Max Verstappen established himself as overwhelming favourite for pole position with another dominant display in FP3 for the United States Grand Prix.
With two of his main rivals, Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez, due to receive grid penalties for taking more unpermitted power-unit parts, Verstappen will probably only have Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz between himself and P1 in qualifying – barring anything unexpected.
With a margin of 0.320 over Leclerc and with Sainz 0.446sec adrift in final free practice, the newly-crowned double World Champion will be oozing confidence about putting his Red Bull on pole at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas.
Under blue skies, the session began after a fiery press conference in which Christian Horner had made his feelings known about Zak Brown’s letter to the FIA that implied Red Bull had cheated over the budget cap, while Logan Sargeant had been confirmed as a Williams race driver for 2023 provided he can secure a Super Licence.
At least Horner had nothing to worry about regarding how things were going on track, as Verstappen and Perez quickly assumed their familiar places near the top of the leaderboard along with Ferrari duo Leclerc and Sainz.
Then came confirmation that Leclerc and Fernando Alonso were also taking engine-related grid penalties along with Perez and Zhou Guanyu – 10 places in the Monegasque’s case as he was taking a new turbo as well as an ICE, five for the other trio.
Early problems surfaced for Mick Schumacher, who had to limp around for almost a complete lap with a water pump issue in the Haas, and Daniel Ricciardo, reporting a brake pedal problem in the McLaren.
It’s an ERS water pump issue.
— Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) October 22, 2022
The Australian was back out on track quicker than the German, declaring himself happy over team radio with the effected repairs, but McLaren’s lack of pace was such that they were looking outsiders to have any of their two drivers in Q3 later on.
In contrast, Aston Martin were going well again as Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll both sat inside the top 10 and at that point were ahead of George Russell, who suffered a big slide exiting Turn 1 as he tried to improve and close on his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, a second faster at that point.
Russell did move up, to sixth, with his next attempt and as the session entered its final quarter the true qualifying simulations were stepped up, although Verstappen received a word of advice over team radio as he abandoned one of his hot laps by overshooting the tricky opening corner.
Next time around, the two-time World Champion leapt to the top of the standings and Leclerc tucked in only a hundredth of a second behind him, Sainz and Hamilton also within a couple of tenths.
Leclerc then grabbed P1 but with less than a minute remaining, Verstappen banged in three purple sectors to move over three tenths clear – and remind his rivals none of his hunger has decreased as a result of capturing his second title.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 1:35.825
2 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.320
3 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.446
4 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.572
5 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.576
6 Fernando ALONSO Alpine +1.103
7 George RUSSELL Mercedes +1.239
8 Sebastian VETTEL Aston Martin +1.326
9 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.390
10 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.485
11 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.624
12 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.643
13 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +1.694
14 Pierre GASLY AlphaTauri +1.767
15 Daniel RICCIARDO McLaren +1.797
16 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +2.063
17 Alexander ALBON Williams +2.079
18 Nicholas LATIFI Williams +2.203
19 Mick SCHUMACHER Haas +2.307
20 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +3.910