Lewis Hamilton sent out an early warning shot to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by topping the timesheets in first practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix on Friday at Interlagos.
Despite being involved in a minor road traffic accident earlier this week and arriving in Brazil one day later than planned, Hamilton showed few signs of rustiness as he easily gapped the field.
The Briton recorded a best lap time of 1:13.543 to finish half a second clear of Rosberg at the top of the order, leaving the German driver to settle for P2 ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Both Hamilton and Rosberg were continually working on their setups throughout a rather routine first practice session, with both having minor off-track moments as they found the limit of grip around Interlagos.
Ferrari once again established itself as being ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes as Vettel finished just one-tenth of a second behind Rosberg in third place. Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth, four-tenths of a second further back from his teammate despite taking a trip through the gravel late on.
Complete with a newly-upgraded power unit from Renault, Red Bull made a good start to the weekend as Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat ended the session P4 and P6 respectively. Valtteri Bottas finished seventh for Williams ahead of Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen in eighth.
Former Interlagos pole-sitter Nico Hulkenberg ran well to finish ninth ahead of Pastor Maldonado, who rounded out the top ten in FP1 for Lotus. Jolyon Palmer deputized for Romain Grosjean in the sister E23 Hybrid, lapping less than two-tenths of a second shy of Maldonado to finish P12 behind Carlos Sainz Jr.
McLaren had a relatively average session as Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso ended FP1 13th and 16th respectively, split by Felipe Nasr and Sergio Perez.
Home favorite Felipe Massa was unable to match the pace of Bottas in the sister Williams car as he finished 17th ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson. The Manor duo of Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens propped up the order yet again, finishing over four seconds off the pace.
FP2 for the Brazilian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 11am ET on Friday.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.