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Formula One

FP2: Bottas pips Hamilton as Mercedes lead the way in Brazil

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Since 2014, there’s been a Mercedes on pole position at every Brazilian Grand Prix. And if Friday’s qualifying simulation runs are anything to go by, that trend looks set to continue, after Valtteri Bottas led the time sheets in second practice, heading his newly-crowned team mate Lewis Hamilton by just 0.003s around Interlagos while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was just 0.07s further back.

The session had only been running for 10 minutes when Nico Hulkenberg pushed the limits too far coming out of the final turn at Juncao, the German driver getting onto the grass before his Renault slammed into the guard rail, smashing up the right side of his R.S.18 and bringing out a brief red flag. Fortunately, Hulkenberg emerged from the car seemingly unhurt, although he will have been frustrated to lose out on FP2’s key track time.

When the teams bolted on the supersoft tyres and headed out for their mid-session qualifying runs, there was little to choose between the Mercedes and Ferrari cars, as Bottas led the session, while Hamilton had looked to be on a faster lap than the Finn before he committed too heavily into Turn 8, locking his front right wheel and settling for second place. Expect to see more pace from the now five-time champ as the weekend progresses.

Vettel may have lost the championship last time out in Mexico, but he was looking plenty quick around Interlagos, ending up within a tenth of the leading time for the second session in a row despite being put off by an unidentified object his footwell. “There’s something loose between my legs… apart from the obvious,” was Vettel’s light-hearted message to the Ferrari pit wall.

Max Verstappen had led Free Practice 1 for Red Bulll, but an oil leak in the Mexico winner’s RB14 consigned him to the garage for the first 45 minutes of FP2. When the Dutchman finally emerged, the best he could manage was P5, around half a second off the leading pace after getting baulked by the Williams of Lance Stroll on his quick lap. His team mate Daniel Ricciardo – set to receive a five-second grid penalty for a new turbocharger for Sunday’s race – was just ahead in P4, while an agitated Kimi Raikkonen was P6 in the second Ferrari, some half a second back from his team mate’s pace.

In what’s shaping up to be a good weekend for Romain Grosjean, the French driver was once again best of the rest in seventh place, narrowly shading the ever-impressive Charles Leclerc in the Sauber and his Haas team mate Kevin Magnussen in ninth – the Dane driving the final part of the session with one wing mirror, after it flew off his VF-18.

That pace will be especially good news for Haas as they continue to hunt down Renault’s fourth place in the constructors’ standings. With Hulkenberg having had an early bath for the Anglo-French team, Carlos Sainz could only manage P14, about six-tenths off Grosjean’s pace around the short-but-tricky Interlagos track. Haas and Renault’s fight even manifested itself on track at one point, with Sainz and Grosjean going into Turn 1 side-by-side, nearly causing both drivers to come to grief. Save it for the race, eh lads?

At the back of the pack, one place ahead of Hulkenberg, Brendon Hartley will have been disappointed to wind up P19, despite running the upgraded Toro Rosso aero package, especially at a track he knows well from his time in the World Endurance Championship. The New Zealander will be looking forward to bolting Honda’s potent-looking Spec 3 engine into the car from Saturday onwards to try and help him climb up the order.

So after a disappointing showing for Mercedes in Mexico, the team look to be back on track in Brazil. And with Ferrari needing to outscore them here by 13 points to prevent them wrapping up the constructors’ title with one race to go, they look to be in the best position possible to try and get the job done at the end of Friday’s running.

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