Wed | Sep 19, 2018

Hamilton quickest in practice at US Grand Prix

Published:Saturday | October 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, of Britain, sits in his car during the first practice session for the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix auto race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas yesterday.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) :

Lewis Hamilton is driving the Circuit of the Americas like he has won here four times before.

The Mercedes driver and Formula One season championship points leader posted the fastest laps in yesterday's two practice sessions for the US Grand Prix, putting more pressure on title rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, who spun into the gravel and completed just 11 laps in the afternoon session.

Hamilton's quickest lap in a dry afternoon session was 1 minute, 34.668 seconds. Red Bull's Max Verstappen was second, 0.397 seconds behind. Vettel, who trails Hamilton by 59 points in the driver standings, was third.

Vettel likely has to win or finish ahead of Hamilton tomorrow if he hopes to chase him down over the final four races.

Hamilton has won the last three years at a Circuit of the Americas track that has favoured Mercedes' power. Another victory would make his lead nearly insurmountable absent a late-season collapse.

The British driver came to Texas on a punishing pace that could crush any hopes Vettel still has of a rally. Hamilton has won five of the last seven races and another win would be his ninth on the season. On each of his four wins in Austin, Hamilton has never started lower than No. 2 and will be hard to beat in qualifying today.

"He has gone up a level," Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said. "It's very pleasing to see."

Ferrari has been able to match Mercedes power in spots. Vettel has four wins. But disastrous starts in recent weeks have put the championship in Hamilton's hands for the taking. Vettel crashed on the first lap in Singapore, then was knocked out of the first lap in Japan with a spark plug problem. Even a brilliant drive from the back to finish fourth in Malaysia lost him points to Hamilton that day.

Vettel was pushing yesterday and has a lot of work to do if he's to match Hamilton's pace. He had a wild spin into the gravel in the turn before pit lane. That section of the track has a large runoff area so Vettel was never in danger of running his car into a wall.