After winning at the USGP last Sunday, Lewis Hamilton continued to set the F1 pace in the opening practice session for this weekend's championship showdown at Interlagos in Brazil.
The Briton, despite complaining of overheating on Pirelli's latest development tyre, nevertheless took the new rubber to the top of the timesheets with a lap of 1min 14.131secs, edging current points leader Sebastian Vettel by just 0.009secs. The majority of fast times were set on the orange-marked Pirellis, although both Vettel and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber were among the eight drivers who found better pace on the regular hard compound on offer for the remainder of the weekend.Hamilton's best on the 2012 tyre was a tenth slower than Vettel's best.
Webber slotted in behind his team-mate on the timesheets, lapping the 2.6-mile Interlagos layout 0.067secs off the pace, with the second McLaren of Jenson Button also within a tenth of Hamilton, and on the same tyres as his team-mate. Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, also used the development rubber to post his best effort, but was fully two-tenths off the pace, occupying a lonely fifth place, with Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa half a second from Hamilton in sixth. The Brazilian, sporting a tribute helmet in honour of his father, suffered a spin midway through the session, but was able to continue.
Romain Grosjean was next up in the best of the Lotus entries, but the one-second difference to team-mate Kimi Raikkonen could be largely attributed to the Finn struggling with an off-song engine that required attention before it would run smoothly. Raikkonen finished the session down in 16th spot, sandwiched between the two Toro Rossos.
Behind Grosjean, Paul di Resta, Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg completed the top ten, the Venezuelan using the regular hard tyre to set his best time. The only other driver under a second behind Hamilton was Michael Schumacher, who posted a late lap on the development tyre to vault up into eleventh spot, displacing Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver, starting the weekend with the news that he is to be replaced at Sauber by Esteban Gutierrez, wound up a tenth faster than team-mate Sergio Perez, with Williams' reserve Valtteri Bottas and STR's Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top 15.
Before Schumacher's improvement, Mercedes looked set for another tough session, and Nico Rosberg remained mired down amongst the backmarkers, after lapping just a tenth faster than Giedo van der Garde, who led the way in division three, ahead of Timo Glock and Caterham team-mate Vitaly Petrov. Charles Pic, who confirmed his signing for Caterham before the session, was next up, fractionally ahead only of the HRTs.