The Friday in F1 US GP had plenty of interesting talk especially due to the bumpy Circuit of the Americas surface and also the trial of 2020 prototype tyres.
In the wake of an eventful Thursday in Austin with the release of the details regarding the 2021 regulations, the Friday in US GP was equally exciting, with teams testing Pirelli’s new 2020 prototype F1 tyre compound, as they had to adopt to the rough track surface.
It was Red Bull Racing‘s Max Verstappen leading the F1 US GP charge in FP1, although he dropped back to third in FP2, when Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton reigned supreme. Despite the gap, Verstappen feels that isn’t representative of the team’s true pace.
“Overall it’s been a positive day and the pace of the car on the short runs seems pretty good,” said Verstappen. “Lewis had a tow down the back straight on his fastest lap so I think the time isn’t really representative and the gap is probably a bit smaller than it looks.
“We were a little bit off on the long runs and I’m not entirely happy yet but that’s something we can look at tonight. The track seems to be getting bumpier every year but luckily the bumps aren’t really in braking areas.
“But it’s something that probably needs looking at before next year. I don’t mind bumps on a street circuit but some of these are quite severe and more like a jump so the wheels actually come off the ground.
“This track is also very aggressive on tyres so if we can keep them under control then it could be pretty good.” Teammate Alexander Albon had a decent run for the first time as well. He felt the bumps on TV was a lot worse than it actually was.
Meanwhile, Ferrari lagged behind slightly – perhaps unexpectedly – as colder weather is suspected to suit their car, as was shown in Barcelona testing. Charles Leclerc was seventh in FP1 [on prototype F1 tyres] and second in FP2, while Sebastian Vettel was second in FP1 and fourth in FP2.
While Leclerc faced adversity in FP1, after he fell victim to the bumpy track surface, leaving him with throttle problems, Vettel had a spin in FP2 but did not have any big damage “Overall, I think it was a positive day,” said Leclerc.
“Despite the setback I had in FP1, where my fastest lap was deleted and I had an issue with the throttle, the car felt good, especially in the qualifying runs. The track was bumpy, something that is a bit unusual in F1, but we will adapt to it over the weekend.
“We still have some work to do to improve our race pace and our competitors have turned out to be quite strong in that department.” At the same time, Vettel added that the team tried few things in FP2 which didn’t work in their favour.
On the other hand, Mercedes spent much of their FP1 session testing and gathering data on the new 2020 F1 tyres, getting a better understanding of the rubber that will be fitted to their car next year – even though both set their best on the current tyres.
By FP2, however, Mercedes had done all the necessary tests with the prototype F1 tyres and had moved on to race and qualifying preparation. Hamilton was better of the two by finishing eighth in FP1 and leading FP2, while Bottas was 17th and fifth, respectively.
“It was pretty cold out there on the track, but at least the sun came out,” said Hamilton. “The first session was interesting as we tried the 2020 F1 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 feel 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.” Bottas, though, admitted to struggling more in FP2 but hopes that they can turnaround on Saturday for a better challenge.
Behind the Top 3 F1 teams sat Toro Rosso‘s Pierre Gasly, who finished FP1 in fourth and FP2 in seventh, leading the mid-field pack through each session on Friday. Daniil Kvyat, however, failed to replicate this pace but was close, finishing 11th and 12th.
“We had a very good day of practice finishing P4 and P7 in the two sessions,” said Gasly. “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.
“Saturday 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 F1 circuit.”
In contrast, McLaren had a lackluster Friday as FP1 started with a spin from Carlos Sainz. He was 12th with Lando Norris 18th in FP1. The FP2 saw their fortunes change somewhat, with both of their drivers moving up, finishing eighth and 14th.
It was close behind with Racing Point‘s Lance Stroll in a better shape after double Top 10 finishes. Teammate Sergio Perez found it tough and his weekend is now hampered due to a pitlane start penalty for missing weighbridge in FP2.
Renault, meanwhile, showed mixed signs with Daniel Ricciardo finishing fifth in FP1 and outside the Top 10 in FP2, while teammate Nico Hulkenberg finished on the other side on both the occasions. The general feeling is good with race pace, especially.
In a similar boat is Alfa Romeo Racing with Kimi Raikkonen unable to find a place in the Top 10 in either of the sessions, while Antonio Giovinazzi managed to be 10th in FP2. Both were relatively happy with their day though despite not finding the best pace.
On the other hand, Haas had several programmes for 2020, especially by running the new front wing. Romain Grosjean‘s high speed crash in FP2 hindered part of it but American team had a successful FP1, in which they finished sixth and 10th.
“In FP2 we did all this aero testing, it was to get correlation, and obviously to try and understand a little more about the aero,” said Kevin Magnussen. “So, we’re not concerned about the times, we saw how FP1 went, we didn’t go low fuel and stuff like that.
“That’s more representative of our pace, we’re probably just outside the Top 10.” At the bottom were the two Williams as Robert Kubica ran a relatively smoother run than Nicholas Latifi and George Russell combined, with both having gearbox troubles.
Speaking on the 2020 F1 tyres, Pirelli’s Mario Isola said: “The relevance of 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.”
Here’s how FP1 of F1 US GP panned out
Here’s how FP2 of F1 US GP panned out
The story was written by Duncan Leahy and edited by Darshan Chokhani