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Saturday analysis - who's best set for the wet come Sunday?

24 Oct 2015

Final practice was another rain-hit affair here in Austin, but at least everybody got some running, and a more representative image of the pecking order emerged than it had on Friday morning when only some were focused on lap times in FP1.

That may all change if the rescheduled qualifying session at 0900 on Sunday is dry, or at least less wet, but it’s still worthwhile assessing who was looking good in FP3 - and who might be set for a strong US race.

There’s no gold star for saying Mercedes, because that’s too easy. But as ever Lewis Hamilton was right up there, with fastest time in his nine laps by 0.863s from Sebastian Vettel. He had been fastest earlier too, but dropped down to 10th as others improved while he pitted to have the car ‘reconfigured,’ as Mercedes put it. By the time he emerged with 23 minutes remaining the conditions were definitely not as good as they had been earlier, yet he put a lap together and really nailed it.

The fastest times in the first two sectors, and third fastest in the last one, left him comfortably clear of the rest and his corrected advantage was probably closest to a second.

Not so team mate Nico Rosberg, who only did seven laps after early on taking the front wing off his Mercedes when he spun and collected the wall at Turn 3. That put him on his back foot and left him ninth in the order. Clearly he’ll be faster in qualifying, but he has some work to do.

The Ferraris looked good, and Kimi Raikkonen was close to Vettel, but while Hamilton was doing his fast run the German was floundering for grip and aquaplaning off on two occasions. The Scuderia will hope that was more of a consequence of the amount of standing water more than a question mark over their wet set-up. And, of course, because they are using their new engine there will be a drop of 10 grid places apiece for the drivers.

Force India looked strong. Nico Hulkenberg was fastest in sector three and third overall, and both he had team mate Sergio Perez were at the high end of the lap spectrum with 12 laps each.

Williams really seemed to have a handle on their wet set-up, with Valtteri Bottas fourth and Felipe Massa 10th. They did a lot of laps, too, 14 for the Finn which was the highest of all, and 13 for the Brazilian, and they had the fifth and sixth best speeds through the main trap.

Hamilton was fastest through there at 315 km/h from Rosberg and Lotus’s Romain Grosjean, and the best Ferrari was Raikkonen’s in fourth.

Toro Rosso looked well sorted with Carlos Sainz going fifth and doing 11 laps, though team mate Max Verstappen was last after a couple of minor offs and an engine problem which rendered extensive lapping pointless.

Lotus have work to do with Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado only 12th and 13th, but though he was only 14th Fernando Alonso gave McLaren some hope. The Spaniard was well up in sector two, and ahead of all the Renault-powered cars in the speed trap.

He’s using the Specification 4 Honda power unit, remember, while Jenson Button still has the Specification 3 motor. The Briton has said he hopes to be ‘annihilated’ by his team mate this weekend, which would confirm an advantage for the new engine. Button was nearly two seconds adrift, and tellingly his maximum speed of 285 km/h was well below Alonso’s 303, so perhaps Honda have indeed made some progress on horsepower and energy deployment.

Of note, the Marussia drivers seemed very evenly matched, though local hero Alexander Rossi’s best lap was lost to traffic.

WATCH: The drivers react to Saturday's washout