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Hamilton and Verstappen show their teeth in Austin

Image of the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. / AFP

United States GP

The spike between the seven-time champion and the championship leader, the image of the day on the first day of practice at the United States GP

They are not going to give themselves an iota of rest. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are going to fight everything between now and the end of the season, including the usually decaf free practice. The image of the first day in the return of Formula 1 to the United States was the bite that the two ‘roosters’ had in the second batch, and that overshadows who achieved the best time of the day. It has rarely been relevant, and this time less.

Barely 15 minutes into the session had elapsed when Hamilton and Verstappen found themselves on the finish line of the Austin track. With the Mercedes on the inside and the Red Bull on the outside of the optimal line to face Turn 1, neither one slackened at the point of braking, which caused them to almost collide. While the Red Bull conceded the position, forced, he dedicated a resounding “stupid idiot!” over the radio and raised the middle finger of his right hand: he made it a comb.

Hamilton and Verstappen have been showing their teeth all season. Like two wolves vying to be the alpha male of the pack, they lose no opportunity to demonstrate their bid for superiority. At the Silverstone and Monza races they ended up colliding, and it was clear that sooner or later this was going to happen in a free practice session as well. In a critical moment of the campaign, moreover, with the young hopeful as the leader with only 6 points of advantage, any moment is good to mark territory on the part of the reigning champion.

Beyond this incident, without a doubt the image of the day, neither one nor the other demonstrated their potential. If in the morning it was Hamilton who surpassed Verstappen by almost 9 tenths, with Bottas slightly faster than both, in the seconds it was Red Bull’s squire, Sergio Pérez, who dominated the timesheets. He also did it with medium tires, which aim to be the optimum for the race. Verstappen didn’t even attempt to set the fastest lap.

Day of contrasts

For Fernando Alonso it was a day of contrasts, like a horror movie: it started with a serious scare and ended with another. As soon as he came out of the pits for the first practice session, his Alpine began to sound very strange. From the wall they warned him that he should stop immediately and park it where he could, since he risked a serious breakdown.

Alonso obeyed immediately, aware that the power unit of his car is already in the last stages since he has been one of the few that has not yet passed the trance of changing it completely and, with it, penalizing. At the end of the straight, in the first and wide escape, the Asturian parked his A521, which began to drip liquid. It looked like a serious malfunction, but in this case it was simple human error: a mechanic had not properly tightened a hose on the hydraulic system, and fluid had spilled onto the engine. The fix was as simple as squeezing that part, cleaning up the spilled liquid and returning to the track for a few last laps. Alonso missed 45 minutes of the first practice session, but in the second he was able to ride normally. That does not mean that he was competitive, far from it: he set the 13th time of the batch, surpassed by his teammate Esteban Ocon who was 11th.

Alonso did not feel comfortable throughout the session. Proof of this is the spin he had in the final moments of the free seconds, when he lost the rear of his car and ended up sliding against the protections without being able to avoid it. Oversteer is not good news, especially on a circuit as bumpy as the American one. Carlos Sainz had better sensations, despite the fact that his one-lap performance was not too optimistic. After being fifth in the first session, he did not go beyond ninth in the second. In his favor: he still has room for improvement and he is aware that he can do it, although he will have to exercise caution.

Both Alonso and Sainz and the other drivers faced the extra difficulty of controlling the track limits. There was no one who did not have a lap time eliminated, something that this Friday did not have greater prominence, if it happens this Saturday during qualifying, it will have greater consequences.

Due to the time change, it will be time to wait all this Saturday to find out who is the poleman of the United States GP. The qualifying session will be played at 11:00 p.m. (Spanish peninsular time) and, unless there is an incident that delays your dispute, it will not be until 0:00 a.m. when it is resolved.

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