Hamilton tops extreme wet practice amidst hurricane storm at US GP

After the decision to run was given to the teams, Lewis Hamilton topped the time sheet in the final practice session for the US Grand Prix.

Heavy rain struck the Circuit of The Americas hours before practice was set to go green, but eventually a decision was made to run the session while concerns continued over the possibility of qualifying. But with the full wet tyres fitted to the cars, and the chance to determine the grid, Lewis Hamilton topped the time sheet while others span and crashed.

For hours before the session was scheduled to go green, the FIA delegates debated over the chances of running FP3 and qualifying. But while they debated over the chances of running the session, track organisers were closing the gates for the fans over safety concerns.

Some fans had already made their way into the circuit complex and were allowed to stay in the stands while the FIA decided over cancelling another session following FP2’s cancellation yesterday due to the proximity of lightning to the circuit.

Eventually however, they decided to run FP3 as it would be needed should qualifying not be able to be ran later today and a grid would be formed from the practice times.

With the knowledge that FP3 may set the grid for tomorrow’s US Grand Prix, the track was awash with not only water but with Formula One cars. A sight not usually seen in a wet practice session and a sight not seen by many at the track given the closed gates.

Nevertheless, Ricciardo in his Red Bull broke the silence and headed out early on to test the waters alongside Ericsson and the Lotus duo. Ricciardo though continued to struggle to set a competitive time in the conditions while others struggled to stay on the track.

One driver struggling to keep his car pointing in a straight line was Nico Rosberg as he, and his team-mate, found themselves having large moments in the wet but Rosberg found the running more challenging and span into the barrier while Hamilton controlled his slide. Nico’s spin also caused him to return to his garage as he broke the front wing upon impact.

While Rosberg sat in the garage with the team attending to his car, the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Raikkonen were lapping the circuit and posting the strongest times. This being despite Raikkonen finding the first sector tricky and ran wide while aquaplaning.

Vettel’s time in P1 on the cusp of the two-minute border remained at the top for most of the first half hour while Raikkonen found himself sliding down the order. But as the conditions became worse, Hamilton returned to the track and smashed Vettel’s flying lap to be the first man to enter the 1:59’s. Before this run, Lewis had been struggling with grip levels but the team changed his set up and instantly found a way to turn the tyres on well.

On the other hand, lap after lap Vettel remained out on track but lap after lap he span or aquaplaned off the track as conditions deteriorated. At one stage, Vettel even lost the rear of his car through turn 9 before reversing down the track in order to find a suitable place to spin the car back around.

Down at Force India, Hulkenberg was the only car to still be on track as he ran a few practice starts. And after running in the best of the conditions, Hulkenberg also found himself in the top three just ahead of Bottas. Their team-mate’s however were split for P10 and P11 with five tenths the difference compared to the three hundredths separating Bottas from Hulkenberg.

To find Rosberg on the timesheet, you need to look down towards the middle of the field along with Massa and Perez as Nico missed the best of the running after his early crash. When the team thought they had a chance to run again with Rosberg, the track was far from optimal and his run was brought to a swift end.

As the final quarter of an hour engaged, other drivers followed in Hulkenberg’s tyre prints to go out and gather data on launches. But for Kvyat, running in these conditions was far from enjoyable as shown with his radio message when asked to carry out more practice starts.

As conditions were restricting tyre and brake temps, the action calmed down towards the end and the session effectively concluded early.

Should the FP3 times be taken for the grid, Hamilton would start from pole position while Vettel falls down to 12th after his 10-place grid penalty for his new engine. Rosberg also in turn moves up to seventh, but Hamilton’s two title-rivals will be far behind and would need to overtake him on track and hold position to remain in contention.

A tall order for either to prevent Hamilton from being a three-time World Champion.

Position Driver Gap
1 Hamilton 1:59.517
2 Vettel 0.863
3 Hulkenberg 0.979
4 Bottas 1.006
5 Sainz 1.170
6 Kvyat 1.177
7 Raikkonen 1.268
8 Ricciardo 1.491
9 Rosberg 1.957
10 Massa 2.682
11 Perez 3.143
12 Grosjean 3.308
13 Maldonado 3.404
14 Alonso 3.858
15 Ericsson 4.882
16 Button 5.766
17 Stevens 5.861
18 Rossi 6.090
19 Nasr 7.275
20 Verstappen 10.477