George Russell set the fastest time in the second practice of the Mexican Grand Prix. Because Charles Leclerc crashed in his Ferrari.

Russell was just one of five drivers to use soft tyres, putting Mercedes on top and the rest of the grid trying next year’s Pirelli compound.

The Englishman finished ahead of Yuki Tsunoda and Esteban Ocon, with Lewis Hamilton, who did not use the fastest rubber, in fourth.

Russell finished 0.8 seconds faster than Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who set the fastest lap at the weekend’s opener at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

Earlier in the day, Sainz led Leclerc in a one-two for Ferrari, but the day turned out to be tough for the Italian team as Leclerc spun out in the second session.

Leclerc lost control of his Ferrari under braking at Turn 7, a left-hander, sliding backwards across the run-off area and crashing into a tire barrier.

Monegasque was unscathed in the accident, but his Ferrari team faces a major overnight repair job to allow his car to practice at lunchtime on Saturday, followed shortly by qualifying.

“I’m fine, but not the car,” Leclerc said over the radio. The action was interrupted as Leclerc’s injured Ferrari was cleared of danger and he returned to his garage dejectedly.

Earlier in the day, Hamilton finished just 0.142 seconds off Sainz’s pace.

Hamilton, the seven-time world champion, gave up his chances of winning this season’s race earlier this week, finishing fifth.

Home favorite Sergio Pérez finished third, one place ahead of team-mate and two-time World Champion Max Verstappen. The Red Bull duo clocked the exact same time.

Hamilton revealed for the first time on Thursday that he is ready to extend his F1 career beyond his 40th birthday.

Lewis Hamilton finished fifth in opening practice for the Mexican Grand Prix (Moise Castillo/AP)

The Mercedes driver, who turns 38 in January, said he plans to strike out on a new multi-year extension with the team after this season.

But Hamilton faces a race against time heading into Sunday’s round to keep his record of winning at least one race in each year he competes intact.

And the British driver finished behind both Ferrari and Red Bull, suggesting he faces another difficult situation in contention for the top spot.

Verstappen has already won his second title, but a win on Sunday would make him the most wins in a single campaign.

But home crowds are eager to see another win for Red Bull, with 350,000 spectators expected in the Mexican capital over three days to cheer Perez on in the 20th round of 22.

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