RACE DEBRIEF

    He may have finished Free Practice 2 at the Circuit of The Americas in a strong P8 – but McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was predicting an uphill struggle for his team at the United States Grand Prix weekend, as they search for the set-up sweet spot on their MCL34.

    Sainz complained of understeer on his McLaren during FP1, suffering a wild half-spin going through COTA’s esses and ending up P12. And while he appeared to be right on the midfield pace in FP2 – ending up eighth, just 0.158s off Pierre Gasly’s seventh-placed time for Toro Rosso – Sainz had mixed feelings about his prospects for the weekend when he faced the media on Friday evening.

    FP2: Hamilton on top from Leclerc and Verstappen at COTA

    “A good day,” he said. “It’s been a slow FP1 with trying to measure [the 2020 Pirelli test] tyres with a lot of sensors, and then in FP2, we focused a bit more on normal running and trying to put the car set-up in the right window.

    It’s going to take a lot of progress through the weekend to qualify P7 and P8

    Carlos Sainz

    “It hasn’t been easy. We’ve been playing around a lot more than recently with the set-up, because we cannot find the right window. But in general, we got to a decent point on the soft tyre, and then on the long run, it’s as tight as it’s always been.

    “It’s definitely going to be a very challenging weekend for us in McLaren,” he added, “because we see that in this track, we are not as competitive maybe as we were in Mexico in qualifying. So it’s going to take a lot of progress through the weekend to try and make it to a P7 and P8 starting grid [position].”

    FP1: Sainz spins at speed in COTA's Turn 5

    Team mate Lando Norris also had his struggles. With just one previous FP1 outing here last year to his name, Norris could only take P18 in this year’s FP1, while he had a time that was good enough for P11 disallowed in FP2 after he ran off the road at Turn 19, and eventually settled for 14th.

    “Tricky,” was how he summed up his day. “It’s not the easiest track, very bumpy, so it’s easy just to get it a little bit wrong and to have a big snap of understeer, oversteer or something… But it’s not been too bad, just a scruffy lap from me today. Obviously went off on my best lap, so I got done for track limits, but we’re there or thereabouts, just need to put the lap together tomorrow.

    Small mistakes are going to be pretty costly

    Lando Norris

    Asked whether, on the strength of Gasly’s performance in FP2, Toro Rosso were likely to be McLaren’s closest competitor this weekend, Norris replied: “They seem exceptionally strong, they have done over the past few weekends, so I’m not really surprised.

    “But the whole of the midfield pack [is tight] – I was not that far off the guys ahead [in FP2], but I was quite a few positions back, so the small improvements, small mistakes are going to be pretty costly.”

    One comfort for McLaren was that, with just three races left this season, Renault appeared to throw in the towel in their pursuit of the team’s fourth place in the constructors’ standings, with Nico Hulkenberg admitting on Thursday in Austin that McLaren were “out of reach” in that fight.