SAO PAULO (AFP) – Sebastian Vettel topped the times despite a “scruffy” lap on Friday as Ferrari delivered a resounding one-two to prove they are back on form in second free practice for this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
The four-time champion clocked a best lap in one minute and 9.217 seconds to outpace Charles Leclerc by 0.021 seconds in a close finish to a session that, like the first, ended with a red flag and two cars off the track.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the leading Mercedes, six-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes and Kevin Magnussen for Haas.
“It was not a very tidy lap,” said Vettel, who felt satisfied at his efforts, before turning his attention to the way in which Ferrari had been linked to unconfirmed allegations of “cheating” in the aftermath of the United States Grand Prix.
“I just said earlier that opinions swing so quickly nowadays,” he explained. “In one race, in one and a half hours, it can be so different – and in one race can change again. I just think we can provide all our answers on the track.”
Verstappen said he also felt he had a “bit of a messy day because of the changing weather”.
He added, “I think the lap times are not really representative as the track and ambient temperatures are pretty different to what it looks like for the next two days.
“It’s positive that the car was straight away working well, there are of course always things you can improve, but it was a good start and we have a good basis for tomorrow.”
His Red Bull team-mate Alex Albon, who was re-signed by the team for 2020 this week, was fastest and then crashed in the rain in the opening session, before winding up ninth behind Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo.
Both Mercedes men were satisfied with their limited running in the conditions.
“I am feeling cool about it,” said Hamilton. “We did a lot of work and it was all nice and smooth. We have some more to do and we have to compact it, but I am not sure we can find three-tenths to catch Ferrari. They are just quicker on the straights.”
After overnight rainstorms and a wet morning, the second session began in dry conditions with the teams keen to gain some track action as soon as the lights went green. Bottas was soon fastest in 1:10.812, a full six seconds quicker than Albon’s best lap in the morning.
After six minutes, the session was red-flagged when Robert Kubica, in his penultimate race weekend for Williams, went off at Turn Three, smashing the front and left rear of his car in the barriers. The action was halted for six minutes and re-started.
Verstappen went top after 15 minutes before Hamilton took over followed by Leclerc and then Vettel, the Ferrari men making the most of his power on the straights as the Italian team responded to their disappointing weekend in Texas two weeks earlier.
After 45 minutes, a flowing and fast lap from Hamilton was upset when he came upon his team-mate Bottas idling on the racing line. “Valtteri was just sitting there,” said Hamilton on team radio, as the Finn did much the same to Vettel seconds later.
As the temperature threatened to fall at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, there were more quick times as Ferrari and Mercedes set the pace, pursued closely by Verstappen’s Red Bull in the top five.
With 20 minutes remaining, Pierre Gasly pulled up when his Toro Rosso’s Honda engine failed and a brief Virtual Safety Car period was deployed.
That stoppage completed, there were only five minutes remaining when the session ended, like the early opening period, with another red flag when Gasly’s team-mate Daniil Kvyat smacked the barriers at Turn 12, the rear of his Honda-powered car bursting into flames.
This brought the session to an end with no further action on track as rescue vehicles cleared away the two Toro Rosso machines.