Max Verstappen set the fastest time of a disjointed final practice session at the Circuit of the Americas that saw a number of drivers fail to get in clean qualifying simulations.
Verstappen bolted on the supersoft Pirelli tyres with 16 minutes left in the session, at a point when there were just six other cars on track, and the Dutchman used the space well, powering to a lap of 1:36.766.
That was good enough to take him 0.266s clear of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who had first sample the supersofts just after the half hour mark in the session. The Australian made another attempt late on but he was blocked by Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen and the lap got away from the Australian.
Behind the Red Bulls, Räikkönen was third for Ferrari. The Finn also struggled to get a clean lap, running wide at the penultimate corner and finishing with a best time of 1:37.284, just over half second adrift of Verstappen. Räikkönen’s team-mate Sebastian Vettel ended the session in sixth place with a best time of 1:38.894. The four-time champion did all of his running on the supersoft tyre but after complaining of a gearbox problem in the closing stages he made his way to the Ferrari garage and did not rejoin the action.
Splitting the Ferraris were the Mercedes cars of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg went for a quali simulation late in the session but after setting a personal best in sector one and the best time of the session in sector two he encountered traffic in the final sector and abandoned his run. He headed for the pit lane and did not return. He finished with a best time of 1:37.784
Hamilton too failed to get a clean lap. The defending champion was released late from his garage and when he encountered traffic he was unable to get across the line in time to begin a hot lap before the chequered flag was waved. As a result, Hamilton was 0.7s slower than Verstappen but his best time came on softs.
Nico Hulkenberg finished seventh for Force India. The German’s lap of 1:37.948 was 1.182s behind Verstappen’s but it was good enough to put him 0.24s ahead of Williams rival Valtteri Bottas. The final top 10 positions were taken by the McLarens of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.
The disjointed nature of the session was in large part caused by a red flag just aftet the quarter-hour mark. Pascal Wehrlein went off at Turn 19 and with his Manor buried deep in the gravel trap close to the edge of the track, and with a recovery vehicle needed to reach his beached car, the session was stopped for almost 10 minutes. The suspension disrupted proceedings and when running resumed led to period of heavy congestion on the track.
It was a troubled session, too, for Toro Rosso. Carlos Sainz’s session was ended after he suffered two punctures early in the session. The failures appeared to be caused by problem with the wheels and he failed to resume.
Sainz finished the session in 15th place, just behind team-mate Daniil Kvyat. Earlier in the morning Toro Rosso had confirmed that Kvyat will race for the team alongside Sainz in 2017.
2016 United States Grand Prix – Free Practice 3
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:36.766 16
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:37.032 19
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:37.284 15
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.483 12
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.784 10
6 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:37.894 8
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:37.948 17
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:38.188 16
9 Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.212 14
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:38.452 13
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1:38.512 16
12 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:38.528 14
13 Felipe Massa Williams 1:38.607 15
14 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:38.691 16
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:38.710 6
16 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:38.939 13
17 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:39.097 13
18 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:39.105 14
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:39.239 14
20 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:39.509 14
21 Esteban Ocon Manor 1:39.771 19
22 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:41.427 7