Max Verstappen set the fastest time of first practice at the United States Grand Prix as drivers fought with cold conditions and an extremely bumpy track.
After temperatures dropped towards freezing on Thursday, Friday saw them climb slightly to low-50s but still represented conditions more similar to pre-season testing than any race weekend this year. On a clear and sunny morning, the biggest talking point at the start of the session was about the bumps that have formed since Formula 1 last raced at Circuit of The Americas, with an uneven surface in most sectors.
Verstappen got to grips with the circuit quickly and set the pace with a 1m34.057s on the soft compound tire, with most drivers using the softest compound in order to deal with the lower temperatures. Sebastian Vettel was just 0.169s further back and split the two Red Bulls, as Alex Albon ended up less than 0.1s further back.
There was a strange order to the final standings due to teams being able to test a 2020 tire compound throughout Friday, with next year’s C4 tire — the second softest of the range — being run by the majority of teams at some stage.
That meant different run plans and an unusual top six, with Pierre Gasly fourth for Toro Rosso ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean. Lewis Hamilton would have been fourth but saw the fastest lap at the start of his first soft tire run — that came late in the session — deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 19.
Hamilton wasn’t the only driver to lose a lap time for running wide at the penultimate corner, with Albon another to see his deleted. Hamilton ended up eighth as a result, one place behind Charles Leclerc who had to pit for Ferrari to investigate a throttle pedal issue early in the session.
Leclerc was the only driver in the top 10 to set their best lap on the prototype tire, while Lance Stroll in ninth was the only other driver not on the softs as his fastest time came on the mediums.
Kevin Magnussen was 10th as Haas started its home weekend strongly, with neither McLaren in the top 10 after a tricky session. First Lando Norris had his headrest come loose on the back straight and went straight on while addressing it, and then Carlos Sainz suffered a high-speed spin in the first sector after losing the rear on a bump. While the car was not damaged, the spin ruined Sainz’s set of prototype tires.
Sainz ended up 12th behind Daniil Kvyat — who spun at Turn 1 late on in a sign of how tricky the cold conditions were — while Norris was 18th ahead of only the Williams pair of Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi. Unfortunately for Latifi, his second of three consecutive FP1 appearances was ended early by a gearbox issue as his car went into neutral in the first sector and he had to crawl back to the pits after just seven laps.
That wasn’t the only reliability concern of the session as Renault suspected a hydraulic issue for Nico Hulkenberg and called the German back into the pits for investigations halfway through the session.