Penalised Hamilton beats Verstappen in P1 before Qualy battle

Last Updated: 12/11/21 4:45pm

    Lewis Hamilton took the fastest time in opening practice and a grid penalty for the race on a frenetic start to Friday at the Sao Paulo GP, with Max Verstappen falling behind his title rival before tonight’s qualifying.

    In the crucial sole practice session before qualifying for the third and final F1 Sprint of the season on Saturday, it wasn’t looking positive for Hamilton early on with his new Mercedes engine confirmed – which brings a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race – and setup issues plaguing his performance.

    But while Verstappen and Red Bull looked quick early on, Hamilton hit back towards the end of the session on the soft tyres and finished three-tenths up on the championship leader with his 1:09.050 at the epic Interlagos.

    The two title protagonists – split by 19 points with four races remaining – will go head to head again in qualifying at 7pm tonight, live on Sky Sports F1, which will set the grid for Saturday’s 24-lap Sprint.

    Hamilton’s grid slot will not be affected for that format, though wherever he finishes, he will then line up five places lower than that position for Sunday’s showpiece Sao Paulo GP due to his fifth Internal Combustion Engine of 2021.

    In Practice One, Sergio Perez was quick in the other Red Bull – finishing third and just a tenth behind Verstappen, and a tenth ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the Mercedes. The roles of Perez and Bottas are likely to be key this weekend.

    Pierre Gasly was fifth for AlphaTauri ahead of the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, who once again appear to have stolen a march on McLaren. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, perhaps concentrating on long runs, finished down in 15th and 19th.

    More to follow.