US GP: Verstappen fastest in final practice as Mercedes reveal qualifying strategy

Max Verstappen led home a Red Bull 1-2 in third practice from COTA, Mercedes 4th and 5th, Vettel more gearbox woes, an angry race engineer and double punctures for Sainz

US GP: Verstappen fastest in final practice as Mercedes reveal qualifying strategy
Red Bull's pace this weekend, suggests a close qulifying and race. (Image Credit: Sutton Images)

What with Mercedes' race pace simulations on Friday afternoon pointing to them being in the high 1:42's, and Red Bull's pace around the low 1:43 mark, we know that Sunday could be cracker, provided Red Bull could somehow out-qualify the W07.

Max Verstappen did his best to try andgive his team a solution to that, lapping in 1:36.977, 0.266 faster than team-mate Daniel Ricciardo could manage in second.

Kimi Raikkonen placed his Ferrari third, after struggling to keep it on track throughout most of the session, which included a clumsy block of Ricciardo in S1.

Languishing down in fourth and fifth, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have revealed their plans for the race. They will be aiming to get themselves through Q2, on a set of Soft compound tyre, allowing them to run longer in the race compared to those starting on the SuperSofts. Both drivers set their fastest times on the Soft tyre. and aborted last-ditch runs on the SuperSoft at the end of the final 60 minutes of practice.

Sebastian Vettel was sixth, although his session ended after he reported gear-box issues over radio whilst being wheeled back into the garage, and was just 0.054 ahead of the impressive Nico Hulkenberg for Force India.

Valterri Bottas showed that Williams will be there or there abouts with eighth, ahead of both McLaren's, Jenson Button claiming honours over Fernando Alonso.

Determined Wehrlein

As the opening laps were completed, it was Raikkonen, with a SuperSoft time of 1:38.512 who headed the timing screens, just as Pascal Wehrlein's Manor slid off the track and beached itself in the gravel at T19.

It was obvious that he was never going to be able to get the MRT05 out of the kitty litter, but he continued to try and do so for around 5 minutes, desparately spinning the rear-wheels in a vain attempt to get going.

The red-flag was thrown, and his race engineer, told him to "​Turn the car off please Pascal"​ informing him that the temparatures were rising in the engine. Wehrlein promptly ignored the command pleading to wait a few seconds, to see if the marshalls could get him out. Extremely annoyed, the engineer came back over the radio and very sternly told him to "​switch it off, now." ​He did so. Wehrlein returned to the track in the dying embers of the session for a final SuperSoft tyre lap after the car was returned to the team.

Rather naively, Pascal Wehrlein believed he could get his MRT05 out of the kitty litter. HIs team told him otherwise. (Image Credit: Formula One)
Rather naively, Pascal Wehrlein believed he could get his MRT05 out of the kitty litter. HIs team told him otherwise. (Image Credit: Formula One)

When session restarted, Vettel and Esteban Gutierrez took part in a mini-duel, before the quadruple world champion told his team, "​I'm not going to mini-race". ​Raikkonen improved further still on his now used SuperSofts, as Vettel went 0.2 quicker than his team-mate on the same compound, before Rosberg showed up and went 0.406 quicker than the Ferrari, on Soft tyres.

Unsurpsingly, Ricciardo went faster still, with a SuperSoft time 0.7 quicker than the title favourite, before Hamilton splitted the two, on Softs 0.4 down on the Aussie out front.

After the SuperSoft runs, Vettel reported "check fifth gear, I had a sudden loss of power", after a season of failures, the team were hoping that it wasn;t too serious.

Verstappen and track limits

Finally, it was Max Verstappen's turn to have a go on the SuperSofts, and he pumped in the 1:36.766 that would not see him headed, although his lap should've been deleted after he ran wide and all fours wheels of the track in the final two turns.

Mercedes sent both drivers out for a SuperSoft run at the end as well, with Rosberg, slightly down on Verstappen through the first two sectors aborting after a T19 mistakes and Hamilton, stuck in a Sauber sandwich doing likewise, after just aming the flag with 1s to spare.

Elsewhere, Carlos Sainz was fustrated when his right-rear punctured early on, but was furious when the left-rear did the same with 15 minutes to go in the session, leaving him unable to go out again. He described the situation "What the f**k?"

The McLaren's showed promise with both cars again the Top 10, as Danill Kvyat celebrated his extension at Toro Rosso, by out-pacing Sainz by 0.019.

United States Grand Prix - Third Practice times
Position Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:36.977
2. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +0.266
3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +0.518
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.717
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes +1.018
6. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +1.128
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India +1.182
8. Valtteri Bottas Williams +1.422
9. Jenson Button McLaren +1.446
10. Fernando Alonso McLaren +1.686
11. Sergio Perez Force India +1.746
12. Jolyon Palmer Renault +1.762
13. Felipe Massa Williams +1.841
14. Danill Kvyat Toro Rosso +1.925
15. Carlos Sainz Jr Toro Rosso +1.944
16. Esteban Gutierrez Haas +2.173
17. Romain Grosjean Haas +2.331
18. Kevin Magnussen Renault +2.339
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber +2.473
20. Felipe Nasr Sauber +2.743
21. Esteban Ocon

Manor

+3.005
22. Pascal Wehrlein Manor +4.661