MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Finland’s Valtteri Bottas kept team mate and title favourite Lewis Hamilton off the top of the first-practice timesheets on Friday as champions Mercedes made a quick start to the Mexican Grand Prix weekend.
Bottas was 0.466 quicker than Hamilton, who is on the brink of securing his fourth title, and put in a hefty 42 laps during the opening session with a circuit record time of one minute 17.824 seconds.
Hamilton’s 2016 pole time was 1:18.704.
The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were third and fourth with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel 0.762 off the pace in fifth.
Red Bull and Ferrari were using slower supersoft tyres than Mercedes’ ultrasofts, however, and should close the gap significantly in the afternoon.
“I expect this weekend to be more fun than it has in the past,” Hamilton had said on Thursday, with the 2017 generation cars significantly quicker on fatter tyres and changed aerodynamics to last year’s on a low-downforce layout.
“I think Ferrari will be quick here. Their car should bode well here. I‘m hoping we have a great battle,” added the Briton.
Hamilton is 66 points clear of Vettel and needs only to finish fifth on Sunday to become Britain’s first four times champion, even if Vettel wins at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
The Briton won at the high-altitude circuit last season and is the 1/500 odds on favourite to take the title with two races to spare.
Sergio Perez was seventh fastest for Force India, with regular team mate Esteban Ocon sitting out the session to make way for Mexican Adolfo Celis Jr. to give the home crowd two drivers on track.
Ocon will not have enjoyed being a spectator as Celis put the Frenchman’s car backwards into the barriers at turn 16 and halted the session.
New Zealander Brendon Hartley, preparing for his second race with Toro Rosso, managed only 10 laps with mechanics working on the car after he stopped on track.
There were also more problems for McLaren, with Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne sidelined completely as the team changed his car’s power unit to a spare. He already has a 35-place grid penalty.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris