SAO PAULO, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Red Bull’s Alexander Albon set the pace in a damp first practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Friday before crashing into the tyre wall and bringing the session to a premature end.
The British-born Thai rookie, confirmed earlier in the week by his team for 2020 alongside Dutch youngster Max Verstappen, lapped the Interlagos circuit with a best time of one minute 16.142 seconds on intermediate tyres.
Albon then paid the price for switching to slicks on a drying track, the Thai bringing out the red flags with two and a half minutes remaining after skidding out near the still slippery last corner.
Valtteri Bottas was second quickest for Mercedes, 0.551 slower, with team mate Lewis Hamilton one of four drivers who completed laps but without setting any times on a wet morning in Sao Paulo.
Mercedes and Hamilton have already wrapped up both championships, with Hamilton taking his sixth in Texas two weeks previously.
Mercedes said there were no problems with Hamilton’s car. The weekend forecast is for dry conditions, meaning that there was little to be gained from running in the wet.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and team mate Charles Leclerc were third and fourth on the timesheets.
Monegasque Leclerc, third in the championship, will have a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday’s penultimate race of the season after an engine change.
Verstappen, runner-up to Hamilton in Brazil last year after leading and then tangling with backmarker Esteban Ocon who had tried to unlap himself, failed to clock a time.
The Dutchman, also trying out the slicks, spun through the Senna Esses without hitting anything just before Albon went off and reported conditions were still too slippery. “We’re looking for some form of retribution from last year,” Red Bull principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports F1 television. (Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Toby Davis)