5 things we learned from Friday practice at the United States Grand Prix
Friday at the Circuit of The Americas had a different flavour, with second practice extended to 90 minutes to allow Pirelli to test 2023 prototype tyres. That running means it’s tricky to distil a pecking order from the track action, but there are plenty of takeaways.
1. Ferrari’s early pace looks promising
Carlos Sainz set the pace in opening practice, the Spaniard finding his rhythm very quickly, while the speed he found as the day went on gave him cause for significant optimism for the remainder of the weekend.
He feels like there’s work to do to get him comfortable over the bumps, but the low-fuel pace looked very encouraging, both with him and team mate Charles Leclerc at the wheel.
On higher fuel, the picture is more oblique – though with FP2 handed over to tyre testing, there will be a greater focus on that running in FP3.
2. Red Bull remain favourites
Red Bull can win what will be their first constructors’ championship for nearly a decade this weekend if Ferrari fail to outscore them by 19 points, and while Sergio Perez’s five-place grid drop for a fresh internal combustion engine isn’t ideal, they should have the pace to get the job done.
The four-time world champions are just a fraction off Ferrari when on low fuel, but move ahead when running heavier. There’s work to do, though, with Checo saying they need to find gains on the high-speed versus low-speed balance.
And while Verstappen may have already wrapped up his second drivers’ championship, he’s not easing off the pace. He even did his first track walk in a long time to give him a chance to assess the bumps after the track was resurfaced.
3. Upgraded Mercedes in familiar lonely third spot
Lewis Hamilton praised the effort of his Mercedes team for bringing another upgrade to the track – including a new front wing, floor edges, floor fences and rear wing end-plate.
It’s unlikely to haul them into contention for the win, though, with our data suggesting the Silver Arrows are in their now familiar position of third in the pecking order in both metrics.
That said, Hamilton stated the car felt better around Austin and, if they can make improvements overnight, he doesn’t think they are that far off the leading two teams. That could make this weekend interesting if he’s proved right.
4. Alpine appear to head midfield
Alpine’s edge over McLaren looks set to continue this weekend, with the French team emerging as best of the rest in both short and long run simulations.
The French team ran their upgraded floor on Esteban Ocon’s car in FP1, with Chief Race Engineer Ciaron Pilbeam saying it delivered performance as expected.
He added that the car coped well on a resurfaced track as Ocon and Fernando Alonso declared themselves satisfied with their data gathering and the early balance of the car.
5. Young guns get their shot to shine
A tweak to the rules for this year means F1 teams are required to run young drivers at least twice during an FP1 over the course of the season – and in Austin, four teams took the opportunity to use part of their allocation.
Logan Sargeant, favourite to make his F1 race debut next year with Williams if he secures enough Super Licence points this year, was one – the American impressing the team with his efforts on Friday morning.
Alfa Romeo were delighted with Theo Pourchaire’s first shot in an F1 car, too, while McLaren were happy to let IndyCar champion Alex Palou get some push laps under his belt once he’d completed his data gathering programme. And Ferrari were able to gather more data on their junior Robert Shwartzman. A useful day all round.