Max Verstappen led first practice at the 2023 United States Grand Prix, ahead of a top seven that featured five different teams including Haas and Williams with several drivers seemingly holding some performance back.
The track showed rapid evolution over the session, but track limits look set to continue as a major issue for drivers with qualifying just a few hours after the end of FP1 as part of the Sprint weekend in Austin.
Aston Martin were the big losers of the session, entering the weekend just 11 points ahead of McLaren, with Lance Stroll only managed one meaningful lap before his car caught fire and Fernando Alonso was down in 18th.
Charles Leclerc was second, 0.156 seconds behind Verstappen, with Lewis Hamilton completing the top three despite struggling to stay between the white lines on occasion.
Mercedes have brought a new floor to the Circuit of the Americas and ran with plenty of flow-vis paint early on, George Russell finished the session in sixth.
He was just two thousandths of a second behind fifth-placed Kevin Magnussen, who gave home fans something to cheer for in his newly-upgraded Haas.
And Sergio Perez was fourth, trailing Verstappen by three-tenths having arrived in his home continent reinvigorated.
Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg were next emphasising their teams’ competitiveness, with Pierre Gasly rounding out the top ten.
McLaren never used the soft tyres and were down in 15th and 19th at a track they’re not expecting to be as strong at.
Williams were the first team to switch to soft tyres and could be the surprise package in Austin, as Alex Albon was briefly quickest and ended the session in seventh
Aston Martin can’t catch a break
Stroll suffered through an awful Qatar GP weekend, but was bullish in Thursday press conferences in Austin insisting he’s still happy driving in F1.
However, he only managed five laps on track at the Circuit of the Americas in the session before his front-left brake caught fire and he was forced into the pits.
With barely any time before qualifying, Stroll will be up against it on a weekend where he needs to bounce back after a series of poor outings.
He averaged a second slower than Alonso across the two qualifying sessions in Qatar, and track limits penalties cost him a points finish in the race.
Meanwhile, Alonso only drove on the hard tyres in practice, and so didn’t set a competitive time.