FP1: Hamilton just 0.1s quicker than Leclerc and Verstappen in Mexico opener
Lewis Hamilton took another step towards securing his sixth Formula 1 title by topping the first practice of the Mexican Grand Prix weekend for Mercedes – just a tenth faster than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
While Leclerc is going for his third win of the season – and Verstappen his third in Mexico – Hamilton is playing for the highest stakes of all at the high-altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, and the world champion set his fastest time with 20 minutes remaining: 1m 17.327s on soft tyres.
That was after Racing Point’s Lance Stroll brought out a red flag as he crashed at Turn 16, causing a 10-minute clean-up operation.
Overnight rain made for captivating viewing on Friday morning in Mexico City as drivers began on intermediate tyres, switching to slicks with an hour remaining – but still having to wrestle their machines through the circuit, cueing lock-ups, spins – and Stroll’s side-on meeting with the stadium barriers, from which he was able to limp his car back to the pits.
Leclerc wasn’t far off Hamilton, however, and set his time on medium tyres, with Verstappen hot on his heels with a time of 1m 17.461s. The Dutchman’s team mate Alex Albon followed half a second back, as the soft-shod Red Bulls once again relished the challenges of Mexico City.
In the second Mercedes Valtteri Bottas was narrowly slower than Albon, in fifth, but two-tenths faster than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with the top-six drivers separated by 0.891s.
Consistently ‘best of the rest’ this season, Carlos Sainz of McLaren was a second off the pace in seventh – his team mate Lando Norris down in 14th – and followed by the Toro Rosso pair, led by Pierre Gasly.
Gasly spun at Turn 11 early on, at the entry to the stadium section where track limits will be strictly enforced this weekend, but rescued his spectacular off and continued.
Rounding out the top 10, which was split by 1.632s, was Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian enjoying a solid run of form and confident of a renewal with the squad alongside Kimi Raikkonen (13th in FP1) in 2020.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg missed out on a top-10 spot by 0.052s, and was only 0.002s faster than 12th-place Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.
Stroll emerged late in the session but couldn’t improve on his time of 1m 19.679s, though it was faster than his homecoming team mate Sergio Perez, who finished 17th ahead of Haas’s Romain Grosjean.
Rounding out the standings were Williams pair George Russell and FP1 stand-in Nicholas Latifi, the young Canadian also returning for FP1 at the United States Grand Prix next week.