Friday practice results suggested that at the weekend when he can claim his sixth world title, Lewis Hamilton seems to have the best pace both over the single qualifying lap and in race trim. Setting the benchmark with a lap time of 1m33.232, no other driver could get near that time of the championship leader.
Mercedes in control – The reigning world champion team continued to set the pace in Texas, a location of many where it dominated the proceedings in the hybrid era. After the first free practice session which produced a slightly different pecking order due to Pirelli’s 2020 tyres, Lewis Hamilton proved fastest both during the qualifying and the race simulation. Mercedes technical chief James Allison did not hide the fact that Mercedes completed a very productive day around the challenging race track at Austin.
The Briton said that the team was “quite encouraged by the pace of the car. Lewis in particular had a strong afternoon on low and high fuel and on a range of compounds. Valtteri was a little bit less fortunate than Lewis and didn’t get the nice favourable tow that Lewis did on his fast lap, but he looked swift enough on the long runs.” Mercedes last secured a pole position in July, but Allison hopes that “we can reproduce the single lap pace in qualifying.”All-around advantage – In recent weeks, Mercedes’ W10 was lacking of pace when it came to one-lap performance, but the car seemed to present the benchmark in the hands of Lewis Hamilton yesterday during the qualifying simulation as well. As usual, Ferrari divers could re-gain the time lost in the corners on the longer full-throttle sections of the 5.5km Austin track, but the W10 was significantly faster than Ferrari and Red Bull in the slow- and medium-speed turns during yesterday's practices.
Lacking of pace – Ferrari seemingly need a miracle to continue its impressive six-race streak of pole positions given Mercedes demoralizing one-lap and race performance that the Anglo-German outfit showed during Friday practice sessions. Although Ferrari drivers expect that things can improve for today session by nailing the setup of the SF90 for Saturday. “We still have some work to do to improve our race pace and our competitors have turned out to be quite strong in that department today, so we will see where we stand tomorrow and take it from there,” said Charles Leclerc.
Sebastian Vettel reiterated the assumption of his teammate by claiming that the SF90 showed once again its weakness in terms of race pace. “We know our strengths and weaknesses and in quali trim, we can mask the weaknesses a bit, whereas that is harder for us to do in race configuration. All the same, I’m quite confident we can improve the car. We will focus on that and see what we can achieve,’ he said.
Less grip – Friday running at Texas was particularly important for Formula One’s tyre supplier Pirelli as the Milan-based company completed an extensive tyre testing. Each driver was given two sets of the 2020 soft compound tyres, for use during FP1 and FP2 only. Next year’s specification was defined following a number of dedicated tests, with the final one held in Barcelona earlier this month involving the top three teams.
Although several drivers complained about the 2020-spec tyres, Pirelli’s head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola said that his engineers were satisfied after the first analysis of the new product. "We have seen signs that the new tyre provides slightly less grip, but it is more consistent over a stint. Drivers always want maximum grip, so I can understand if they are not overly enthusiastic,” said the Italian.
An early return – Lewis Hamilton regular race engineer Peter Bonnington made an unexpected and early return for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix. The British engineer missed the previous round in Mexico as he had to stay in the United Kingdom for personal medical checks and was expected to miss this weekend’s race as well and return for the Brazilian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. Bonnington was replaced by Hamilton’s performance engineer Marcus Dudley at Mexico City, but his regular race engineer could make an early return which was possibly inspired by the fact that the championship leader is likely to secure his sixth title this weekend.
Heavy penalty – Sergio Perez will start the United States Grand Prix from the back of the grid after failing to visit the weighbridge during the second free practice session. The incident happened at 16:32 local time when FIA instructed the Mexican driver to stop for weighing, however he failed to act so, driving on and proceeding a pit stop. The Guadalajara-born driver and a team representative were summoned by the stewards after the session who decided to impose a heavy penalty forcing Perez to start the race from the pit lane. The Stewards claimed that the penalty is specified under the Formula One Sporting Regulation, meaning that they had no discretion to impose an alternative penalty.
Bumpy ride – After the first day of the United States Grand Prix, Formula One drivers were left shocked by the bumpy nature of the Circuit of the Americas. Onboard cameras showed how difficult a task was for the drivers to negotiate their cars over the severe bumps. Many drivers were complaining about the conditions and the asphalt of the 5.5km track in Texas. Lewis Hamilton was probably the most vocal claiming that the bumps caused him a massive headache. “It was the bumpiest track by far that I have ever been on. I had such a headache. The bumps are not such a bad thing in some places because it just adds characteristics, it adds that character to a circuit. So I’m not a fan of completely smooth circuits. I had a massive headache after P1, I had to lay down, I was not feeling great.”
According to the Briton, teams are limited in adjusting their cars to the high bumps due to the suspension characteristics. “But this one is like massive, massive bumps, and the problem for us is that we don’t have much suspension. Our suspension moves like this much, so it’s usually your butt on the floor, and your spine takes all the compression, so I was feeling horrible,” he said.
Unusually cold weather – The Formula One field was welcomed by unusually cold weather in Austin. Many of the team members were seen wearing a cap and warm jackets as temperatures failed to rise above ten degrees on Friday morning. For the afternoon session, the sun came out, high in the sky, improving matters slightly, but generally conditions were more similar to those experienced during pre-season testing. However, temperatures are expected to rise up to 21 degrees with a bit of further increase for race day. Rain is not forcast for any of the remaining sessions of the weekend.