Lewis Hamilton could give Max Verstappen a run for his money in Austin

By Sports Desk October 20, 2023

Lewis Hamilton raised the prospect of challenging Max Verstappen for pole position at the United States Grand Prix after he finished third in practice.

Hamilton trailed Verstappen by 0.281 seconds in the sole running before qualifying later on Friday with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc splitting the rivals.

But the seven-time world champion, in his upgraded Mercedes, clocked the fastest first and second sectors before hitting traffic in the final part of his speediest lap at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

Verstappen claimed his third world title in as many years at the previous round in Qatar.

But Hamilton’s early pace at a track where he has enjoyed so much success over the years suggests he might be able to give the Dutchman a run for his money in qualifying for Sunday’s 56-lap race.

Leclerc could also be a contender in the Lone Star State after he finished just 0.156 sec behind Verstappen.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez took fourth spot, three tenths back, a place ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen with George Russell sixth for Mercedes.

Oscar Piastri survived a hairy moment when he temporarily lost control of his McLaren through Turn 8.

The Australian rookie, who won the sprint race in Lusail a fortnight ago, looked destined for the barriers after he ran on to the grass at high speed.

Piastri wiggled one way to the next but managed to catch his out-of-control machine to avoid a big shunt. He sustained minor damage to the floor of his McLaren in the accident and finished only 19th.

Lance Stroll was rooted to the foot of the time charts after he completed just five laps following a brake failure on his Aston Martin.

Qualifying takes place at 4pm local time (10pm BST).

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  • Lewis Hamilton shocked to finish fastest on ‘crazy Thursday’ in Bahrain Lewis Hamilton shocked to finish fastest on ‘crazy Thursday’ in Bahrain

    Lewis Hamilton admitted he was shocked to finish fastest in practice for Saturday’s Formula One curtain raiser in Bahrain.

    The seven-time world champion has not won a race for more than two years, but he led a surprise Mercedes one-two under the lights of the Sakhir Circuit on Thursday night.

    Hamilton finished two tenths clear of team-mate George Russell, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third.

    On yet another explosive off-track day for Red Bull, Max Verstappen bemoaned the handling of his machine. He finished sixth.

    The Silver Arrows went under the radar at last week’s test in the Gulf kingdom, but they were quietly optimistic heading into Thursday’s running – and the second session belonged to the team that once dominated the sport.

    “This has been a crazy Thursday,” said Hamilton, 39. “I don’t understand it, and it is a shock to see us where we are, but we will take it for now.

    “We cannot get ahead of ourselves. We need to keep our head down and keep working on the setup.

    “But I am much happier with the car. I have a better feel of it approaching the corners, and there are other areas that have been fixed and improved.

    “It feels like a race car and the last two cars didn’t feel like that. It is a really good platform to work from. We have to keep our heads down and keep on chasing.”

    Hamilton is gearing up for his final season with Mercedes after he elected to terminate his £100million deal 12 months early to join Ferrari in 2025.

    Mercedes have carried Hamilton to six of his record-equalling seven titles. But last year marked a second straight season without a victory for the British driver – a losing streak which now stands at 45 races – and Mercedes’ first winless campaign in a dozen years.

    However, Hamilton, in his radically revised car – after the design concept which failed so spectacularly for the past two seasons was abandoned – will take faith from an encouraging day.

    But Hamilton expects Verstappen, who has raced to the past three world championships, will still be the one to beat.

    “I think we are going to be in the mix,” added Hamilton. “We are there or thereabouts with Ferrari and maybe Aston Martin and McLaren.

    “It is going to be close, but if Max is out in front he will drive off as he has done for the past couple of years.”

    Verstappen had been regarded as the heavy favourite heading into Saturday’s curtain-raiser in the Gulf kingdom.

    But he struggled in the first running and then failed to match the speed of the Mercedes cars later in the day.

    “Everything is s***,” yelled Verstappen over the radio. “Like miles off.”

    However, the 26-year-old remained confident he would be in a strong position for the 57-lap Grand Prix.

    “It is very close and maybe some people around us have turned up the engine in terms of top speed,” he said.

    “I’m not too worried about the gap to first, for example. It is going to be close in qualifying. I was happier about the long run for the race.”

  • Christian Horner facing further scrutiny after alleged messages are leaked Christian Horner facing further scrutiny after alleged messages are leaked

    Christian Horner’s Formula One future is back in the spotlight after WhatsApp messages appearing to be sent by him have been leaked.

    On Wednesday, Horner was cleared to continue as Red Bull team principal following an internal probe by the F1 team’s parent company Red Bull GmbH.

    But just 24 hours later, hundreds of messages and a number of images apparently between Horner and the complainant were sent from an anonymous email account to members of the Formula One paddock – including FIA president Mohamed ben Sulayem, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and the grid’s nine other team principals, as well as the media – on the eve of this weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

    It is unclear at this stage whether the alleged exchanges, which have been seen by the PA news agency, formed part of the investigation – of which Horner was cleared of “inappropriate behaviour” towards a female colleague – or whether it is new evidence.

    Horner has always denied the claims.

    The PA news agency has approached Red Bull Racing for comment, and is also trying to confirm if the exchanges are genuine.

    Horner, 50, was on the Red Bull pit wall on Thursday for both practice sessions.

    Speaking on Sky Sports earlier on Thursday, he said: “I am pleased that the process is over, and I cannot comment about it.

    “I am here to focus on the grand prix and the season ahead and trying to defend both of our titles.”

    Horner added: “I can’t give you any further comment, but the process has been conducted and concluded.

    “I am pleased to be here in Bahrain, and with the team, focused on the season ahead. Within the team it (the unity) has never been stronger.”

  • Mercedes boss Toto Wolff calls for ‘more transparency’ in Christian Horner case Mercedes boss Toto Wolff calls for ‘more transparency’ in Christian Horner case

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has challenged Formula One and its governing body to demand greater transparency from Red Bull’s investigation into Christian Horner.

    Horner has been cleared to continue as Red Bull team principal following an internal probe into “inappropriate behaviour” towards a female colleague.

    Horner was on the Red Bull pit wall on Thursday for both practice sessions of the new season.

    “I am pleased that the process is over and I cannot comment about it,” he told Sky Sports. “I am focused on the season ahead. Within the team it (the unity) has never been stronger.”

    Red Bull Racing’s parent company, Red Bull GmbH, said it was confident the investigation into Horner had been “fair, rigorous and impartial” but added that the report – understood to stretch to 150 pages – is “confidential”.

    It is understood that neither Formula One’s owners, Liberty Media, nor its regulator, the FIA, has seen the report.

    However, there were growing calls in Bahrain on Thursday night for Red Bull GmbH to share the details of their investigation.

    “I just read the statement, which was pretty basic,” said Wolff. “My personal opinion is we can’t really look behind the curtain.

    “There is a lady in an organisation that has spoken to HR and said there was an issue and it was investigated and yesterday the sport has received the message that it’s all fine, we’ve looked at it.

    “I believe with the aspiration as a global sport, on such critical topics, it needs more transparency and I wonder what the sport’s position is?

    “We’re competitors, we’re a team and we can have our own personal opinions or not. But it’s more like a general reaction or action that we as a sport need to assess, what is right in that situation and what is wrong.

    “Are we talking with the right moral approach, with the values based on the speculation that is out there?

    “As a sport, we cannot afford to leave things in the vague and in the opaque on critical topics like this, because this is going to catch us out.”

    McLaren CEO Zak Brown agreed with his Mercedes counterpart.

    “It’s the responsibility ultimately of the organisers of Formula One, the owners of Formula One, to make sure that all the racing teams and the personnel and the drivers and everyone else involved in the sport are operating in a manner in which we all live by,” said the American.

    “I don’t think it’s the teams’ roles and responsibilities. That’s up to FIA and Formula One to ultimately decide and ask what they feel gives them the level of transparency they need to ultimately come to their conclusion and we just have to count on them that they fulfil that obligation to all of us.”

    The PA news agency has contacted Formula One and the FIA for comment.

    Horner, who has protested his innocence throughout, was questioned by a lawyer for eight hours earlier this month at a secret London location.

    He has been Red Bull team principal since they entered F1 19 years ago and is the longest-serving boss on the grid.

    He has overseen seven drivers’ world championships and six constructors’ titles.

    Red Bull have dominated the sport in recent seasons and last year won 21 of the 22 races, with Dutch driver Max Verstappen setting a new record for 10 consecutive victories as he wrapped up his third title.

    Horner, who is married to former Spice Girls singer Geri Halliwell, was awarded a CBE for his services to motorsport in the New Year Honours.

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