at the other end of the timesheets, while Raikkonen is 13th.

That said, Raikkonen improves to 8th and Magnussen 9th.

Woah! Verstappen goes quickest in S1, while Albon posts a PB. Verstappen loses pace in S2 but goes second overall with an 8.346. Albon goes fifth with a 9.201, ahead of Bottas.

A 9.462 sees Giovinazzi go an impressive 8th.

"That was a weird snap, *****," says Grosjean, while Leclerc asks, "what's wrong with Sainz, we nearly crashed".

Verstappen hasn't given up, the Dutchman going quickest in S1. However, loses pace in S2 and aborts the lap.

Such is the continually frantic action, the order is forever changing, certainly in the midfield, as the Renault pair slip to 13th (Hulkenberg) and 15th.

A 9.415 sees Kvyat go seventh, ahead of Giovinazzi, Norris and Sainz.

"Hmm, I'm losing a bit of time on the back straight," warns Verstappen.

"I felt a big drop in power," says Hamilton, who subsequently pits... before heading out again.

Elsewhere a lock-up for Leclerc in Turn 10.

The session ends. Hamilton is quickest, ahead of Verstappen, Leclerc, Vettel, Albon, Bottas, Kvyat, Giovinazzi, Norris and Sainz.

Raikkonen is eleventh, ahead of Gasly, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Perez, Stroll, Russell and Kubica.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Interlagos, here.


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