SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton, with four world championship stars now painted on his race helmet, smashed the Interlagos track record as Mercedes dominated Friday’s opening Brazilian Grand Prix practice.
Showing no sign of letting up despite clinching his fourth world title in Mexico at the end of October, Hamilton lapped the anti-clockwise track with a best time of one minute 09.202 seconds.
“There are two races to go. It is a better time than ever to apply even more pressure, just because you can,” the Briton had told reporters on Thursday.
Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas, who is bidding to end the season as runner-up to the Briton, was second fastest in 1:09.329.
The previous track record of 1:09.822 was set by Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in 2004 qualifying for Ferrari.
Hamilton, who also accused Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg over the radio of dangerous driving in forcing him wide onto the runoff, was half a second faster than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
The Finn was the best of the non-Mercedes rest, with Red Bull’s Dutch 20-year-old Max Verstappen fourth on the timesheets on a sunny morning in Sao Paulo.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who had an early spin, was sixth.
Mercedes have clinched the constructors’ championship for a fourth successive year and have said they will use practice at the last two races to experiment with processes and parts for 2018.
With none of the top four teams able to improve their placings or in any danger of dropping down the order, others were also turning their thoughts to next year.
“Obviously, both cars have got bits that they (the engineers) are having a look at for future events,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner, whose team have won two of the last four races with Verstappen.
“These sessions are so valuable now. They are the last opportunities this year to try a few things out for future car development.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who was fifth fastest, will have a drop of at least 10 grid places due to power unit changes while Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly will also pick up engine penalties.
New Zealander Hartley, who won the world endurance championship for the second time last weekend, failed to set a time on the morning of his 28th birthday thanks to an engine blowup while French rookie Gasly also stopped early on.
“I don’t know the track so for me it was really important to get some running,” said Gasly. “But there is nothing we can do, we just need to wait.”
British driver George Russell, the 19-year-old GP3 champion, made his grand prix weekend debut with Force India and was an impressive 12th fastest.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond)