AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 18: Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (44) of Great Britain races through turn 15 during morning practice for the F1 United States Grand Prix on October 18, 2018, at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. (Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A rain-hit Saturday seems to be what exactly Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton needed to begin the Formula 1 United States GP weekend. The championship leader, who is looking to clinch his fifth wprld drivers’ championship this weekend at Austin, led Friday with stellar performances on a wet Circuit Of The Americas (COTA).

The British driver led his teammate Valtteri Bottas in FP1 with a 1.3-second margin and was 1 second quicker than Toro Rosso‘s Pierre Gasly in the afternoon, with heavier rain causing most of the drivers to set their fastest laps near the end of the session.

Takeaways from Friday Practice

Both free practice sessions were in wet conditions, FP2 had less on-track action but was significant too. As both Mercedes cars were able to put fastest lap times in shorter stints in both sessions, Ferrari struggled throughout the day.

The Pirelli tyre choice for this race, for dry conditions, are the yellow-striped soft tyre, the red-striped supersoft tyre, and the purple-striped ultrasoft tyre.

Sebastian Vettel had a difficult day. The German finished fifth and tenth in FP1 and FP2, respectively. Kimi Raikkonen, in the other Ferrari, was sixth and ninth in the two practice sessions.

Vettel’s weekend is heavily compromised after he was handed a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow down sufficiently under red-flag condition after Charles Leclerc spun off the track and forced a red flag during FP1.

The main takeaways from the two practice sessions were:

  • Ferrari is struggling to find pace in wet conditions, which might cause bigger problems for Saturday’s qualifying since it is expected to be under wet conditions.
  • Vettel must look for an unlikely fastest time on Saturday to start the race a minimum in fourth place. Ferrari has not shown great speed, but the Italian squad might turn things around for qualifying, as they have done many times during the course of the season.
  • Hamilton seems to be in control of his car and looks dominating. The English driver only had nine laps during the two Friday sessions and stamped his authority on the timesheets.
  • Red Bull was strong on Friday. Max Verstappen was third in FP1 and FP2. Daniel Ricciardo only had timed laps in FP1 and marked the fourth fastest time of the session.
  • Gasly was the welcomed surprise of the day. After not competing in last year’s race at Austin due to his duties in the Japanese Super Formula Championship, the Frenchman finished a strong second place in FP2 behind Hamilton.
  • McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was great during FP2 and put his car in fourth place after reaching the eleventh spot in FP1. Lando Norris took part in FP1 and ended up 12th, while Stoffel Vandoorne was eighth in FP2.
  • Force India did not do well. Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez could not reach the top ten in any of the two sessions.
  • Sauber‘s Marcus Ericsson and Leclerc had a solid day. Ericsson was tenth and seventh respectively. The Monegasque finished ninth and 11th during the two events.
  • Renault had two good results, one by each of their drivers in each of the two sessions. In FP1, Carlos Sainz went seventh fastest, while Nico Hulkenberg took fifth place in FP2.

The Last Word

Hamilton needs to outscore Vettel by eight points to seal his fifth world title, the second in a row and the fourth in five years. Looking at the way the weekend started and especially with Vettel’s penalty, it looks like the British driver will be able to clinch his fifth championship. However, the checkered flag is still far away.

Results of FP1:

POS NO DRIVER CAR TIME GAP LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:47.502 6
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:48.806 +1.304s 7
3 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:48.847 +1.345s 9
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:49.326 +1.824s 9
5 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:49.489 +1.987s 18
6 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:49.928 +2.426s 20
7 55 Carlos Sainz RENAULT 1:50.665 +3.163s 8
8 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 1:50.821 +3.319s 10
9 16 Charles Leclerc SAUBER FERRARI 1:50.961 +3.459s 14
10 9 Marcus Ericsson SAUBER FERRARI 1:51.016 +3.514s 14
11 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN RENAULT 1:51.036 +3.534s 9
12 47 Lando Norris MCLAREN RENAULT 1:51.232 +3.730s 9
13 10 Pierre Gasly SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 1:51.234 +3.732s 19
14 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:51.459 +3.957s 18
15 35 Sergey Sirotkin WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:51.589 +4.087s 14
16 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 1:51.614 +4.112s 15
17 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:51.655 +4.153s 17
18 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:51.717 +4.215s 7
19 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:51.896 +4.394s 14
20 38 Sean Gelael SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 1:52.625 +5.123s 21

Results of FP2:

POS NO DRIVER CAR TIME GAP LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:48.716 3
2 10 Pierre Gasly SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 1:49.728 +1.012s 10
3 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:49.798 +1.082s 5
4 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN RENAULT 1:51.728 +3.012s 3
5 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:52.208 +3.492s 6
6 28 Brendon Hartley SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA 1:52.505 +3.789s 19
7 9 Marcus Ericsson SAUBER FERRARI 1:53.070 +4.354s 9
8 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN RENAULT 1:53.354 +4.638s 10
9 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:53.443 +4.727s 7
10 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:53.912 +5.196s 8
11 16 Charles Leclerc SAUBER FERRARI 1:54.101 +5.385s 9
12 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:54.637 +5.921s 5
13 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:54.963 +6.247s 6
14 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:55.348 +6.632s 6
15 35 Sergey Sirotkin WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:55.446 +6.730s 8
16 55 Carlos Sainz RENAULT 2

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