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Commentary: Nico Rosberg tops Austin FP2, Red Bull beats Mercedes on long run pace

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Commentary: Nico Rosberg tops Austin FP2, Red Bull beats Mercedes on long run pace
Oct 21, 2016, 9:44 PM

Nico Rosberg beat Daniel Ricciardo to the top spot in the second practice session for the US Grand Prix, but the Australian driver put in impressiv...

Nico Rosberg beat Daniel Ricciardo to the top spot in the second practice session for the US Grand Prix, but the Australian driver put in impressive long-pace in his Red Bull at the Circuit of the Americas and believes he can race the Mercedes for the win on Sunday.

The world championship leader was fastest almost throughout much of the 90-minute session after he deposed Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at the top of the timesheets during the early running on the soft compound Pirelli rubber.

While Rosberg and the Ferraris were using the soft tyres, Lewis Hamilton, who was fastest in Friday’s earlier FP1 session, got within 0.3s of his teammate’s early best lap on the medium tyres.

Kimi Raikkonen

Raikkonen was the first of the front-runners to use the supersoft tyres as the field switched to their qualifying simulation runs a third of the way through the session. But the 2007 world champion – on the ninth anniversary of his triumph at Interlagos over Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – ran wide at the penultimate corner after losing the rear of his car going through the left-hander and did not set a representative flying lap as a result.

Vettel was not able to better Rosberg’s soft-rubber time on his own qualifying run on the supersofts and he slipped further behind when the Mercedes driver, who is using a new engine this weekend, put in an improvement of just over 0.7s to set the best time of the session with a 1m37.358s.

Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo then put in a lap that was just 0.194s adrift of Rosberg’s best time, which was a big improvement relative to Mercedes than the other teams managed in FP1 when Max Verstappen finished third, 1.9s slower than Hamilton.

The reigning world champion, who won at the Austin track in 2015 to seal his third title, ended up 0.291s behind his teammate after his supersoft qualifying run. But such was Hamilton’s pace in FP1 – he was 0.3s faster than Rosberg – and his history at Austin suggest there is more to come from the British driver ahead of qualifying.

During the long runs, the supersoft tyre showed high levels of degradation and front left graining. That did stabilise a bit but it suggests the teams will aim for around 10-12 laps for the opening stint in the race.

"I think it is one of our best Fridays for sure," said Ricciardo. "Our long run pace looks like we were able to match them (Mercedes) if not be quicker."

Lewis Hamilton

The soft tyre looks pretty stable and will probably be the race tyre of choice for most of the runners.

Austin has been a one-stop race for the majority of the four F1 events it has held so far, but with the frontrunners likely to use the supersofts in qualifying and the first stint, a two-stop race is likely this year. The softs will last for around 20-22 laps and the race is a 56-lap event.

The relatively small difference is pace between the soft and supersofts means some of the faster teams are likely to try to get through Q2 on the soft tyres and use them at the start of the race. This gives huge strategic advantages, as we have seen at several events already this season.

Mercedes and Red Bull are the likely candidates to try this but will need to be ready to go again on the supersofts just in case. Some of the cars starting outside of the top ten may well try a one-stopper using the soft and medium tyres.

Sebastian Vettel

Behind the top three, Vettel finished fourth, 0.820s slower than Rosberg, with Verstappen fifth and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez in sixth and seventh.

Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were eighth and ninth for McLaren, with Raikkonen rounding out the top ten for Ferrari.

Carlos Sainz

Carlos Sainz finished 11th for Toro Rosso despite a late spin at Turn 15, ahead of Renault’s Kevin Magnussen and Sauber’s Felipe Nasr.

Valtteri Bottas was 14th for Williams ahead of Daniil Kvyat, Felipe Massa and Jolyon Palmer, who spun his Renault at Turn 8 late in the session.

Romain Grosjean finished 18th on a low-key day for Haas F1 at its first home Grand Prix.

Romain Grosjean

Grosjean and his teammate Esteban Gutierrez were 14th and 15th in FP1 and then the Frenchman caused a brief red flag period two-thirds of the way through the afternoon session when a piece of debris fell off his car and landed in the middle of the track in the rapid Turn 3, 4 and 5 sequence of corners.

A similar incident appeared to happen to Gutierrez’s car at the same spot just minutes before the chequered flag came out. Grosjean ended up 18th fastest, two places ahead of his teammate.

Esteban Ocon was another spinner – the Manor driver lost the rear of his car going through the triple-apex Turns 17 and 18 and was lucky to avoid getting stuck in the gravel trap after whirling through the run-off area. The 20-year-old went on to set the 19th fastest time.

Esteban Ocon

Marcus Ericsson finished 21st for Sauber as Pascal Wehrlein brought up the rear of the field in the second Manor.

US Grand Prix FP2 results:

1 Nico Rosberg, Mercedes 1m37.358s, 33 laps

2 Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull 1m37.552s +0.194s, 33 laps

3 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 1m37.649s +0.291s, 32 laps

4 Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari 1m38.178s +0.820s, 35 laps

5 Max Verstappen, Red Bull 1m38.258s +0.900s, 27 laps

6 Nico Hulkenberg, Force India 1m38.508s +1.150s, 32 laps

7 Sergio Perez, Force India 1m38.568s +1.210s, 31 laps

8 Jenson Button, McLaren 1m38.713s +1.355s, 29 laps

9 Fernando Alonso, McLaren 1m38.801s +1.443s, 30 laps

10 Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari 1m38.865s +1.507s, 31 laps

11 Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso 1m38.971s +1.613s, 31 laps

12 Kevin Magnussen, Renault 1m39.159s +1.801s, 23 laps

13 Felipe Nasr, Sauber 1m39.189s +1.831s, 28 laps

14 Valtteri Bottas, Williams 1m39.197s +1.839s, 34 laps

15 Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso 1m39.202s +1.844s, 36 laps

16 Felipe Massa, Williams 1m39.281s +1.923s, 30 laps

17 Jolyon Palmer, Renault 1m39.455s +2.097s, 34 laps

18 Romain Grosjean, Haas 1m39.554s +2.196s, 24 laps

19 Esteban Ocon, Manor 1m40.086s +2.728s, 27 laps

20 Esteban Gutierrez, Haas 1m40.114s +2.756s, 26 laps

21 Marcus Ericsson, Sauber 1m40.219s +2.861s, 28 laps

22 Pascal Wehrlein, Manor 1m41.131s +3.773s, 31 laps

What did you make of the first day of running at the US Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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