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Verstappen on top in Mexico Grand Prix opening practice

Red Bull Racing's dutch driver Max Verstappen. Photo: Claudio Cruz / AFP

Fresh from securing a hat-trick of world titles, Max Verstappen maintained normal service on Friday as he topped the times ahead of Alex Albon in opening practice at the Mexico Grand Prix. 

The 26-year-old Dutchman clocked a best lap in one minute and 19.718 in his Red Bull, outpacing the impressive Anglo-Thai Williams driver by 0.095 seconds, with home hero Sergio Perez third in the second Red Bull, three-tenths adrift.

Lando Norris was fourth for McLaren ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren, Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo of Alpha Tauri. 

Esteban Ocon was ninth for Alpine and Lance Stroll 10th for Aston Martin, while his team-mate two-time champion Fernando Alonso was technical problems and was classified 16th. 

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was 11th as Mercedes appeared to spend the session concentrating on long-distance running and ensuring no repeat of his post-race disqualification in Texas. 

The session was held in warm and humid conditions at the high-altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2,285 metres above sea level in the rarefied air of the sprawling Mexican capital city.

Five rookie drivers took part, bidding to take a first step towards an F1 seat: Briton Ollie Bearman at Haas; Australian Jack Doohan, son of former MotoGP star Mick Doohan, at Alpine; Frenchman Theo Pourchaire at Alfa Romeo; Dane Frederik Vesti at Mercedes; and Frenchman Isack Hadjar at Alpha Tauri. 

They took the seats normally occupied by Kevin Magnussen, Pierre Gasly, Valtteri Bottas, George Russell and Yuki Tsunoda. The Japanese driver is set to start at the back of the grid  on Sunday after taking his fifth new engine of the season, exceeding the limit of four. 

The luckless Pourchaire suffered brake-by-wire problems and was unable to run, but the others survived unscathed with Bearman leading the way in 15th. 

Perez clocked an early fastest lap to please his enthusiastic home fans. 

Piastri, Ricciardo and Albon all topped the times before Verstappen took over as Sainz suffered a hydraulics failure and limped back to the pits in his Ferrari. 

Perez then climbed back on top before Verstappen delivered a lap in 1:20.245, beating his team-mate by 1.3 seconds. 

Norris then took the initiative, but Verstappen responded to go clear again by half a second before pitting. 

After a frustrating opening half-hour, Alonso re-joined the fray to set a time as Perez improved to second and Sainz, following repairs, began a hot lap to go sixth, but it was Albon who impressed as he moved within 0.095 of the champion.

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