f1chronicle-2019 United States Grand Prix, Friday - Lewis Hamilton (image courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas)
2019 United States Grand Prix, Friday - Lewis Hamilton (image courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas)

The weekend in which Lewis Hamilton can clinch his sixth world championship title got off to the best possible start for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport driver. He was fastest come the end of the first day of practice for the 2019 United States Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton Fastest in 2019 US Grand Prix FP 2

No other driver could get near the lap time of 1.33.232 Lewis Hamilton set just past the halfway point of the afternoon session. Charles Leclerc was second three tenths down in 1.33.533. The championship leader also seems to have the best race pace, with only team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen getting close.

“It was pretty cold out there on the track today, but at least the sun came out. The first session was interesting as we tried the 2020 tyres. FP2 was more of a normal session and it actually went quite smoothly. The track is very bumpy this year – bumps can add character to a circuit, so I’m not a fan of completely smooth circuits, but the bumps here are just massive. The problem for the drivers is that we don’t have really much suspension, it doesn’t really move very much, so it feels like sitting straight on the floor and your spine takes a lot of compression. The bumps felt pretty bad in FP1, but we made some changes to make it feel a little bit better for the afternoon session. I’m looking forward to the weekend – I love this track in general and the car felt fairly decent today. However, we’ve still got a lot of work to do, so we will dig through the data tonight and hopefully we can be strong tomorrow,” said Hamilton.

2019 United States Grand Prix, Friday - Lewis Hamilton (image courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas)
2019 United States Grand Prix, Friday – Lewis Hamilton (image courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas)

Usual Suspects At The Top in Free Practice

Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver was quickest in the first session in 1.34.057 and he was just 14 thousandths better than Leclerc’s 1.33.547 and significantly better than Sebastian Vettel, fourth in 1.33.890 in the other Ferrari. No other driver got under the 1m 34s barrier. Bottas was fifth in FP2 in 1.34.045, with Alexander Albon sixth in 1.34.434 although the Thai driver had actually done better in the morning, posting a 1.34.316, third behind his team-mate and Vettel.

Therefore nothing much new under the Texan sun, with the three teams that have dominated this season looking to be fighting for the top places in qualifying and the race. In fact, this morning’s session did produce a slightly different pecking order to usual. For example, Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean were ahead of Leclerc and Hamilton, with Bottas only 17th, but that was mainly down to the fact that many drivers were running the two sets of 2020 test tyres made available to the entire field by Pirelli just for use today, with the aim of gathering useful data for next season.

Another unusual factor today was the weather, as it was very cold, especially in the morning session. The sun came out, high in the sky, for the second one, improving matters slightly, but generally conditions were more similar to those experienced during pre-season testing. Therefore it is even more difficult than usual to make predictions concerning the rest of the weekend, when in fact it is due to get much warmer.

Pierre Gasly ‘Best of the Rest’ on Day 1

Pierre Gasly has the honour of being “best of the rest” behind the top three teams today. He was fourth in FP1 and more significantly, seventh in FP2, just 75 thousandths off Albon’s time. As usual, the midfield battle is really close with ten drivers all within a second of one another, from the French Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda driver’s 1.34.509 to the 1.35.387 from Alfa Romeo Racing’s Kimi Raikkonen.

“We had a very good day of practice finishing P4 and P7 in the two sessions. I have a really good feeling with the car and I’m happy with the setup direction we took between FP1 and FP2. We managed to get the car where I wanted it to be so I’m satisfied with that. Tomorrow will be slightly different conditions, so we need to make sure we can achieve similar performance by anticipating all of these changes to get the car in a similar position for the next two days. I really enjoy driving on this track as it’s quite particular; it has fast, high-speed corners which is what I like in a circuit,” said Gasly.

It wasn’t a good day for Sergio Perez, not just because he was only 15th fastest in FP2 in 1.35.109. Sport Pesa Racing Point F1 Team’s Mexican driver failed to stop at the weighing scales at the end of FP2, driving past it to his garage where the team carried out a pit stop practice on his car. For this he now faces the severe penalty of starting the race from pit lane, As the official document stated, the penalty imposed is a mandatory penalty specified under the Sporting Regulations and the Stewards noted that they have no discretion to impose an alternative penalty.

“The track conditions today were extremely poor and there were quite a few people having problems with the bumps. I struggled with the balance of the car so I need to try and improve that for tomorrow. Lance was a lot stronger – not just over one lap, but also in the long runs – so hopefully I can pick it up tomorrow and be in contention for Q3. It’s most important to improve my race pace because that’s where the points are awarded,” said Perez.

2019 United States Grand Prix, Friday – Sergio Perez, Racing Point RP19 (image courtesy Racing Point)

No Home Cooking For Haas

Running on home turf has not done much for the Haas team so far, as Kevin Magnussen was 17th in FP2 and 18th with Romain Grosjean. On top of that, the Frenchman, who had been a brilliant sixth in the morning, only managed four laps in the afternoon, before hitting the barriers at the exit to turn 5, which briefly red-flagged the session.

“FP1 felt good. The car felt like it had a lot of grip, maybe that’s because I drove the NASCAR yesterday and then jumped back in a Formula One car and thought, oh okay, I’ve got some grip now. It was a good session, I was happy with that. We made some changes for FP2 and with hindsight they were maybe a little less good. It’s tough out there, there are a lot of bumps, but it’s pretty cool also. We’ll take the positives from FP1. We obviously haven’t had the chance to do a race sim, but we’ll take whatever Kevin (Magnussen) has done and just apply it to our car,” said Grosjean.

2019 United States Grand Prix, Friday – Romain Grosjean (image courtesy Haas F1 Team)

Tomorrow sees the usual programme of the third free practice session taking place prior to qualifying, but the timings are different to usual, with the idea of allowing the tens of thousands of fans expected at the Circuit of the Americas tomorrow, to attend the traditional Saturday night concert without having too long a wait after qualifying. FP3 starts at 1pm, followed by qualifying at four in the afternoon. Then as the sun sets on the track on the outskirts of Austin, it will be time for superstar performer Pink to step onto the stage, while on Sunday the crowd will be entertained by two-time GRAMMY Award-winning band Kool & the Gang.

What We Learned About Tyres From FP1 and FP2

  • Conditions were incredibly cold for the first day of free practice in Austin. First thing in the morning, ambient temperatures were barely above freezing – just one degree centigrade – before warming up to temperatures that peaked at around 15 degrees centigrade in FP1 and 19 degrees centigrade in FP2.
  • Drivers had at their disposal two sets of unmarked 2020 C4 soft compound tyres, to use during today only. Most drivers used these tyres in FP1, with slightly less running of these tyres seen in FP2, as teams concentrated on race preparation.
  • Despite the very cold conditions, similar to Barcelona pre-season testing, the lap times were comparable to the dry sessions last year. There were only a few cases of light graining seen, on both the current and 2020 compounds.
  • There was a high degree of track evolution in evidence, with the lap times at the end of the session in the afternoon considerably faster than those of the morning.
  • Degradation on the soft tyre also seems to require some pace management so far.
  • The weather is expected to warm up slightly over the course of the weekend, but not significantly: it will still be a cool weekend, so teams have to adapt to this,
  • The weather conditions and track evolution made it hard to get a sensible read on the performance difference between the compounds. However, so far we see around one second between soft and medium (a bit more than we expected), and roughly the same between medium and hard (in line with our expectations). There’s not so much data on the hard though, so this gap is hard to calculate accurately.

Mario Isola – Pirelli Head of F1

“The very low temperatures seen so far this week have come as quite a shock to many people, and of course they have an effect on tyre performance. It’s in some ways a pity as we had hoped to give the drivers their first taste of the 2020 tyres in more representative weather, but obviously there’s not much that we can do about it. On the positive side, there were only a few cases of light graining seen even in these extreme conditions – on the 2020 tyres and the current tyres – and the teams were still able to take away some useful information, on both new and used 2020 tyres, sometimes by doing back to back comparisons with the existing product. The relevance of this data is obviously compromised by the fact that it’s a 2020 tyre on a 2019 car, which hasn’t been optimised for this specification of tyre, but at least it allows the teams to gather some information in view of the final test of the year at Abu Dhabi. Apart from that, today consisted in carrying out the usual preparation work for qualifying and the race with different fuel loads, and in particular adapting the cars to these cold conditions. We experienced a very high degree of track evolution throughout the day that clearly influenced the lap times, but overall I’m actually quite surprised by how well the cars and tyres performed today in conditions that they really weren’t designed for.”

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