FP3: Verstappen leads Vettel and Norris, as Leclerc retires amid engine fears
For the second time this weekend it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who led a session in Austin as he set a flying lap of 1m 33.305s to keep Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at bay by 0.218s – with McLaren’s Lando Norris half a second back in third place.
Verstappen set the fastest times in Sectors 1 and 3 to eclipse Vettel as the two traded positions at the top of the standings as soon as qualifying simulations (on soft tyres) began halfway through the hour-long session.
For Vettel, his qualifying runs went smoothly enough – but team mate Charles Leclerc was struck by reliability woes, as suspected engine problems forced him to stop his smoking Ferrari at the side of the track just 15 minutes into the session. That left him without a lap time – and his crew with a job to do ahead of qualifying.
McLaren’s Norris emerged first when the lights went green at the start of the hour and crooned a rendition of ‘Stop It’ by Fisher, before securing an impressive third in the final order, leaving Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas to settle for fourth, six-tenths off the leader’s pace.
Red Bull’s Alex Albon couldn’t match his team mate, finishing behind Lewis Hamilton in P6.
However, as our Friday Pace Analysis showed, Mercedes look like leaders in terms of qualifying and race pace, even if Hamilton expressed his wariness over Ferrari and Red Bull’s speed after FP2.
In the second McLaren, Carlos Sainz was over a second off the pace in P7, a tenth ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, as Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top 10.
Five seconds separated Verstappen and 19th-place Sergio Perez, who will start Sunday’s race from the pit lane having failed to weigh his Racing Point in FP2 before the team worked on his car.
As a result, his team have equipped him with a new engine ahead of the race, for which the extra grid penalties won’t affect him.
But ahead of qualifying all eyes will be on last-place Leclerc, who may also receive penalties if Ferrari do replace critical components on his SF90.