With practice day being hampered by wet weather, Lewis Hamilton topped a session of limited running whilst his championship rival’s dour end to the season continued with a grid penalty.
The majority of the 90-minute session was spent with no cars on track, with drivers citing a lack of tyres as the reason for avoiding the tricky conditions, despite the high chances of the rain returning for Saturday qualifying.
Hamilton only completed a couple of laps in the final moments of the session, but it was enough to set the pace with a 1:48.716, a full second faster than Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The Ferrari drivers didn’t set times close to Hamilton’s benchmark, but the experimental nature of the session means that times set are largely irrelevant; Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel finished ninth and tenth respectively and around five seconds down.
Front-runners Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo were two of five drivers who didn’t bother setting times, and most of the running was completed by drivers who didn’t run in free practice one; Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.
Vettel was one of the drivers to make mistakes in the tricky conditions in free practice one. The Ferrari man ran wide twice at turn one, but there was enough runoff to survive.
His future team-mate, however, Charles Leclerc, ran off the track in the sweeping corners of sector one and threw a load of gravel onto the circuit, which brought out the red flags.
During this red flag period, Vettel was judged to have not slowed down sufficiently, and he was handed a three-place grid penalty.
Toro Rosso-Honda rack up more power unit penalties
With Honda continuing to experiment and make modifications to their latest power unit specification ahead of this weekend’s race in Austin, Toro Rosso have elected to take fresh power unit components, meaning both Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley will start the race from the back of the grid, unless other drivers earn the same punishment later on in the weekend.
Gasly will drive with the engine in Friday practice while Hartley will use an older one and take the new engine for the weekend.
The upgrade was significant in Toro Rosso’s best qualifying performance of the season at Honda’s home race in Japan, where the pair qualified in sixth and seventh. They fell back in the race but both Toro Rosso and Red Bull will be buoyed by their progress in recent races.
“On both cars, the new units will feature minor modifications to the specification when compared to that used in the Japanese GP,” said Honda F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe.
“After examining the power units used in Suzuka, we had some concerns and so we have decided to make these changes, which we believe is the best strategy for Scuderia Toro Rosso for the remaining races of the season.”
Development driver Sean Gelael made another Friday appearance for Toro Rosso in Austin, taking the wheel of Brendon Hartley’s STR13 during the damp free practice one, but setting the slowest time.
UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX, Free Practice
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m48.716s – 3 Laps
2 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m49.728s 1.012s 10
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m49.798s 1.082s 5
4 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m51.728s 3.012s 3
5 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m52.208s 3.492s 6
6 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m52.505s 3.789s 19
7 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m53.070s 4.354s 9
8 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m53.354s 4.638s 10
9 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m53.443s 4.727s 7
10 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m53.912s 5.196s 8
11 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m54.101s 5.385s 9
12 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m54.637s 5.921s 5
13 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m54.963s 6.427s 6
14 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m55.348s 6.632s 6
15 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m55.446s 6.730s 8
16 Carlos Sainz Renault No time
17 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault No time
18 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari No time
19 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari No time
20 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes No time
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
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