Hamilton quickest in first practice for United States GP

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Lewis Hamilton has made the best possible start to his United States Grand Prix weekend by finishing as the quickest driver in the first free practice session on Friday.

This morning’s running at the Circuit of The Americas saw a number of drivers show off their new helmets designs for the first time, with Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez all making a change for this weekend’s race.

Due to light rain overnight, some of the early running in FP1 took place on the intermediate tire, but the track soon dried and allowed the drivers to get their first taste of COTA with the new V6 turbo cars in dry conditions.

With a fastest lap of 1:39.941, Hamilton managed to edge out teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg at the top of the timesheets once again. However, with just two-tenths of a second separating the pair, we look set for another close fight at the front of the field on Sunday. The result marked Mercedes’ tenth one-two finish in FP1 in 2014.

Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen continued McLaren’s late season resurgence to finish third and fifth in FP1. Although these are very early indications at COTA, the signs are encouraging for the British team. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat split the pair in fourth place.

Felipe Nasr and Max Verstappen both put in impressive displays during their practice run-outs in Austin, deputizing for Valtteri Bottas and Jean-Eric Vergne respectively. Nasr finished the session in eighth place, with Verstappen a very respectable P10.

Daniel Ricciardo endured a difficult first session in Austin, completing just five laps and finishing 17th in the final standings. Red Bull is yet to confirm what the issue on his Red Bull RB10 car that limited his running.

In a quiet session with little more of note, the biggest absence was perhaps that of Caterham and Marussia. With neither team racing in Austin this weekend, the grid has been reduced to just 18 cars, marking a ten-year low for Formula 1.

At the front though, the Hamilton express continues to power ahead. Be sure to join us for FP2 live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 3p ET today to see if he can continue his good form at COTA.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.