Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in the first and only practice session for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix ahead of Friday afternoon’s qualifying session.
The seven-time champion, who is facing a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race, was 0.367s faster than his title rival Max Verstappen in second place.
The grid penalty will only apply to Sunday’s race, so Hamilton will still be in contention for the three points on offer for victory in Saturday’s sprint race if he qualifies well on Friday afternoon.
Red Bull appeared to shift focus to race pace at the end of the practice session, which may prove to be wise as each driver’s setup will be locked in place from the start of Friday qualifying onward. Mercedes, meanwhile, seemed to be more focused on getting the car to perform over a single lap.
Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, was third fastest, 0.4s off Hamilton, with the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in fourth place.
Pierre Gasly continued to impress with the fifth fastest time for AlphaTauri ahead of the two Ferraris, two Alpines and Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin rounding out the top ten.
Rain was in the air throughout practice but a a full-on downpour held off during the hour-long session, allowing drivers to remain to slick tyres,
Friday qualifying will set the grid for Saturday’s 24-lap sprint race, which runs to a third of the length of Sunday’s grand prix.
The order at the end of the sprint race will then form the grid for Sunday’s grand prix, with grid penalties, such as Hamilton’s, applied.