Ferrari found the pace to put some spice into the Mexican Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel jumped ahead of the Mercedes championship duel by posting the fastest time of Friday’s practice sessions, sending a warning that there’s still life in the Italian team near the end of what has been a disappointing season.
Vettel sprung a surprise lap of 1 minute, 19.794 seconds. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton pulled within 0.004 seconds but couldn’t find the lap to catch Vettel before the session ended.
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“The car seems to work, not only from the result but as an overall feeling … We had a very good day,” Vettel said, adding he expects better times from Hamilton in Saturday qualifying. “I think he has more in the pocket, so tomorrow we need to be realistic.”
Hamilton trails teammate Nico Rosberg by 26 points in the championship standings heading into the final three races of the season and likely needs to win to keep the pressure on. Rosberg was 0.435 seconds behind Hamilton in third on Friday.
All the drivers are contending with cool temperatures, high altitude and an evolving track, which they expect will have more grip after its debut last season.
On one early lap, Rosberg had a tire lockup near the end of the long straight, driving through the first turn and onto the grass before straightening out. That followed an early practice session when Rosberg finished a distant seventh behind Hamilton despite running on the same medium tires.
“Ferrari seemed very quick, so they will be a big threat,” Rosberg said in post-practice television interviews.
Ferrari’s good sessions Friday show the red cars could scramble the season championship just a bit. Any pressure Ferrari can put on Rosberg favors Hamilton. Although Rosberg can win the title with two second-place finishes and a third in the final three races, anything lower than that behind Hamilton on Sunday could significantly raise the pressure when Formula One wraps the season in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari began the season hopeful that a resurgent season in 2015 would have the team challenging Mercedes in 2016. But Ferrari remains winless this season and currently sits in in the in the team championship behind Red Bull.
Ferrari missed the podium a week ago at the U.S. Grand Prix in Texas when Vettel finished fourth and teammate Kimi Raikkonen retired early.
Ferrari had a tough time in the Mexican Grand Prix last year when both cars crashed out. It was the first time since 2006 both Ferrari cars failed to finish a race.