Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland powers to the fastest lap during the first free practice at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo yesterday. Image Credit: AP

Barcelona: Sebastian Vettel said he was shocked to learn that the atmospheric Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo is to be axed as the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix.

The three-time winner of the race in the rolling suburbs of the sprawling city said he felt like a fan losing an important part of the sport’s history when he heard the news.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro said earlier this week that the race was to move from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro next year.

“I wasn’t aware that it was going to happen,” he said. “I heard some rumours, but I think it’s a shock. Interlagos is a great place, a lot of history. The old track at Interlagos is even better than the current one.

“I cannot think of anything, other than maybe the track being a little bit short, that Interlagos is missing. It’s a great place, so it’s a real shame. I’m sort of a fan of hanging on to old things.”

Apart from the history of Interlagos, Sao Paulo has also given Formula One several great drivers including Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa.

Meanwhile, world championship leader Valtteri Bottas topped the times for Mercedes ahead of the two Ferraris in Friday opening free practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix.

The Finn clocked a best lap of one minute 17.951 seconds to finish ahead of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel by 0.115 seconds.

Charles Leclerc was third, adrift by 0.221 seconds with defending five-time champion Lewis Hamilton, six-tenths further back, in the second Mercedes.

The session ended abruptly when Canadian Lance Stroll crashed at the long sweeping Turn Nine in his Racing Point car. He climbed out unhurt.

Frenchman Romain Grosjean was fifth for Haas ahead of local hero Spaniard Carlos Sainz in his McLaren and Dane Kevin Magnussen in the second McLaren.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly, who was briefly fastest in the opening minutes, was eighth for Red Bull ahead of Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso and Nico Hulkenberg of Renault.