Newly-crowned three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton topped the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Saturday morning’s third and final free practice session for Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old Briton recovered after suffering from sensor issues that left him briefly stranded without any gears and then a big spin to outpace his rival by slightly more than one-tenth of a second as he seeks his first win at Interlagos at the ninth attempt.
Rosberg was second ahead of fellow-German four-time champion Sebastian Vettel by 0.7 seconds as the two Ferraris wound up third and fourth, Finn Kimi Raikkonen completing the leading quartet on a day of rising temperatures in Sao Paulo.
Hamilton was fastest in Friday’s opening session, but was overhauled by Rosberg in the second in the afternoon as the two Mercedes men continued to reveal the depth of their rivalry despite the team having secured already the constructors’ championship to add to Hamilton’s third drivers’ crown.
Finn Valtteri Bottas was fifth for Williams ahead of German Nico Hulkenberg of Force India, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Mexican Sergio Perez, in the second Force India.
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado was ninth in the second Lotus and Dutch teenager Max Verstappen 10th for Toro Rosso, a creditable effort as it lifted him clear of both sister team Red Bull drivers Australian Daniel Ricciardo (11th) and Russian Daniil Kvyat (13th).
Local hero Brazilian Felipe Massa was 12th in the second Williams on a day when the McLaren-Honda team continued to struggle, two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso taking 14th place and 2009 champion Briton Jenson Button 18th.
On a notably warmer day than Friday, with a track temperature of 46 degrees Celsius, Hamilton again attracted much attention as he sought to find the speed and consistency that had brought him his third drivers’ world title, clinched at last month’s United States Grand Prix in Texas.
He complained of car problems that left him briefly at a standstill, and also spun off with a major loss of the rear end of his machine at Turn 11, as he traded fastest lap times with Rosberg.
“I don’t know what happened there, but the rear just gave up,” Hamilton, who had arrived in Brazil 24 hours later than scheduled after what he described as “a difficult week” told the Mercedes team.
He was summarising a period during which he raced in Mexico, stayed for four days to do promotional work, flew to London to organise his mother’s surprise 60th birthday party on Saturday and was then involved in a road crash, with three vehicles, in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
After this, he went down with a fever that laid him low and delayed his travel to one of the few events he has not won and where he hopes to ‘salute’ his boyhood hero Ayrton Senna by claiming victory.
He hopes also to secure his long-awaited 50th pole position in the session scheduled to take place later on Saturday, thus ending Rosberg’s run of four poles in succession.