Longhorns, lone stars, and Stetsons as far as the eye can see, it can only mean one thing. Formula 1 is at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for the American Grand Prix.
Free Practice 1 kicked off in much the same style as it has for the season, with Mercedes topping the time sheets in another 1-2. Critically though. Lewis Hamilton outpaced team mate Nico Rosberg by three tenths of a second in FP1. Hamilton has always gone well around the CotA track, even taking his third championship at the circuit last season. He has won three of the four previous visits to the circuit, and four times overall in the USA. He will be looking again for the win this weekend to keep his slim championship hopes alive. Hamilton is currently 33 points behind Rosberg in the championship with four races to go. Winning this weekend is crucial to Hamilton to keep his championship alive, while Rosberg will be looking to extend his head, following his success after the summer break.
Mercedes really were in a class of their own in FP1, with the Red Bull Max Verstappen in 3rd a massive 1.9 seconds Off of the time set by Hamilton during the session. The gap was reminiscent of 2014, when there Mercedes utterly dominated. However, it is worth noting Red Bull only used the slower medium tyre in the session, while the prediction is both them and Ferrari are likely to close the gap as the weekend progresses.
Kimi Raikkonen was the best Ferrari, managing 4th in FP1, while Renault-bound Nico Hulkenberg was 5th for Force India ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas in 6th place. The two teams look to carry on their fight in the constructor’s championship, in the battle over 4th place. Daniel Ricciardo was 7th in the sister Red Bull. While 8th place Sebastian Vettel had to spend part of one lap clutching on to his Ferrari’s right wing mirror. A piece of carbon fibre from his own car flew off and broke it when he ran wide over a kerb. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz rounded out the top 10 in their Toro Rosso’s, on what was a more positive session for the team in FP1 that they’ve had recently.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Jordan King made his F1 practice debut with Manor, standing in for Pascal Wehrlein, and finished ahead of Esteban Ocon after a respectable maiden performance.
Free Practice 2 however saw Rosberg end the session fastest of all with the Red Bull of Ricciardo splitting the two Mercedes drivers. Rosberg’s quickest time of 1:37.428 on the supersoft tyres was under three tenths of a second faster than Hamilton’s, with Ricciardo wiping out Mercedes’ large advantage from the opening session to finish just under two tenths of a second back on the constructor’s champions for 2016. With the Red bull long run pace suggesting they could be a genuine threat to the Mercedes during the race.
“I think we can find a bit more but I’m sure Mercedes can too. But I’m pretty happy with that. If we had the pace we had today against Mercedes on Sunday it will be a fun race.” Ricciardo told reporters after the session.
On what was a more positive session for the Red Bulls, with both drivers doing well as Verstappen finished the session 5th, it was a less than impressive session from Ferrari. Vettel was able to improve on his FP1 time, but he was around eight tenths off the overall pace of Rosberg’s Mercedes.
Vettel told reporters, “They were very quick but it’s only Friday. We had a tough day – the Ferrari you saw today is not the Ferrari you will see tomorrow.”
Though he and team mate Raikkonen were among a host of drivers to complain that their tyres were going off towards the end of their long runs. Once again Force India showed they were looking to capitalise on the weekend with a strong 6th and 7th place finish for their drivers, with Hulkenberg ahead of Perez respectively. They were not the only team to do well in FP2 as well, with the McLarens finishing the session 8th and 9th respectively after a tough Home grand Prix for the team. With the undulating COTA layout appears to be more favourable for their car than somewhere like Suzuka last race out. While Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were separated by less than a tenth in 8th and 9th respectively. With Raikkonen in the Ferrari bounded out the top ten after several errors on his quick lap.
Tyre wear was proving a challenge throughout the field, as a trio of drivers spun off the circuit – Esteban Ocon, Jolyon Palmer and, in the final seconds of P2, Sainz in the Toro Rosso span.
United States GP Free Practice One Results
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:37.428
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, + 0.315
3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, + 1.951
4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, + 1.979
5. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, + 2.284
6. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, + 2.348
7. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, + 2.535
8. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, + 2.560
9. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, + 2.703
10. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, + 2.712
11. Felipe Massa, Williams, + 2.763
12. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, + 2.859
13. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, + 2.934
14. Romain Grosjean, Haas, + 3.398
15. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, + 3.542
16. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, + 3.742
17. Alfonso Celis, Force India, + 3.994
18. Jenson Button, McLaren, + 4.235
19. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, + 4.514
20. Jordan King, Manor, + 4.584
21. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, + 4.904
22. Esteban Ocon, Manor, + 6.446
United States GP Free Practice Two Results
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:37.428
2. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, +0.194
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, +0.291
4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, +0.820
5. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, +0.900
6. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, +1.150
7. Sergio Perez, Force India, +1.210
8. Jenson Button, McLaren, +1.355
9. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, +1.443
10. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, +1.507
11. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, +1.613
12. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, +1.801
13. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, +1.831
14. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, +1.839
15. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, +1.844
16. Felipe Massa, Williams, +1.923
17. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, +2.097
18. Romain Grosjean, Haas, +2.196
19. Esteban Ocon, Manor, +2.728
20. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, +2.756
21. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, +2.861
22. Pascal Wehrlein, Manor, +3.773
Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Racing Press Release