The word of the session for Free Practice 3 of the United States Grand Prix is, ‘workmanlike’. The teams are continuing to dial the cars in, find the limits, and push them. While rain didn’t make an appearance the wind was particularly noticeable along the back straight, blowing at 3.7 m/s (around 8 miles an hour for us Yanks unused to SI measures) from the north and making turn 12 exciting. A track temperature of 35 C (95 F) and an air temperature of 28 C (82 F) made for warm running. Following the usual churn in the leader board as the session progressed, an unsurprising back-and-forth finally ensued between Ferrari and Mercedes at the top of the timing sheet, with the familiar final order of Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, and Raikonnen in the top 4.
Mercedes had, by all appearances, an uneventful session. After slowly ramping up, Lewis Hamilton set a new record of 1:34.478 to top the timing sheet. Hamilton made some creative interpretations of the track limits in the closing moments, but ran into no major issues.
Valtteri Bottas showed respectable pace as well, and with a fastest lap of 1:34.692 claimed third on the sheets.
After a raft of complaints from Sebastian Vettel following yesterday’s sessions, Ferrari claims to have completely changed the chassis on his car. Though as Will Buxton pointed out in his commentary on NBC Sports, supported by his fellow commentators, there have been occasions where the mechanics have simply taken a car apart and reassembled it – a placebo for the drivers. Maranello swears it was a full chassis change, so we’ve no choice but to take them at their word.
Seb’s times gave the impression he was happy, though. After the usual back-and-forth at the top of the timing sheet, Vettel’s best lap of 1:34.570 saw him finish in second, 0.092 seconds behind Hamilton. If he can keep this pace in quali and the race, the title battle may go down to the wire – were that to happen, the true winners would be the fans. Seb appeared to have a moment of nostalgia for his Red Bull days, accidentally pulling into a Red Bull pit box before correcting himself.
Much like his fellow Finn and #2 driver (search your feelings, you know it to be true), Kimi Raikkonen turned in respectable pace but was overshadowed by his teammate. His fastest lap of 1:34.755 earned him 4th on the leaderboard for the session.
Red Bull showed good pace early on, with Daniel Ricciardo topping the timing briefly during the middle of the session. Sadly it wasn’t to last, and with a bit of a scruffy showing he finished in 9th, with a fastest lap of 1:35.723.
Max Verstappen, who may be forced to start the race from Taylor after taking a new engine and MGU-H, was up to 2nd for a moment, but settled in at 5th with 1:35.103
Brendon Hartley, helmet issues resolved, continued to put in the work for Toro Rosso. First out and closing with 26 laps, he easily put in the highest mileage in the session. Toro Rosso is clearly happy with his performance, as the flow-viz paint on the back of his car indicates they’re running some experimental parts. With a best lap of 1:36.818, he came in at 15th place, and the speculation of a Gasly-Hartley line-up for the Baby Bulls in 2018 continues apace.
Speaking of Toro Rosso, poor Dany Kvyat can’t catch a break any more – even though Pierre Gasly couldn’t make it back from Japan in time thus giving him a race seat, he suffered from steering issues and spent significant time in the garage. With a best lap of 1:38.5, Dany is dead last in 20th, with only 6 laps under his belt.
It wouldn’t be practice without Romain ‘I’m not moaning’ Grosjean beaching his Haas. Though not quite as dramatic as Vettel’s excursion yesterday, this nonetheless brought out the Virtual Safety Car and ended his session after only 9 laps. His best time of 1:37.891 left him in 19th.
Kevin Magnussen had a far less eventful session, finishing 16th with a fastest lap of 1:37.271. His dad was there, which was nice.
Renault put in a solid, though comparatively uneventful showing. Nico Hulkenberg put in the second highest lap tally of 21, and had a best time of 1:35.608. He finished the session a comfortable 7th.
His freshly-minted teammate Carlos Sainz was right behind, landing 8th with a best lap of 1:35.650. Sadly, there is no time bonus to be found in their livery – though the cats leave them solidly tied for P1 in our hearts.
Force India, fetchingly color-coordinated with their pink livery and the pink ultrasofts, rocked up 10th and 11th, with Sergio Perez bringing a lap of 1:35.802 and Esteban Ocon weighing in with 1:35.965. Sadly, no time benefit for style here either, lads.
McLaren continued to show hints of what they could do with a better power unit, briefly having both cars in the top 10. Sadly, they’ve still got Hondas in the back and came to rest with Alonso in 13th with a time of 1:36.239 and Vandoorne in 14th, clocking 1:36.599.
Williams left getting out on track until comparatively late in the session, but they turned in reasonable times themselves. Felipe “will he retire again or what” Massa finished up in 6th, with a best lap of 1:35.346, while Lance Stroll ended 12th, turning in a best time of 1:36.118.
Sauber quietly rounds out the time sheets, with Marcus Ericsson finishing in 17th with 1:37.319, and Pascal Weherlein in 18th with 1:37.807.
The final order for P3 is: