The Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team found themselves on top in changing conditions in Free Practice 1 at the Circuit of The Americas courtesy of Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton’s best time of the session, a 1:36.335s on the Supersoft tyres, was set towards the end of the session as the track dried and was enough to see him finish five-tenths ahead of his title rival – Scuderia Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel and a further few hundredths clear of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
The Red Bull Racing duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo found themselves fourth and sixteenth respectively, and will have to show improvement to back up the latter’s suggestion that the team will have the pace to win the race on merit.
The first hour of the session saw minimal meaningful running due to the slippery conditions, the kerbs catching several drivers out, including Ricciardo, Sean Gelael and Esteban Ocon.
Vettel became the first man to test the slick tyres, but found himself searching for grip that wasn’t there, despite setting the fastest time with a 1:45.960s.
It took a few moments for the rest of the crowd to follow, those brave enough to react along with Vettel found patches of water at the exit of Turn nineteen, deterring the rest of the field.
However, Ricciardo’s first time on the super-soft tyres proved to be five seconds faster than Vettel’s provisional lap, and times soon started to tumble by the minute – Verstappen soon bettered the Australian’s time by over a second, bringing the bar down into the 1 minute 30s.
But, seconds later Hamilton stole top spot away from the Dutchman as the Brit and Mercedes started to flex their muscles, again on the red walled super-soft tyres.
Mercedes did have their problems, Bottas had to limp back to the pits with his rear-wing wobbling on throttle application after locking up both of his front tyres.
As Hamilton improved further, he ensured that no one could oust him from the top of the timing sheets, despite a last-gasp, but ultimately futile, effort from Vettel. Vettel had the better of team-mate Kimi Räikkönen, who could only manage seventh.
On his Formula 1 début, Brendon Hartley showed promising pace, comfortably outpacing Gelael in the second Scuderia Toro Rosso, ending up in a respectable fourteenth.
In another début outing of sorts, Carlos Sainz Jr. impressed for the Renault Sport Formula One Team, managing to lap eight-tenths ahead new team-mate Nico Hülkenberg, whetting the appetite for a potentially pulsating battle at the back-end of the season.
In a similarly interesting battle – albeit a season long one – at Sahara Force India F1 Team, Ocon got the better of Sergio Pérez by just under six-hundredths of a second.
The McLaren Honda Formula One Team found their two drivers at either end of the standings, Stoffel Vandoorne proved to be the star of the show, setting the fifth fastest time, a fraction over a second off of Hamilton’s ultimate time. However, Fernando Alonso never set foot on track due to a hydraulic leak; the perfect way to celebrate his new deal.
In their home Grand Prix, the Haas F1 Team saw a reasonable first outing of the weekend, Kevin Magnussen just outside the top ten, whilst Romain Grosjean ended up in fifteenth.
Felipe Massa showed no signs of an imminent retirement, claiming the sixth fastest time of the morning for Williams Martini Racing; Lance Stroll languished in twelfth.
Charles Leclerc missed the opportunity to best Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber F1 Team battle, slithering wide at Turn 19 on his final run.
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