Hamilton smashes track record at US GP

Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton has shattered the Circuit of the Americas track record as he dominated Friday practice for a United States 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 as the sun made an appearance.

His time of 1min 34.668sec was the made him the only driver below the 1:35 mark.

Hamilton, 59 points clear of Vettel with four races and a total of 100 points remaining to be won, took pole in Austin last year.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, fresh from signing a new contract through to the end of 2020, was second fastest in 1:35.065 with Vettel third in 1:35.192.

Valteri Bottas of Mercedes was fourth with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo fifth ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso made up lost time after a hydraulics problem in the morning with the seventh best time.

“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,” Hamilton said.

“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,” the German told reporters.

Hamilton, who has won all but one of the five races since the August break, is clear favourite to triumph again on Sunday but he will need to score 16 points more than Vettel to clinch the title.

While much of the attention was on the title rivals, New Zealand debutant Brendon Hartley also caught the eye.

Hartley, who will have a 25-place grid penalty for his debut, stepped into a single seater for the first time since 2012 and looked at home straight away with the 14th best time of the morning.

He was 17th in the afternoon, with Russian team mate Daniil Kvyat in 13th.

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