Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton continued to set the pace at Interlagos, though he was pressed hard in second practice ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix by weekend title hopeful Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg, who is bidding to take an unassailable championship lead over Hamilton in Brazil, finished the opening practice session at the Sao Paulo circuit just over two tenths of a second behind the defending champion. In the afternoon performance runs, however, the title leading German closed the gap on his British rival to just three hundredths of a second.
Behind the Mercedes pair, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and local hero team-mate Felipe Massa also improved on their morning positions, with the Finn moving from fifth in the morning to third in the afternoon, and Massa stepping up to fourth from sixth.
Behind them came the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, with the Australian reversing their morning order by outpacing his young team-mate by a tenth of a second in the afternoon runs on soft tyres.
Williams’ hopes of closing an 11-point gap to Force India in their battle for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship will have been given a boost by the fact that Bottas and Massa finished the session more than half a second clear of the nearest Force India man, Nico Hulkenberg, who finished in ninth position. The German’s team-mate Sergio Perez was further back in P14 a full second adrift of Bottas.
In the morning session Ferrari chose to focus its running on the medium-compound Pirelli tyres, with the result that its drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finished in ninth and tenths positions respectively.
The pair improved in the aftertnoon on the soft tyre and Vettel eventually climbed to seventh place, though he did lose part of his front wing after running hard over the kerbs late in the sesson. Raikkonen backed the four-time champion up in eighth place. However, both men were over 1500ths of a second adrift of the time of the best Red Bull, Ferrari’s rival for second place in the Constructors’ battle.
The final top 10 place in the session went to Jenson Button. The McLaren driver was restricted to just 19 laps however as he spent most of the session confined to the team’s garage. A dismal session for the Woking team was made worse when Button’s team-mate Fernando Alonso stopped on track with an ERS problem.
Elsewhere, and incident between Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and Ferrari’s Raikkonen was set to be investigated after the session by race stewards. The pair ran wheel to wheel on track as Raikkonen passed the Spaniard and the Finn then appeared to cut across the Toro Rosso driver.
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m12.271s2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m12.301s 0.030s 403. Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1m12.761s4. Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m12.789s5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m12.828s6. Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m12.928s7. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m13.002s8. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m13.047s9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India/Mercedes 1m13.299s10 Jenson Button McLaren/Honda 1m13.440s11 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Honda 1m13.572s12 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso/Ferrari 1m13.689s13 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso/Ferrari 1m13.801s14 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m13.918s15 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m14.074s16 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1m14.109s17 Felipe Nasr Sauber/Ferrari 1m14.309s18 Esteban Ocon Manor/Mercedes 1m14.317s19 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m14.436s20 Esteban Gutierrez Haas/Ferrari 1m14.558s21 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m14.695s22 Pascal Wehrlein Manor/Mercedes 1m14.958s