Motorsport: Hamilton sets pace but Vettel close behind

Lewis Hamilton set the pace in opening free practice for this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix title showdown. Photo / AP
Lewis Hamilton set the pace in opening free practice for this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix title showdown. Photo / AP

Lewis Hamilton continued at Interlagos today where he left off in Texas last Sunday by setting the pace in opening free practice for this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix title showdown.

On a day of soaring heat and rising tension, the 27-year-old Briton clocked a best lap time in one minute and 14.026 seconds to outpace defending champion German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.

Vettel, who leads the title race by 13 points ahead of Sunday's finale, only needs to finish in the top four to become the youngest triple world champion in Formula One history.

His only rival for the title, two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, was fifth fastest, separated from the front pair by Vettel's Red Bull teammate Australian Mark Webber and his own in-form Ferrari teammate and local hero Felipe Massa.

Vettel was three-tenths of a second slower than Hamilton while Webber, Massa and Alonso were so closely matched that they were separated by just 0.007 seconds at the end of the afternoon session.

Hamilton, who won the United States Grand Prix in Austin last weekend, and won the 2008 title in dramatic fashion at Interlagos, topped the times in both sessions and looked supremely confident and fast in his 110th and final race for McLaren before his impending move to Mercedes next season.

He showed his emotion by reportedly bursting into tears during a television interview on Thursday and by adding the slogan 'Thank You McLaren' to his bright yellow helmet.

Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher was sixth fastest for Mercedes, in his final Friday practice session before heading off into retirement at the age of 43 and with tributes ringing in his ears.

His Mercedes teammate and fellow German Nico Rosberg was seventh ahead of Hamilton's McLaren teammate and compatriot Jenson Button, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Briton Paul Di Resta of Force India.

After a warm, bright morning, the afternoon session was run in hot, dry early summer weather with the air temperature rising to 33 degrees and the track temperature into the mid-40s, conditions that meant tyres had to be treated with great respect.

The track peaked at 49 degrees.

But a weather forecast of heavy rain due to arrive late on Saturday and into the weekend posed questions for the teams' set-ups with some opting for more down-force than others.

-AAP

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