DANIEL Ricciardo has helped set the pace for the Mexico Grand Prix after Red Bull dominated the first practice.
Ricciardo set the second fastest time, behind teammate and last year’s winner Max Verstappen.
The Australian was 0.483 behind Verstappen.
After enduring several engine issues with his Red Bull, which saw him forced to retire from the US Grand Prix this week, Ricciardo’s first practice is a positive sign.
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The Mexican Grand Prix is expected to crown Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton a five-time Formula One world champion but the Red Bull cars figure to challenge both Mercedes and Ferrari for the win Sunday.
Verstappen, 21, sees Mexico as his best chance of winning again before the end of the season and he lapped the high-altitude Hermanos Rodriguez circuit in one minute 16.656 seconds.
Renault engines powered the top four cars, at a circuit where champions Mercedes and Ferrari have less of a power advantage, with Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg third and fourth for the French manufacturer’s works team.
Daniel Ricciardo in action during practice for the Mexico Grand Prix.Source:AFP
Hamilton was fifth, but nearly one and half seconds slower than Verstappen on a dirty track sure to clean up considerably before Saturday’s qualifying. Teammate Valtteri Bottas was sixth.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was seventh with teammate Kimi Raikkonen, fresh from winning in Texas last weekend, right behind despite a spin midway through the session.
Vettel is Hamilton’s only title rival but his hopes are hanging by the thinnest of threads and will end if the German fails to win on Sunday.
Hamilton, who has a 70 point advantage with two races remaining after Mexico, needs only to finish seventh to match the five titles won by late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s.
Only Michael Schumacher, with seven world championships, has done better.
“The Renaults seem to be in good shape,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Sky Sports television.
“It will be interesting to see where they are tomorrow.
“I think the Red Bulls with the Renault (engines) made a step forwards.”
Toro Rosso’s French driver Pierre Gasly failed to set a timed lap in the session and collected a 15 place grid penalty after engine partners Honda changed components in the car’s power unit.
Originally published as Stunning Ricciardo still second to Max
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