SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Red Bull's Sergio Perez lapped fastest in first free practice for the Sao Paulo Formula One Grand Prix at Interlagos on Friday with the top three drivers separated by just 0.008 of a second.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was second on the timing screens, 0.004 slower than the Mexican's best time of one minute and 11.853 seconds but the Monegasque's lap was set later in the session when cars had more grip.
Double world champion Max Verstappen, Perez's team mate, was a further 0.004 adrift.
Red Bull are chasing their 10th win in a row this weekend while Verstappen is seeking a record-extending 15th win of the season. The team and Dutch driver have already won both championships.
The penultimate race weekend of the year is being run to the sprint format, with qualifying later on Friday to determine the starting grid for a 100km race on Saturday that decides the order for Sunday's main event.
Verstappen has won the previous two sprint races of the season.
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was fourth fastest, 0.186 slower than Perez, but the Spaniard will have a five place grid penalty for Sunday's grand prix after exceeding his engine allowance of three by taking his sixth of the campaign.
Britain's seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton, who this week received honorary Brazilian citizenship, was fifth fastest for Mercedes -- only a thousandth of a second slower than Sainz -- with team mate George Russell sixth.
Hamilton, last year's winner but yet to triumph this season, complained during the hour-long session that his car felt 'floaty'.
Four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel, heading for retirement after the final race in Abu Dhabi, lapped seventh fastest for Aston Martin and fellow-German Mick Schumacher was eighth for Haas.
McLaren's Lando Norris, who cancelled his media engagements due to suspected food poisoning on Thursday, took part in the session and was 15th fastest.
"He seemed to be fine in the session and looked fine after... we don't expect any complications for the rest of the weekend," said team boss Andreas Seidl.
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)