Lewis Hamilton demonstrated his stunning talents in ultra-wet conditions to top the times in Saturday’s hastily-organised final free practice session ahead of the United States Grand Prix.
In front of empty grandstands at the Circuit of the Americas, where organisers had earlier announced the circuit was to remain closed until noon, the teams and drivers proved that even in torrential rain they can produce thrilling action.
In dreadful conditions on a very wet track, the defending two-time world champion showed just why he is regarded as the best driver of his generation by clocking a fastest lap in one minute and 59.517 seconds.
It was just a pity that there were no spectators allowed in to the circuit as the site was buffeted by heavy rain, the collateral damage of Hurricane Patricia which was battering Mexico.
The 30-year-old Briton’s lap was the only one to break the two-minute barrier as he, and most of his rivals, slithered, splashed and spun through steady rain and standing water in a session nobody had expected to see.
Hamilton can win his third title in Sunday’s race if he outscores nearest challenger Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari by nine points and his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by three.
Both Hamilton and Rosberg were among the men caught out in the conditions, but there was no arguing with Hamilton’s ability as he outpaced four-time champion Vettel by 0.863 seconds.
Nico Hulkenberg was third fastest for Force India ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso and Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull.
Kimi Raikkonen was seventh in the second Ferrari ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, Rosberg and Felipe Massa in the second Williams.
The luckless Rosberg, who has to beat Hamilton by at least three points in Sunday’s race to keep his title bid alive, had one major spin in which he hit the barriers and damaged the front wing of his Mercedes car.
It was a surprise to many that the session took place behind closed doors in the conditions following the earlier statement issued on Twitter to say that the track was to remain closed until 12 noon.
Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe said that the session had been run because “there is a chance that the times could be used for grid positions” if it is not possible to do any more practice or to hold a qualifying session.
The running of the practice session came after the circuit had said: “For the safety of our fans and employees, today’s opening has been delayed until noon. Further updates will be forthcoming.”
Friday’s action at the circuit was hit by heavy storms with lightning that endangered track staff resulting in a damp and desultory opening free practice and the cancellation of the second.