Lewis Hamilton maintained his grip on top spot in practice for the United States Grand Prix, but the Mercedes driver was pushed hard by a much-improved Ferrari, with Sebastian Vettel getting to within a tenth of a second of the championship leader in FP3 at the Circuit of the Americas.
Third place in the session went to Mercedes Valtteri Bottas, with Kimi Räikkönen fourth in the second Ferrari. Just 0.277s separated the top four drivers.
Hamilton was also to the fore in the early part of the session where longer runs were the focus and the Briton topped the order with a time of 1:35.125. That was four tenths of a second clear of Vettel, who had changed chassi overnight after reporting front end issues in FP2. Bottas was third at the halfway mark with a time of 1:35.545, just under two hundredths of a second clear of fourth-placed Räikkönen.
In the first half of the session Daniel Ricciardo was fifth quickest, though the Red Bull Racing driver was over half a second off Räikkönen. Team-mate Max Versatppen, meanwhile, was languishing at the bottom of the order having completed a single lap on ultrasoft tyres before retreating to the garage.
The Ducth driver returned to the action just before the session hit the half way but his run was interrupted first by a mistake of him own in running wide at Turn 7 and then by Romain Grosjean beaching his Haas at Turn 7, an incident that brought out the Virtual Safety Car.
When the caution was removed Verstappen notched a lap of 1:35.217 which propelled him to P2 but around him the times were beginning to tumble and first Vettel and then Hamilton put in their their quickest laps to demote the Dutchman.
Hamilton’s lap of 1:34.478 was just 0.092 ahead of Vettel who looked much more sure-footed than on Friday. Bottas ended the session two tenths behind team-mate Hamilton, while Räikkönen’s took fourth place just six hundredths of a second further back.
Verstappen managed to find an improvement late on but it didn’t advance his position and he finished the session in fifth place 0.625s behind Hamilton. Should Verstappen replicate the position in qualifying he will still start towards the back of the grid after it was confirmed that engine element changes are set to hand him a 15-place grid penalty for tomorrow’s race.
Felipe Massa took sixth place and the Williams driver was the last man within a second of top spot, 0.868s off the pace. Nico Hulkenberg finished seventh just 0.042s clear of eighth-placed Renault teammate Carlos Sainz.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, left his second run on the ultrasofts until very late in the the session and though he set a personal best time in the first sector he abandoned the lap after a mistake in the next sector and so he ended the session in ninth place, eight hundredths of a second ahead of Sergio Pérez of Force India.
Further back, F1 debutant Brendon Hartley was 15th quickest for Toro Rosso, 2.340s off the pace. However, team-mate Daniil Kvyat completed just six laps after reporting a front end problem with his car.
2017 United States Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 15 1:34.478
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 19 1:34.570 0.092
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 17 1:34.692 0.214
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 17 1:34.755 0.277
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull 14 1:35.103 0.625
6 Felipe Massa Williams 11 1:35.346 0.868
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 21 1:35.608 1.130
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault 16 1:35.650 1.172
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 17 1:35.723 1.245
10 Sergio Perez Force India 16 1:35.802 1.324
11 Esteban Ocon Force India 17 1:35.965 1.487
12 Lance Stroll Williams 12 1:36.118 1.640
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren 15 1:36.239 1.761
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 14 1:36.599 2.121
15 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 26 1:36.818 2.340
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas 16 1:37.271 2.793
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 17 1:37.319 2.841
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 15 1:37.807 3.329
19 Romain Grosjean Haas 9 1:37.891 3.413
20 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 6 1:38.500 4.022