Massa edges Hamilton in first practice

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Felipe Massa was faster than title rival Lewis Hamilton today in the first practice session for Sunday's decisive Brazilian Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver was the quickest among all drivers at the 4.3-kilometer (2.6-mile) anti-clockwise Interlagos track with a time of 1 minute, 12.305 seconds in South America's biggest city.

Championship leader Hamilton of McLaren finished in 1:12.495 in the 90-minute session, .190 behind Massa.

Massa's Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who spun in turn two but was able to quickly get back on track, was third in 1:12.507 and BMW's Robert Kubica fourth in 1:12.874.

The temperature was lower than usual for this time of the year in Sao Paulo at 17 degrees Celsius (62 Fahrenheit). Forecasters said it should get warmer in the rest of the weekend, but there is an 80 percent chance of rain during the race on Sunday.

The second practice session was scheduled for later this afternoon.

Hamilton enters the Brazilian GP with a seven-point lead over home-crowd favorite Massa and needs to finish fifth or better on Sunday to become F1's youngest champion at age 23. Renault's Fernando Alonso was 24 when he won the title in 2005.

Hamilton can also clinch his first championship without finishing the race if Massa fails to cross the line in first or second. A win is worth 10 points, and second through eighth are 8-6-5-4-3-2-1.

The crowd got to their feet when Massa took to the track for the first time on Friday. Brazilians haven't been able to celebrate a F1 title since the late Ayrton Senna won the championship in 1991.

Massa won the race at his home track in 2006 — becoming the first Brazilian to win at home since Senna in 1993 — and was second last year after letting teammate Kimi Raikkonen go by so he could clinch the title over Hamilton.

Hamilton, trying to become the first British champion since Damon Hill in 1996, lost a chance at the title in his rookie season a year ago after blowing the same seven-point lead he has now. An early mistake and a subsequent gear box problem led to a seventh-place finish, and second overall in the drivers' standings.

Massa could become the first driver to win a title in front of his home crowd since the inaugural F1 season in 1950, when Italy's Giuseppe Farina won at the season-ending Italian GP. The Brazilian could also become the first non-European driver to win the title since Canada's Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.

In addition to the drivers' title, Ferrari and McLaren are also fighting for the constructors' championship. The Italian team has an 11-point lead entering the weekend.

It is the third straight year the F1 season will be decided in the final race in Brazil. The Brazilian GP also crowned Alonso as champion in 2005, when it was the third-to-last race in the calendar.