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Formula One

FP1: Verstappen edges Vettel and Hamilton as Red Bull set early pace

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Having lived up to expectations and delivered a Mexican Grand Prix triumph two weeks ago, Red Bull predicted a tougher challenge in Brazil this weekend. But the early signs are promising for them, after Max Verstappen, the winner last time out, topped the opening-practice timesheet on Friday – though less than a tenth of a second split the top three…

Verstappen, who dominated all three practice sessions at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, has seemingly brought that momentum to Interlagos, the Dutchman setting the pace under the grey Sao Paulo clouds to once again lead his team’s pursuit of victory.

It was by the narrowest of margins, however, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel just 0.049s behind the leader while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, fresh from his championship-clinching exploits in Mexico, was a slender 0.047s further back in third.

While Verstappen was buoyant in Mexico, his team mate Daniel Ricciardo endured a miserable time a fortnight ago, and it’s already been confirmed that he will face a five-place grid penalty on Sundayafter Red Bull fitted his RB14 with new power-unit elements.

That didn’t put him off too much in FP1, though, the Renault-bound driver coming home fourth – and behind him, Kimi Raikkonen won the battle of the Finns with Valtteri Bottas, the Ferrari driver going 0.108s faster than his Mercedes rival to finish in P5.

Away from the top three teams, Renault and Haas are locked in a fierce battle for the best-of-the-rest accolade this season – and it was the latter who won the FP1 tussle in Brazil, with Romain Grosjean finishing in P7 ahead of team mate Kevin Magnussen.

And it was another promising session for Sauber’s Ferrari-bound driver Charles Leclerc, who despite being 1.335s slower than Verstappen, finished narrowly ahead of Force India’s Esteban Ocon.

A relatively low-key session then, though McLaren’s Lando Norris – one of three Friday practice drivers to get a run out – and Magnussen both survived off-track moments, with grip at a premium at Interlagos.

So it’s Red Bull with the upper hand (but only just) going into Friday’s second session. And with a possible shower of rain making an appearance, it should be exciting….

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