FP2: Hamilton on top from Leclerc and Verstappen at COTA
On a weekend when he hopes to be crowned champion for a sixth time, Lewis Hamilton headed the second free practice session at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, finishing over three-tenths clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen just behind in P3.
Just 10 minutes of FP2 had passed when Romain Grosjean dropped his car through the circuit’s esses section, spinning off into the wall and destroying one of the two new front wings that his Haas team are trialling this weekend. “I’m okay,” reported the Frenchman, “but the car is not.”
After a brief red-flag period, the 19 remaining cars returned to the track. And once the soft tyres had been bolted on for the drivers’ qualifying simulation runs, it was Hamilton – a distant eighth in this morning’s session – who came out on top in FP2, although the Mercedes man admittedly benefitted from a decent tow from the Williams of Robert Kubica on his push lap to end up 0.301s ahead of Leclerc.
Behind the leading three, Sebastian Vettel didn’t manage to hook up a decent lap, as he finished 0.658s off Hamilton in fourth before capping off his session with a spin at Turn 13 in the Ferrari. He finished ahead of a similarly off-key Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes in fifth, while Alex Albon was sixth, 1.277s back, with the first of the Thai driver’s quick laps having been deleted for exceeding track limits.
There will have been a wry smile in the helmet of Pierre Gasly, as he ended up just 0.075s off the time of Albon – the driver who replaced him at Red Bull midway through this season – with the Frenchman putting in a cracking lap to go P7 for Toro Rosso, 0.158s up on the McLaren of Carlos Sainz in eighth.
Rounding out the top 10 were Racing Point’s Lance Stroll – the faster of the team’s drivers for the second session in a row – and the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, who survived a spin in Turn 8 to finish 10th.
Renault’s struggle for one-lap pace appeared to continue, with Daniel Ricciardo ending up 11th, over four-tenths off Gasly’s P7 time – while after having a hydraulic problem from FP1 fixed, Nico Hulkenberg was P13, ahead of the second McLaren of Lando Norris, who had a lap that would have been good enough for P11 deleted for exceeding track limits.
At the back of the pack came the two Haas cars and the two Williams, Magnussen only managing to lap 0.347s quicker than Grosjean, despite the Frenchman having only managed four laps on the medium tyre before his crash. At Williams, George Russell – whose car had suffered a gearbox issue when he handed it over to Nicholas Latifi this morning – finished P19, half a second up on Robert Kubica on both drivers’ first visit to the Circuit of The Americas.
So, just as last year’s race finished with a Mercedes, a Ferrari and a Red Bull in the top three, so too did Free Practice 2. A fascinating battle for pole between the top three teams lies in wait…