Lewis Hamilton claimed top spot in final practice for the US Grand Prix with an impressive lap in extremely wet conditions to eclipse second-placed Sebastian Vettel by nine tenths of a second at a storm-lashed Circuit of the Americas.
After Friday afternoon’s practice session was cancelled due to bad weather, the rain also threatened to disrupt Saturday’s running, but despite heavy rain the conditions were deemed driveable and FP3 went ahead as planned.
With worse weather expected in the afternoon, the session was always going to be busy, with drivers keen to set times in case the session order might end up being used as the grid order in the event of a cancelled qualifying session.
Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo was the first out on track and he was quickly followed by Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, the Lotus pairing of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. Ricciardo was the first to set a timed lap, the Australian registering a time of 2:12.758.
Kvyat then moved to the top of the table with a time of 2:04.442. By this time Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton had joined the action and Rosberg was the first to significantly misread the conditions. The German spun at Turn 3 and slid into the barriers damaging his front wing. He kept going, however, and after repairs was soon back out on track.
In the meantime team-mate Hamilton had jumped to the top of the order with a lap of 2:02.561. He was then bounced out of P1 by Sebastian Vettel, the Ferrari driver recording a lap of 2:01.441.
Vettel soon lowered the benchmark to 2:00.380 but the German also reported that the rain was intensifying as the session approached the half hour mark.
Behind him on the timesheets were Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who was just over a tenth down on the Ferrari, Bottas, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and in fifth place Ricciardo.
Just after the half hour mark Hamilton again rose to the top of the timesheet, the Briton powering ahead of the pack with a lap of 1:59.517. It left him almost nine tenths of a second clear of Vettel.
Vettel was the next to have a big moment. The Ferrari driver aquaplaned at Turn 18 and spun on track. He didn’t sustain any damage in the incident but was quickly on the radio to report that the conditions were “getting quite bad, I keep spinning.” Hamilton was also reporting difficult conditions, telling his team the circuit was now “way too wet”.
It was the cue for most of the field to return to the pit lane, with only Ricciardo, now in P8, and Rosberg, in P9, continuing to circulate. Eventually they too chose to retreat.
Hulkenberg, though, went out again to test the conditions and complete a practice start and having done that he quickly returned to the pits. Kvyat (P6), Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz (P5) and Force India Sergio Perez (P11) also went out to do the same and having got the start simulation out of the way all three were soon back in their respective garages.
Ericsson and Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen were the last to head out on track but they too quickly gave up on running and with the track swamped by heavy rain, the drivers were content to sit back and watch the clock run out on the session.
Should the times be used to establish grid order, the result means pole position would go to Hamilton, with Vettel joining the Briton on the front row. Hulkenberg was third, just under a second adrift of Hamilton, with Bottas fourth ahead of Sainz and Kvyat. Raikkonen was seventh, with Ricciardo, Rosberg and Massa rounding out the top ten.
Further back there were problems for Verstappen, The Dutch driver completed just seven laps and while team-mate Sainz was fifth, Verstappen finished the session in 20th place.
2015 United States Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:59.517 9
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 2:00.380 +0.863 9
3 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 2:00.496 +0.979 12
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 2:00.523 +1.006 14
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 2:00.687 +1.170 11
6 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Racing 2:00.694 +1.177 12
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 2:00.785 +1.268 9
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 2:01.008 +1.491 12
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 2:01.474 +1.957 7
10 Felipe Massa Williams 2:02.199 +2.682 13
11 Sergio Perez Force India 2:02.660 +3.143 12
12 Romain Grosjean Team Lotus 2:02.825 +3.308 10
13 Pastor Maldonado Team Lotus 2:02.921 +3.404 11
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren 2:03.375 +3.858 9
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 2:04.399 +4.882 13
16 Jenson Button McLaren 2:05.283 +5.766 7
17 Will Stevens Manor 2:05.378 +5.861 10
18 Alexander Rossi Manor 2:05.607 +6.090 10
19 Felipe Nasr Sauber 2:06.792 +7.275 10
20 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 2:09.994 +10.477 7