2021 US Grand Prix – FP1 & FP2 report: Red Bull recover from a worrying morning
It may have been two years since we last saw on-track action at the Circuit of the Americas, but F1 was looking to come back with a bang with every driver aiming to show off their new helmets for this weekend.
It was a hot and sunny day in Austin and this seemed to be a bit of a worry for some teams as there was no idea how the tyres would cope on the hot and bumpy track.
Let’s have a look at how the drivers got on in practice.
It took no time at all before we got the first red flag. Drivers were queuing up to get out, but they were back in the garage when Fernando Alonso came to a stop on the exit of Turn 12.
He was crawling down the straight with what looked like an engine issue, but we couldn’t tell what happened until he stopped. Fluid was pouring out of the bottom of the Alpine. Something had gone wrong and it looked to be the end of Alonso’s session.
It’s never good for any driver to miss a practice session, but especially when it’s a track that you haven’t driven in a few years.
Ferrari had a great weekend in Turkey, but for Charles Leclerc, it started with a spin. He was very fortunate to keep it out of the wall as he lost it out of Turn 6. He also managed to drag the car out of the gravel and go on his merry way. One thing was for sure, he would not be able to use those tyres again.
The big news to come out of FP1 was that Valterri Bottas would take on yet another ICE. This means he will take another 5-place grid penalty for the race.
Mercedes didn’t need to worry though, as their pace on the soft tyre was mighty. Both Hamilton and Bottas were a second faster than Max Verstappen who was a distant 3rd place.
The track was getting hotter as the session went on and it didn’t seem to bother Mercedes. Red Bull looked to be struggling in the final sector. It looked as though they were also struggling to control the rear.
Even Sergio Perez, who was doing his session on the hard tyres, was struggling through various parts of the track. He then tangled with Mick Schumacher at the end of the session as he lunged up the inside of him at turn 12, but slammed into the side of the Haas.
Advantage Mercedes in the morning, but could Red Bull recover in the Afternoon?
The cars wasted no time on getting onto the track to prepare for tomorrow’s qualifying session.
Mercedes were testing the limits of the soft tyres in the early session, so they were straight out on the medium tyres. Red Bull also opted for the medium tyres for their first run and they looked a lot more competitive after the first runs than they did in FP1.
Sergio Perez was the fastest after the first runs, but only 0.036 separated Perez in 1st and Hamilton in 4th.
Lando Norris ran less than Fernando Alonso in FP1 and his FP2 session didn’t get off to an ideal start either, as he had something loose in his cockpit. He was forced to box before he could return to the track to get some running done.
As Verstappen and Hamilton went to start their second flying laps, they seemed to forget that it was Friday and not Sunday. They engaged in a drag race up into Turn 1 with Lewis on the inside. Max tried to hang around the inside, but he had to concede, not before he gave Hamilton the finger to show his disapproval.
Issues with equipment and cars kept creeping up throughout the session. Nikita Mazepin was forced to box as the anti-fog spray in his helmet had gotten in his eyes. Minutes later Leclerc was forced to pit as he had something loose by the pedals.
Back on track, it was the turn of the soft tyre quali runs. Hamilton shot to the top of the timing sheets, but it wasn’t for long as his time was deleted for exceeding track limits. His second lap was good, but Perez was the driver firmly planting himself at the top.
Verstappen was getting very wound up in his car as he could not find space to set a second flying lap. Eventually he gave up and pitted instead of doing a second lap.
McLaren looked to be bouncing back from a relatively poor weekend in Turkey. Norris went second fastest on his final flying lap. Daniel Ricciardo was looking good as well, only three tenths off Norris and sat in 5th place behind the two Mercedes.
The drivers now settled in to do their long runs and Mercedes were looking very strong. Verstappen was doing very competitive times, but there was still some tuning needed.
With three minutes to go, Fernando had a spin on the exit of turn 19 and went through the gravel. He did a very good job to limit the damage. He was able to drive out of the gravel and get back to the pit-lane.
The championship mind games coming into play
The tiff between Hamilton and Verstappen during FP2 is starting to show the lengths these two are having to go to to get a mental edge.
We didn’t get to see who was behind who before they started the lap, but it doesn’t matter. With only 6 races left and 6 points between them, both drivers need to make sure they are laser focused.
By getting under each other’s skin in a free practice session, it sets a precedence for the rest of the weekend. Lewis was sending a clear message that Max was not getting passed and for the race, he would not leave him any room.
This move got Max riled up and he showed his frustration through the session. It was clear that it got to him and in the end he gave up on doing a qualifying run and pitted instead.
His decision to do that could be a problem for Red Bull as they will have no real data for Max to use.
With Mercedes looking faster over a single lap, Max will have to do his very best to put in on pole tomorrow.