FP1: Hamilton heads Bottas in wet US practice
After heavy overnight rain, it was a very damp Circuit of The Americas that greeted the F1 drivers for opening practice on Friday morning. That didn’t put off Lewis Hamilton, who led the session by a comfortable 1.3s from Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas.
The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were hot on the heels of the second Silver Arrow, while Hamilton’s title rival Sebastian Vettel took fifth for Ferrari, almost two seconds off the championship leader’s pace, and just ahead of team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Completing the top 10 were Renault’s Carlos Sainz, the Haas of Romain Grosjean, and Sauber team mates Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson.
After initial exploratory laps from most drivers on full wet tyres, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was the first to switch to intermediates 12 minutes in, and that remained the rubber of choice for the remainder of the 90 minutes.
Eleven of those 90 were lost to a red flag period to allow stones to be cleared from the track after Leclerc survived a spin at Turn 9. Several others had off-track moments – Vettel and Verstappen among them – but arguably the only other real moment of drama came when Esteban Ocon misjudged a pit stop, forcing his Force India crew to take evasive action.
There were two Friday drivers in action. Briton Lando Norris got more track time with McLaren in preparation for his 2019 race debut with the team, taking Stoffel Vandoorne’s car to a very creditable 12th place, just two-tenths off Fernando Alonso.
And at Toro Rosso, Brendon Hartley stepped aside to give Indonesian F2 racer Sean Gelael his first FP1 outing of the year. The 21-year-old, who participated in four Friday sessions for the team last year, ended up 20th.
That put him seven places behind team mate Pierre Gasly, though both Toro Rossos are already expected to start Sunday’s race from the rear of the grid thanks to Honda’s decision to give them updated power units here.
Will the weather improve for FP2? Forecasts suggest any major change is unlikely – and in fact the teams are unlikely to see much in the way of sunshine before Sunday. Plenty of work to do before then, mind…