AUSTIN • Texas Formula One title favourite Lewis Hamilton shattered the Circuit of the Americas' track record on Friday, as he dominated practice for a US Grand Prix that could bring him a fourth world championship.
The Mercedes driver had been half a second quicker already than his Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel in a damp opening session and dazzled in the afternoon sunshine.
His scorching 1min 34.668sec was the fastest ever at the Texas track and the Briton, winner of four out of five races to date there, was the only driver on the time sheets below the 1:35 mark.
Hamilton, 59 points clear of Vettel with four races and 100 points to be won, took pole in Austin last year with a record lap of 1:34.999. Red Bull's Max Verstappen, fresh from signing a new contract till 2020, was second fastest in 1:35.065 with Vettel third in 1:35.192.
"It's been an interesting day with lots of ups and downs in terms of how the track has moved around and how the car feels. But overall the car was feeling good," said Hamilton. "There are lots of areas we can improve on, but generally it feels like a solid platform and a solid start to the weekend."
Vettel had a difficult afternoon, spinning into the gravel and complaining that the front of the car felt "like jelly", a problem that cost him precious track time while mechanics worked on the car.
"It was a messy afternoon and not an easy session but the car is quick so no need to worry," he said. "Obviously we lost a lot of time but you need to take precautions. Now we need to have a good look but I'm sure for tomorrow we'll have more planned running and less trouble."
Hamilton, who has won all but one of the five races since the August break, is clear favourite to triumph again today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time). He needs to score 16 points more than Vettel to clinch the world title.
That means finishing first or second and hoping Vettel has a nightmare for the fourth race in a row.
Otherwise the championship fight will remain open to the next round in Mexico next week.
F1 US GRAND PRIX
Race day: Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, tomorrow 2.30am