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Vettel quick off the mark at Mexican GP

AAP logoAAP 28/10/2016 Philip Duncan

Sebastian Vettel was the surprise name at the top of the order in second practice as the Ferrari driver pipped world champion Lewis Hamilton by just four thousandths of a second at the Mexican Grand Prix.

While Vettel set the pace, Australia's Daniel Ricciardo was fifth.

Fifteen of the 18 second practice sessions this season have been topped by Mercedes, but Vettel's pace on Friday afternoon suggests Ferrari may be in a position to take the challenge to Formula One's all-conquering team this weekend.

The prospect of a Ferrari resurgence could be good news for Hamilton, who trails his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 26 points with three rounds remaining.

Indeed Rosberg can afford to finish second at two of the remaining races, and third on one occasion, and still clinch what would be his maiden championship. The German however, who ran off the road at turn one in second practice, would appear to have work to do this weekend.

Rosberg, a comfortable winner here last year, was more than seven tenths of a second slower than Hamilton in first practice, and nearly half-a-second adrift of his championship rival on Friday afternoon.

Rosberg, who could win the title as early as Sunday if he wins, and Hamilton finishes 10th or lower, was third in the order.

Hamilton, who has claimed he is relishing the challenge of overhauling his Mercedes teammate in the title race to claim an unlikely fourth title, will be pleased by the margin to Rosberg in both sessions.

He will also be buoyed by the potential of Vettel, and perhaps even his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who was only marginally slower than Rosberg on Friday, splitting the Mercedes pair in qualifying.

And Vettel's best lap of one minute and 19.790 seconds at a chilly Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on Friday afternoon, on the surface at least, would lead us to believe that such a scenario is not wholly inconceivable.

Red Bull have taken the challenge to Mercedes following a prolonged dip in form for Ferrari, with Ricciardo a distant fifth on Friday with his teammate Max Verstappen, who battled a brake issue in the morning session, seventh.

Fernando Alonso was 10th in the order for McLaren with his team-mate Jenson Button, two tenths and two places adrift in 12th.

British rookie Jolyon Palmer, who on Thursday expressed his optimism that he will still be on the grid next season, was 16th in the order. Kevin Magnussen, the Danish driver who Palmer believes is his sole rival for the remaining seat at Renault in 2017, finished 0.34 seconds slower than his teammate - who was 14th.

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