FP1: Verstappen heads Vettel to land first blow in Austin
In bright but chilly Texan conditions, it was Max Verstappen who led the opening running at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) on Friday, topping the times in Free Practice 1 ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull team mate Alex Albon.
With the temperature gauge hanging at around 10 degrees Celsius, Verstappen put his difficult weekend in Mexico behind him to wind up 0.169s ahead of Vettel, while Albon did well in his first visit to COTA to end up less than three-tenths off his team mate’s time.
Outside of the top three, however, the early running in Austin looked decidedly unrepresentative, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton only bolting on soft rubber at the end of the session, as he ultimately wound up P8, 1.382s off Verstappen, having had a better lap deleted for going too wide at Turn 19.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas was even further back, down in P17, as Mercedes appeared to keep their powder dry. That left the midfield runners to enjoy life near the top of the timesheets, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly claiming P4, ahead of the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo in fifth and the Haas of Romain Grosjean in sixth.
Ahead of Hamilton, Charles Leclerc overcame a glitch in his throttle pedal to finish P7, while Lance Stroll in the Racing Point and the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10.
A difficult session for McLaren, meanwhile, saw Carlos Sainz complaining of understeer, before suffering a dramatic spin going through Turn 5 and ultimately ending up P12, while Lando Norris was well off the pace, ending up down in P18, and having suffered a worrying moment when his headrest came loose in the cockpit.
Bringing up the rear, it wasn’t a great outing for Nicholas Latifi. The Canadian F2 racer took over George Russell’s Williams FW42 for the session, but only managed half an hour before experiencing a gearbox issue that limited him to just seven laps of running. He finished 20th, one place behind Robert Kubica in the second Williams, with Russell presumably hoping the issue can be fixed in time for Free Practice 2.
Drivers were given the chance in FP1 to try out Pirelli’s 2020 C4 compound for the first time, with all bar Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris giving the rubber a go. They’ll get another chance to test them out in FP2, meanwhile, beginning at 1500 local time – that’s 2000 UTC.