Lewis Hamilton was on top of the timesheets for both Friday practices at the FIA Formula One Championship season finale in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The Briton will run his final grand prix for the McLaren team this Sunday on the historic Interlagos circuit.
“It’s been a positive first day – I hope we can maintain our form or even progress it tomorrow. We’re certainly looking strong, but this place can be so tough on tyres that it’s hard to make any accurate predictions at this stage,” said Hamilton.
Following on the heels of his victory at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, Hamilton aims to close out his season on the top step of the Brazilian Grand Prix podium. His best lap was a 1m14.026s.
It was alright today, it was very slippery for everyone.
Hamilton’s fastest lap was set near the end of the afternoon session, and he bypassed the hot lap time of 1m14.300s by 0.274 of a second which Sebastian Vettel had laid down. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was back in fifth with his best lap today of 1m14.592s. Both Red Bull-Renault's Mark Webber and Alonso's teammate, Felipe Massa, were faster than the Spaniard.
Friday is always the day that the teams use to prepare for the weekend. Pirelli had their 2013 tyres available also for the teams to test during today’s free practices. They were easy to notice with their orange writing on the sidewalls. It was also a hot day mixed with the thin air due to the high elevation. The afternoon temperatures reached into 33C (91F) with the track at 48C (118F). Forecast for tomorrow during qualifying is cooler.
Hamilton commented: “The track and ambient temperatures were so high today that it felt almost as though I was sliding around the track with the tyres melting! Having said that, our long runs are usually tougher on the tyres [than shorter runs], but our long runs still looked quite good today.”
For both Vettel and Alonso, the setup of their cars, the testing of full fuel-load runs, standing start practices, and the Pirellis tyres is vital for this Sunday’s race. Rain is predicted for Sunday, and already comments about the slippery track are on the minds of the drivers; mainly due to heat. Usually the focal point is the high elevation and thin air.
The championship will be decided between the German and the Spaniard.
Red Bull’s Vettel commented, “It was alright today, it was very slippery for everyone. It was quite hot today and in terms of track conditions not that easy, so I think everyone suffered the same kind of problems looking for traction and stability etc. So far we can be happy, we have to do our homework now, first comes tomorrow morning and we go from there.”
Alonso, on the other hand, is the one chasing Vettel, and also has two titles -- both were consecutive ones as well: 2005 and ’06). The Ferrari ace is 13 points behind the German as they prepare for the season finale race.
With the hopes of earning his third Formula One championship, and yesterday, he stated that he would “treat as a normal weekend” since he realizes that “What Red Bull does is not in our hands” as he has his own goal and that is to reach the podium. He explained, “The podium and the chance to score more than 13 points is our first priority.”
Alonso commented about today: “It was very hot out on the circuit today and, especially this afternoon, the track temperatures were well above normal, even for this circuit. We have not yet found the ideal balance on the car, so there is still a lot of work to be done with the engineers going into the rest of the weekend. The predictions are for very different conditions from Saturday to Sunday, further reason to concentrate on the best choices when it comes to preparing the car for qualifying, but especially for the race.”
Schumacher said, “It was a reasonably good day, and we kept working on our planned programme. However, the predictions for Sunday at the moment are for rain, so there may be totally different conditions then. We therefore have to see what we can make of today's data and transform it into a good qualifying and, even better, a good race.”
Rounding the top ten were Jenson Button, Romain Grosjean, and Paul di Resta. McLaren had Button testing a new setup which involved a smaller rear wing. He explained, “We were running a lower downforce set-up package to Lewis this afternoon. It was quite an interesting comparison, but, in the hot weather, lower downforce makes things trickier because the car slides more, which hurts the tyres.”
Lotus-Renault’s Grosjean spoke about the tyres and possible rain on Sunday: “Speed was not especially easy to find today, but we ran through our normal programme with a little bit of focus on a wet set-up as we know there’s rain forecast for Sunday. We only ran a little with the 2013 tyres in the morning; my initial impression is that they feel a bit better and you can notice they have a different construction. Our long run pace was good so let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
“I think we can feel quite positive about today. It was all pretty straightforward and the data looks quite encouraging. The hot conditions were tricky for everyone and the car was moving around quite a bit, but we’ve ended the day with a pretty sorted car that is working well in the low and high speed parts of the lap. I’m certainly feeling more confident with the car compared to recent races and I think we are looking reasonably competitive here.”
Saturday will tell the real story on who has the speed, and the correct setup to earn the pole in Brazil. The drivers will have one final practice in the morning before the final qualifying segments of 2012.