Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen topped the times in the final practice session of the weekend ahead of the United States Grand Prix, two tenths clear of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, as the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team left it extremely late to send out their drivers for qualifying simulations and were caught out before being able to unleash their true pace.
Verstappen set a time of 1:36.766 to take the top spot on a set of super-soft tyres, just getting the edge on his team-mate. Red Bull have looked good so far this weekend, and were quickest over long run pace on Friday, as well as looking pretty racy today.
Scuderia Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest half a second down on Verstappen’s lead time, but could possibly had been faster had it not been for the Finn running wide at Turn 19, something he has done a number of times so far this weekend, on his final flying lap.
Lewis Hamilton was fastest of the Mercedes drivers in fourth, after the German squad decided to leave it until the final moments of the session to send out their two drivers.
The Mercedes engineers also broke the curfew on Friday night in order to work overtime to make a precautionary change to the fuel system on the Brits car, due to what Technical Director Paddy Lowe described as a small but not serious issue. Hamilton is using an engine that was first used in Spa at this grand prix weekend.
Nico Rosberg, who was the first of the pair to head out on track for a final run in the FP3 session was fifth. During the late lap, the German was immediately two tenths down in the first sector, but made the time back in the second where he was quickest overall. But then a small wobble for the German at the penultimate corner saw him abort his lap before setting any time at all on the super-soft tyre.
Likewise Hamilton was unable to set a time on the fastest rubber after encountering Sauber F1 Team driver Felipe Nasr at the end of the lap, and also aborting. The team’s poor timing meant we did not see the true pace of the Mercedes during this session.
Despite that mishap, the German squad still look to have performance in reserve, both drivers posting faster times on the soft tyre than those set by Scuderia Ferrari on the super-soft compound.
Sebastian Vettel was sixth fastest, having experienced some technical problems with twenty minutes of the session remaining, as the German complained of a sudden loss of power over team radio.
Nico Hulkenberg was seventh for the Sahara Force India F1 Team, just six hundredths of second down on Vettel’s Ferrari . The German was just ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the first Williams Martini Racing machine, who was three tenths down on the Force India. The Silverstone based squad certainly look to have the run on Williams now with just four races of the season remaining.
McLaren-Honda Formula 1 Team driver Jenson Button was ninth on Friday morning and fastest of the Woking based squad’s cars, despite complaining of having poor grip coming out of the corners particularly at the rear.
The Brit was just two tenths ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso who rounded out the top ten. Sergio Perez was next up in eleventh, a rather large six tenths down on team-mate Hulkenberg, who this week confirmed he would be driving for the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team in 2017.
Jolyon Palmer, still unsure if he will be driving for the French squad next year, was twelfth and once more managed to out pace team-mate Kevin Magnussen. The Brit was ahead of Williams driver Felipe Massa, who finished way down the order in thirteenth place, four tenths down on his team-mate.
Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers Carlos Sainz Jnr and Daniil Kvyat were fourteenth and fifteenth respectively as the Faenza based squad continue to struggle on the power front.
The Spaniards session was also compromised after sustaining not just one but two punctures during the FP3 session. First of all to the right rear tyre in the first half of the session, then another to the left rear in the second part, which saw Sainz Jnr’s session end early.
Esteban Gutierrez was the first of the Haas F1 team runners in sixteenth place, two tenths ahead of team-mate Romain Grosjean. Being at their home race this weekend, this was probably not the sort of result the American team were looking for ahead of qualifying and the race.
Renault driver Magnussen took eighteenth, one tenth ahead of Sauber F1 Team driver Marcus Ericsson, who was a further three tenths up on team-mate Nasr, with the Manor Racing MRT team bringing up the rear.
Esteban Ocon was once again ahead of team-mate Pascal Wehrlein who had a troublesome session having spun into the gravel trap at Turn 19 early on.
The German lost the rear of the MRT05 turning into the left-hander, almost reaching the wall he travelled so far across the ground. That incident brought out the red flag whilst marshals recovered the beached car. It also brought about one of the most bizarre moments of the session, when Wehrlein had to be asked on five occasions by the team over team radio, to turn off his car whilst stuck in the gravel.
It has not been the best start to the weekend for Wehrlein, who sat out FP1 whilst reserve driver Jordan King took to the Manor, and then struggled with the handling of the car when he returned in FP2.
Heading into qualifying it is not immediately clear whether Mercedes still have an edge over their rivals here in Austin. One thing for sure is that Red Bull look like they could be a handful, which should make for an interesting battle for pole position later today.
2016 United States Grand Prix – FP3 Results
[table id=1621 /]