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Lewis fastest at practice

Sao Paulo: Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the first day of practice for the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix on Friday, while Formula One leader Sebastian Vettel was second and title challenger Fernando Alonso fifth.

Hamilton, in his last race with McLaren, had a lap of 1 minute, 14.026 seconds in the second practice session at Interlagos, .274 quicker than Vettel’s Red Bull.

“We are definitely strong,” said Hamilton, coming off a victory at the United States GP. “Our single-lap pace was pretty good. Sebastian had several attempts and it didn’t look like that he could really match the time, so that’s a positive for us.”

Vettel’s teammate, Mark Webber, was third in 1:14.523. Alonso clocked 1:14.592 in his afternoon run, just behind Ferrari teammate and home-crowd favourite Felipe Massa.

Vettel has a 13-point lead over Alonso and needs to finish fourth or better to become F1’s youngest three-time champion at age 25. He can also be the first to win three titles in a row since Michael Schumacher, who won five consecutive from 2000-04. The only other driver to achieve at least three straight was Juan Manuel Fangio from 1954-57.

It was a hot and sunny day, but rain was expected for Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race in Sao Paulo.

“It’s unknown what’s going to come, but so far we can be happy with the improvement of the car,” Vettel said.

Drivers from McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari dominated the first session, but Mercedes improved in the second with Schumacher in sixth place and Nico Rosberg seventh. Hamilton just barely avoided a collision near the end of the first practice after a Marussia car spun in front of him.

Kimi Raikkonen ran wide at Turn 1 with his Lotus early in the second session, becoming the first driver to test the expanded runoff area added by local organisers at the end of the main straight.

Kamui Kobayashi, preparing for probably his last race with Sauber after the team announced that 21-year-old Mexican Esteban Gutierrez would be Nico Hulkenberg’s teammate next season, was 15th fastest in his second run.

HRT, possibly ending its spell in F1 because of financial difficulties, finished near the bottom of the timings with Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan. (agencies)