Sao Paulo – (AFP)
Nico Rosberg topped the times in Friday’s opening free practice session for this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix ahead of his Mercedes team-mate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
The two Mercedes men dominated the session ahead of third-placed Daniil Kvyat for Toro Rosso, Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and local hero Felipe Massa who enjoyed his outing on his home Interlagos circuit in his Williams.
Hamilton has a 24 points lead in the title showdown with Brazil and the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that is worth double points to the winner remaining.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was sixth in another practice outing for Toro Rosso ahead of Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and Kevin Magnussen in a McLaren.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was 10th for Red Bull, four places ahead of his team-mate, four time champion Sebastian Vettel.
As in last weekend’s United States Grand Prix, the session was run with only 18 cars and was punctuated by the news that the absent cash-strapped Marussia team had gone out of business and was to close down with 195 staff losing their jobs.
The session was red flagged to a halt when Force India driver Daniel Juncadella crashed with half an hour remaining, hitting the barriers with a force that left the front end of his car severely damaged.
Briton Jenson Button, whose future with McLaren has been shrouded in doubt, was another driver to miss a big part of the session after his car rolled to a stop at the pit lane entry after only one lap.
Button dropped a hint on Thursday that he is ready to leave McLaren and F1, provoking widespread reactions mostly in support.
Former team-mate Hamilton said: “If I had a team, I would want him in it because he is such a great asset – a great driver, one of the strongest and a very decent guy.”
The session was halted for eight minutes to clear the track following Juncadella’s crash and his example was almost followed when Raikkonen spun his Ferrari at Turn Six without mishap, but this was a session that was overshadowed by news of Marussia’s collapse.
Marussia went into administration last month and on Friday the administrators confirmed they had folded.
“It goes without saying that it is deeply regrettable that a business with such a great following in Britain and worldwide has had to cease trading and close its doors,” said joint administrator Geoff Rowley of FRP Advisory in a statement.