Pirelli’s wet weather tyres squeeze away 85 litres of water every second, the intermediates 30. But not here at the Circuit of the Americas for the majority of this afternoon’s practice session. At least, not until the final 42 minutes. Nobody even ventured out in the first hour, in a remake of Austin 2015. As everyone went into hurry up and wait mode, the only thing missing was Danny Ric dancing with Dani Kvyat in the Red Bull pit, or Sauber floating paper boats down the pitlane.
There was no movie for anyone to watch, but at least there was popcorn in the press room.
Then, finally, with 42 minutes remaining, Brendon Hartley ventured out of the Toro Rosso pit. Thank the Lord for the bold New Zealander with the wild hair! Stoffel Vandoorne took his McLaren out too. Ironic that two guys who won’t have drives next year were the keenest to give it a go on full wets, but understandable, too.
Now the sodden spectators could see what those Pirellis could do, squidged into the Tarmac by shedloads of aerodynamic downforce. And the truth is that an F1 car looks mighty impressive being driven hard in the wet, throwing up a roostertail of spray like an unlimited hydroplane.
The improvement in track conditions finally encouraged the other reluctant heroes out, and soon Hartley’s 1m 58.773s and 1m 57.109s benchmarks were history. Kimi Raikkonen reset them at 1m 53.443s, also on full wets, before Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly supplanted him with 1m 52.751s.
As things improved further, Vettel and Hamilton joined the vanguard venturing out in the final 15 minutes on intermediates. Nico Hulkenberg briefly went fastest for Renault with 1m 51.208s, before Gasly went ahead again on 1m 50.199s, but with his customary commitment, Hamilton insouciantly stamped in a lap of 1m 48.716s then headed back to the pits. Job done.
“I know you told me to go steady,” he told his crew, “but I can never go steady.”
“A leopard never changes its spots,” came the reply, though zebras might have been a more apposite animal reference after the unusual apparel he had chosen to wear during an appearance in New York recently on Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show.
The real interest had come in the morning, when conditions were better, though by no means great, and everyone ran. Hamilton was easily fastest in that one too, 1.3s ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Sebastian Vettel has been handed a three-place grid penalty for the US Grand Prix (EPA)
And as rookie Lando Norris impressed again in the morning, lapping his McLaren within 0.196s of Fernando Alonso, whom he will replaced in 2019, it was Gasly who did likewise in the afternoon, heading 2019 team-mate Verstappen by 0.070s. Prefaces of things to come?
Ferrari have a new floor here, the performance of which was inconclusive given the conditions. But that wasn’t the only bad news for the team that desperately need to win the race to keep their title hopes alive. Team boss Maurizio Arrivabene was evasive about which areas of the outfit have come under investigation after the recent spate of appalling strategic and operational snafus, but driver self-control may be one of them.
Friday's running was heavily impacted by rain (AP)
“We were not sleeping the last few weeks,” he said. “We were making an analysis in Maranello about certain weaknesses that we notice in the last few races that we need to sort to be competitive in the next few, including this one. We have most probably a certain answer and we will see in the next few days if instead of being a simple answer it is a solution. But it is the track that is judging if the solution is really a solution. We are here to compete, with a mission impossible, but working in this kind of environment, it’s our job.”
Unfortunately for the Scuderia, it wasn’t just the track that was judging as Vettel was fifth fastest in the first session and 10th in the second, but the race stewards, who handed him a three grid-place which means that he cannot qualify better than fourth.
Lewis Hamilton was untouchable in the rain (Getty)
After Charles Leclerc had spun his Sauber he had dragged gravel on to the track as he rejoined. The session was briefly red flagged so that could be cleaned up, and during the process Vettel was adjudged to have slowed insufficiently between marshalling sectors six and seven. The offence is regarded as serious, hence the penalty and more points on his licence.
As Austin often reminds us, sometimes it not only rains, but pours. And Lewis Hamilton is the only one able to walk on the water.