Perez tops opening Sao Paulo GP practice

Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Perez tops opening Sao Paulo GP practice

Formula 1

Perez tops opening Sao Paulo GP practice

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Sergio Perez edged Charles Leclerc at the top of the time sheet in the crucial first practice session for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

Perez took top spot around 30 minutes into the session with an early switch to the soft tire, and his best time of 1m11.853s couldn’t be beaten before the end of the hour.

Leclerc came agonizingly close when Ferrari undertook its qualifying simulation laps near the end of the session, with just 0.004s splitting the Scuderia driver from taking control.

Max Verstappen, who had seconded his teammate for most of the second half-hour, was third and a further 0.004s adrift, leaving the top three separated by nothing more than 0.008s. The Dutchman complained through the session that he was struggling with understeer and ran wide several times as he attempted to hustle his car through the second sector.

The Sao Paulo Grand Prix is being run as a sprint weekend, with qualifying following later today, when parc fermé conditions will come into effect to prevent further setup changes.

Carlos Sainz was fourth and 0.186s off the pace. Ferrari confirmed the Spaniard had taken a sixth internal combustion engine for this round, which will attract a five-place grid penalty on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton led Mercedes teammate George Russell in a Mercedes five-six finish. The older Briton was 0.187s adrift but needed two laps to set his best time after locking up at Turn 8 on his first attempt, suggesting more time was on the table. He was also grappling with a “floating” rear end depriving him of confidence through the high-speed corners.

Sebastian Vettel was sixth for Aston Martin ahead of Haas driver Mick Schumacher, with Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly completing a top 10 spread across only 0.6s.

Fernando Alonso was 11th for Alpine but was one of four drivers not to use the soft tire, with his best lap set on mediums. His teammate, Esteban Ocon, was one of the others in 12th, the pair split by Williams driver Alex Albon.

Lance Stroll was 14th having reported a serious problem with his car after running over the curbs at Turn 4, after which the team sent him back to the garage for checks and repairs.

Lando Norris was 15th for McLaren and another driver not to sample the softs. He was 1.1s adrift and 0.4s slower than Alonso in his team’s battle with Alpine for fourth in the standings.

Kevin Magnussen was 16th for Haas ahead of Nicholas Latifi and Zhou Guanyu.

Yuki Tsunoda was 19th and set his fastest lap on the medium tire despite six-lap run on softs.

Daniel Ricciardo completed the order after spending most of the session on the hard tire and also eschewing the soft compound.

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