Perez fastest in close COTA fight: 2021 United States GP practice round-up

F1

Perez ended Friday running fastest of all after Hamilton and Verstappen almost came to blows

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Sergio Perez led second practice at the Circuit of the Americas from Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton.

The Mercedes driver had gone slightly quicker than the Red Bull but had his time deleted for a track limits infringement.

Hamilton had an eventful session that involved a close call with title rival Max Verstappen. The duo almost came to blows during the qualifying sims.

Valtteri Bottas set the pace in first practice but was fourth-best in FP2. The Finn will take a third fresh ICE in four races for Sunday’s race and a five-place grid penalty as a result.

Here is how practice at COTA unfolded.

 

FP1

Fans on the hill at Turn 1 were roaring as cars headed out on US soil for the first time in two years. Sergio Perez’s Red Bull was first out and fitted with an aero fence on the front wing.

Fernando Alonso’s morning took a hit though quickly. The Alpine driver was instructed to switch off at the end of the main straight on his out lap, bringing out the red flags as quickly as we’d got started.

A major leak underneath the car as it was sitting stationary suggested a major failure somewhere in the Alpine internals.

The session went back green with 48 minutes remaining of the first session. There was a queue led by Kimi Räikkönen at the end of the pit lane eager to get back on track.

With the remaining 19 cars all out on track, Lewis Hamilton set the initial pace with a 1min 37.260sec, closely followed by Max Verstappen just 0.077sec.

Charles Leclerc was the next driver to wonder off track, the Ferrari driver losing the car at Turn 6 and finding the gravel. Luckily for him he was able to get out of the shallow gravel trap albeit with heavily flat-spotted tyres.

There was almost friendly fire at Mercedes as Hamilton ended up baulking team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the final sector, forcing the Finn to run off the track to avoid contact. His afternoon was made worse with Mercedes confirming soon after that he’d be taking a sixth ICE this weekend and a five-place grid penalty as a result.

George Russell and Sebastian Vettel had already confirmed they would be taking a fourth power unit and be starting at the back of the grid.

Sergio Perez was the next driver to go quickest overall, setting a 1min 36.798sec on the hard compound tyres versus those behind on the softs. Hamilton went 0.4sec clear on his next flying lap to restore himself to the top.

Vettel was the next to fastest on softs, a new set of red-walled tyres put him fastest until a track limits violation for running over the white line at Turn 9 resulted in a deletion.

Alonso was back in the car with 25 minutes remaining as the Alpine mechanics swarmed to get the Spaniard back out on track. He was back onto the circuit with 15 minutes left of FP1.

Despite an oversteering car in the final sector, Verstappen managed to go quickest by 0.3sec on softs.

A spin at the penultimate corner for Nikita Mazepin brought out the yellow flags briefly but that didn’t hinder Hamilton. The yellows had cleared up and Hamilton went almost a second quicker than anyone on his new softs.

Bottas found 0.2sec on his team-mate to take the top spot with 18 minutes remaining. Verstappen improved to get within 0.7sec of Hamilton but was still almost a second off of Bottas’s time.

There was contact between Perez and Mick Schumacher right at the end of the session. The Haas driver was knocked wide out of the T12 left-hander but the Mexican blamed Schumacher for not checking his mirrors.

 

FP2

The heat during FP1 was unreleting and track temperatures topped 40degC as FP2 went green.

With the temperatures so high, drivers were crawling around the track to keep tyres from overheating on out laps.

Norris reported something had become loose in the cockpit and he was forced to box to amend the issue before he got going proper.

All on mediums, Perez set the initial pace but only just. The top four were seperated by just 0.036sec with Bottas, Verstappen and Hamilton rounding out those places.

Daniel Ricciardo’s first effort on softs was 0.6sec down on the ultimate benchmark and he slotted into sixth behind Leclerc’s Ferrari.

The title rivals weren’t waiting until Sunday to race. Out of the final corner ahead of second attempts, Hamilton and Verstappen fought over the same bit of track and were drag racing into Turn 1 for position. The Mercedes claimed the line but both laps were already wasted after both had compromised their positioning. The Dutch driver let Hamilton know he was going for first afterwards.

Meanwhile, their team-mates carried on as normal and Bottas went a tenth clear until Perez restored Red Bull back to P1 by 0.048sec on a 1min 35.716sec.

Norris’s session wasn’t getting any easier. Another lock-up left the McLaren driver with a flatspot and a vibration to deal with after his FP1 error earlier in the day.

With 20 minutes gone drivers started switching to soft tyres for quicker runs. Hamilton put in a 1min 34.842sec to go half a second clear of his team-mates effort on the red-walled tyres but lost the time for running over track limits at Turn 19.

Perez and Norris were able to go faster than the Finn though. Perez dipping down to a 1min 34.9sec to retake the top spot.

Another attempt for Verstappen was aborted due to traffic, this time in the form of Räikkönen and Mazepin. He couldn’t find a gap and gave up, telling the team “f*** this, I’m boxing,” and asked to go onto long runs.

Hamilton stuck with it to go P3, 0.3sec down on the Red Bull leader and ahead of his team-mate with 25mins left of the session.

Turn 1 was the scene of more traffic issues. Mazepin turned out of the corner to avoid an Aston Martin that joined out of the pit lane.

Race simulations started with 20 minutes left of the session and the majority running the medium yellow-walled Pirellis.

Verstappen and Hamilton were lapping in the low 41’s but Bottas found himself a little further off that pace. Perez was into the 40.9sec range to cap off his strong Friday showing.

Alonso had a difficult morning and his afternoon session could’ve ended with another red flag. A spin at Turn 19 resulted in a slow trip into the barriers but he recovered the car into the pit lane with 3mins to go.