Lewis Hamilton set the quickest time of the first practice session for the Mexican Grand Prix ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, as championship leader Nico Rosberg finished in seventh place.
Rosberg has a chance to this weekend wrap up the the Drivers’ title at the Autodrómo Hermanos Rodríguez if he wins and Hamilton finishes tenth or lower, but in the opening exchanges at the Mexico City circuit it was Hamilton who powered to the top of the order with a lap of 1:20.914, over seven tenths of a second clear of his team-mate. Both the Briton and the German set their best times on the medium tyre, though the pair did also run the soft compound Pirelli during the session.
Sebastian Vettel used the soft tyre for his best time of the session, a lap of 1:20.993 that left him just 0.079 off the benchmark set by Hamilton. The four-time champion’s team-mate Kimi Räikkönen was third quickest, with the same margin of 0.079 separating him from Vettel.
Sergio Perez gave his home fans something to cheer about with the morning’s fourth best time. The Mexican was followed in fifth by team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, with just over two tenths of a second separating the Force India drivers. Valtteri Bottas was sixth fastest on the soft tyre, the Finn finishing with a time of 1:21.447, two tenths clear of Rosberg.
Daniel Ricciardo was eighth for Red Bull Racing ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa, while Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top ten order.
It wasn’t a completely incident-free session, with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr bringing the session to a halt for some 10 minutes after he suffered a front wing failure half an hour into running.
Max Verstappen, in the second Red Bull, also hit trouble. Soon after the resumption the Dutch driver pulled into the pit lane with streams of smoke billowing from his brakes. He failed to rejoin the action after it was discovered that the overheating, which had been caused by an energy recovering setting the team was testing, had resulted in damage to parts of the car’s loom.
Elsewhere, a number of drivers ran with the Halo head protection system during the session, with Nasr being joined by Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, Perez, Massa and Renault’s Kevin Magnussen in running with the device in place.
2016 Mexican Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.914 34
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:20.993 23
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:21.072 19
4 Sergio Perez Force India 1:21.200 23
5 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:21.409 23
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:21.447 34
7 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:21.673 32
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:21.727 27
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1:21.836 31
10 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:22.215 29
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:22.500 21
12 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:22.563 32
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:22.723 17
14 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:22.877 10
15 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:22.910 23
16 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:23.089 25
17 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:23.089 12
18 Jenson Button McLaren 1:23.342 24
19 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:23.556 32
20 Esteban Ocon Manor 1:24.083 30
21 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:24.097 35
22 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:24.350 28