2014 U.S. GP Practice One: Lewis Hamilton starts strongly in Austin to set the pace
Title leader Hamilton nearly three tenths quicker than Rosberg; Button and McLaren again run strongly; Lotus trial new-look nose; Only 18 cars in action in Austin
By James Galloway in Austin
Last Updated: 03/11/14 6:18pm
Lewis Hamilton's growing championship momentum showed no signs of abating on the opening morning of F1's return to action as the Mercedes driver set the Practice One pace for the United States GP.
After a three-week break between races following Hamilton’s fourth consecutive victory at the Russian GP which gave him a 17-point title lead over team-mate Nico Rosberg, it was the Briton who again had the initial intra-team edge at Mercedes on the opening morning at Austin’s expansive Circuit of the Americas.
Hamilton, the inaugural winner at CoTA in 2012, was the only driver to lap the undulating circuit below 100 seconds with his benchmark effort of 1:39.941 nearly three tenths quicker than Rosberg’s personal best.
As has been the case all season, Mercedes are highly likely to dominate the weekend, but the battle for ‘best of the rest’ honours behind is becoming increasingly intriguing as the season approaches its climax.
After a big improvement in form last time out in Sochi, McLaren started promisingly well again in Austin with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen running one-two for much of the session before the Briton slipped to third and the Dane fifth.
Ending up in between the two MP4-29s was Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat, exactly a year on from the highly-rated Russian’s P1 debut. Kvyat’s even younger 2015 team-mate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, drove on a Friday for a second time in the last month and the teenager once more impressed to take tenth.
The senior Red Bull team, however, endured yet another session laced with reliability setbacks as Daniel Ricciardo completed just five laps after his RB10's ERS system packed up. Team-mate Sebastian Vettel at least managed to complete some more trouble-free running, the German clocking 20 laps to finish sixth behind Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, but he already knows his weekend will be heavily compromised by a likely complete change of power unit, which will trigger a pitlane start on Sunday.
Williams' regular Friday tester Felipe Nasr took eighth for the Grove team, with Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and rookie Verstappen rounding out the top ten.
With Marussia and Caterham absent from the weekend's proceedings as they both fight for their F1 survivals, one of the sport’s more established teams is inevitably set to prop up the grid in Austin and, on the evidence of P1 at least, that may be former race winners Lotus as Romain Grosjean wound up 18th and last.
However, the Frenchman did spend the opening session carrying out aerodynamic assessment work on a 2015-spec nose, Lotus trialling a more conventional design having persevered with their unique twin-tusk arrangement all year. Pastor Maldonado, who did continue to run the 2014 version, was 13th ahead of both Saubers and the second Force India of Sergio Perez.