The curtain-raising session for the 2018 American Gran Prix took place under extremely cold and rainy conditions, drivers initially forced to bide their time and just occasionally sample the track as we are used to see in wet practices. For the record, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were the earliest contenders to wear Intermediate tyres and set a laptime, in 1:50.6 and 51.5. Bottas soon followed suit and lapped the Circuit Of The Americas in 1 minute, 49.5 seconds. Ferrari ace Sebastian Vettel took it easier with a 1:53, while being part of a typical comparative job carried out by Ferrari: the German was running the same floor used since Singapore, whereas Räikkönen was provided with the new spec. All the while, a drying track saw Bottas set the pace in 1:48.8 - half a second up on Ricciardo’s latest effort – , but the Finn was stopped by a sudden red flag while about to wipe off further seconds: the interruption was due to debris scattered across the first sector by Leclerc’s rejoining Sauber, halting proceedings until forty minutes to go.
The restart saw championship-leader Hamilton’s proper debut in the weekend, his very first effort recorded in 50.0, worth of provisional third place and followed by Carlos Sainz 8 tenths behind. Next after Sainz and Alonso was none other than Lando Norris, four tenths apart – the Brit and Toro Rosso’s Sean Gelael were the only reserve drivers to partake in this session.
Ferrari were steadily 5th and 6th, two seconds off the pace, but their showing might be justified by the focus on setup operations with the new aero elements. Sauber, meanwhile, climbed up the ranks with 9th (Leclerc) and 11th (Ericsson) in the wake of Sainz and Grosjean. A noticeable performance came from Norris, capable of staying within a couple of tenths of a laurel-crowned teammate the caliber of Fernando Alonso.
All spent on Intermediate tyres with the track reluctant to dry up, Free Practice 1 was not ultimately indicative should the pivotal sessions stay sunny, but it showed we can principally expect a Mercedes domination should it go the other way around.