Newly-crowned three-time world champion Max Verstappen picked up in the heat of Texas where he left off in Qatar as he topped the times in Friday’s sole practice session at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.
The 26-year-old Red Bull driver clocked a best lap in one minute and 35.912 seconds at the Circuit of the Americas to outpace Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 0.156 seconds.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes was third fastest in his upgraded car, nearly three-tenths adrift after a brief flurry of soft-compound runs at the end of a busy session on a hot day in Texas.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, seeking to impress after a series of lacklustre outings, was fourth ahead of Kevin Magnussen in the leading upgraded Haas and George Russell in the second Mercedes.
Alex Albon was a bold seventh for Williams ahead of Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari, Nico Hulkenberg in the second Haas and Pierre Gasly for Alpine, in tenth.
The session, the only one as Austin hopes a ‘sprint’ race weekend, took place in near-perfect conditions with an air temperature of 32 degrees Celsius and a clear blue sky. The track temperature was 40 degrees.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was back in action for Alpha Tauri, after a five-race absence, and wound up 14th.
Haas and Mercedes were among the teams sporting major upgrades, the American outfit hoping to enthuse their home fans and the former champions hoping to match the pace of McLaren.
Russell led the way as the lights went green and all but three cars joined the early fray before Verstappen, running on hard tyres, emerged on top ahead of Hulkenberg, on mediums.
Within eight minutes, Russell responded to go top briefly before the champion improved again as the luckless Stroll pitted for repairs, having reported a brake problem.
Alonso followed him in for an inspection and returned, but the Canadian was unable to continue after clocking just five laps in the only practice session before qualifying later Friday.
Hamilton, who had raised eyebrows earlier with his comments about maintaining Formula One as an elite contest in extreme conditions, following problems for many drivers with the heat in Qatar, then took control.
The Mercedes man clocked 1:37.394, also on hards, to outpace Verstappen.
“Personally, I dont want them to shorten the races and make it easier for us,” he had said. “I want it to be extreme. I want to feel the difference. I want to feel pain in my body.
“We’ve got to be careful how we’re moving with the changes,it’s like ‘let’s not get too soft’. We’re supposed to be elite athletes – to be elite, you need to be pushing to the limit.”
With 25 minutes remaining, Piastri survived a big ‘moment’ at Turn Nine where he ran wide and almost speared off into the barriers. It was a scary moment for McLaren’s Australian rookie.
Five minutes later, his team-mate Norris went top by a tenth ahead of Hamilton before Albon set the pace for Williams, with a run on ‘softs’ in 1;36.492, a lap promptly beaten by Verstappen, on softs, by six-tenths as he topped the final flurry.