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Verstappen tops Mexico practice, Hamilton struggles

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Max Verstappen shows early speed in Mexico © AFP / Rodrigo ARANGUA

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, Oct 26Max Verstappen completed an impressive Friday ‘double top’ as he and Daniel Ricciardo finished one-two for Red Bull in second practice for this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.

The young Dutchman, aiming to repeat his 2017 victory in the Mexican capital, clocked a best lap in one minute and 16.720 seconds to outpace his Australian team-mate by 0.153 seconds, before being halted by a late hydraulics failure.

A similar showing in qualifying on Saturday could make him the youngest pole-sitter in Formula One history, beating a record currently held by Sebastian Vettel.

“We have a good car with good down-force and good mechanical grip, which you could see also in Monaco – and it worked really well,” said Verstappen, who turned 21 last month.

“I hope we are in a fight for pole, but we will find out tomorrow… Today has been good, but we have to keep working.”

Vettel, fighting to keep his ultra-slim title hopes alive, was fourth fastest for Ferrari while championship leader Lewis Hamilton was seventh for Mercedes.

Hamilton needs to outscore Vettel by five points to take his fifth drivers’ title if the German wins. If Vettel fails to win, he will be champion wherever he finishes.

Carlos Sainz was third for Renault with team-mate Nico Hulkenberg fifth, ahead of Brendon Hartley, who is fighting to keep his seat with Toro Rosso next year.

This meant that the top three cars, and five of the top six, were powered by Renault engines at the 2,200-metres altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez – only Vettel breaking the French manufacturer’s domination in his Ferrari.

“This is the track with the least sensitivity to power,” said Vettel. “But we expected that Red Bull would be strong.

“We didn’t have a tidy lap so we should have been ahead of the Renaults. I think everyone is on the limit with the tyres, trying to get them to work – with the exception of the Red Bulls…”

But it was not a perfect day for Verstappen and Red Bull because the Dutch tyro’s session ended with his car parked by the track after a suspected hydraulics failure.

Kimi Raikkonen, victorious in Texas last weekend, wound up eighth in the second Ferrari ahead of fellow-Finn Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes and home hero Sergio Perez of Force India.

After dominating the opening session in the morning, the Red Bull duo were soon back in command as the air temperature rose to 25 degrees Celsius and the track to 49.

The very warm conditions exacerbated the performance problems of the Ferrari and Mercedes teams as they struggled with tyres, a loss of power and car balance in the rarefied atmosphere.

This gave the Renault-engined cars, led by Red Bull, a chance to shine, notably Verstappen who can become the sport’s youngest pole-sitter if he is fastest in qualifying on Saturday.

He can beat the current record held by Vettel, who was 21 years and 72 days when he took his first pole at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.

The keen Mexican crowd loved the action and the variety of names running at the top of the charts including both Ferrari men initially, Hamilton, Hulkenberg and, unexpectedly, Brendon Hartley before the Red Bulls took over.

Verstappen delivered his best lap midway through leaving both of the title protagonists panting in pursuit. “There’s something not right with the car,” complained Hamilton while Vettel merely told Ferrari: “That’s all I’ve got…”

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