AUSTIN, Texas — Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were both quicker than F1 rival Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing in the first Formula One practice Friday at Circuit of The Americas.
Bottas was fastest in the first session for Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix as Hamilton and Verstappen went 2-3. The Mercedes power surge on a track where its cars have dominated shows the work Verstappen must do Sunday to hold his slim championship lead. Verstappen leads Hamilton by six points with six races to go.
Mercedes has dominated the Austin track, winning five times since it opened in 2012. Hamilton has won four of those races and teammate Bottas won in 2019.
Verstappen is chasing his first championship. Hamilton has seven. An eighth would push Hamilton ahead of Michael Schumacher for the most in series history.
The U.S. Grand Prix is not a must-win race for Hamilton, and the seven-time champion brushed off such a suggestion Thursday even as he trails in the title fight to Verstappen, who should be favored at Mexico City in the next round.
Verstappen is a two-time winner in Mexico City, where Formula One races Nov. 7 and the Red Bull team has been dominant. But up first is Sunday’s race. Hamilton calls COTA his “happy hunting ground” because he’s won five times in Texas.
“It’s important to win every race somehow, you know, maximizing our points, that’s our goal over these next six races,” Hamilton said Thursday. “It’s going to be incredibly difficult and there will be moments where we can perhaps edge (Red Bull) out. I don’t like to assume that Mexico is not going to be strong but they are usually very strong in Mexico.”
The series has returned to Austin for the first time in nearly two years with a thrilling title fight between upstart Verstappen and the superstar Hamilton. He clinched his 2015 and 2019 titles at COTA, and Hamilton has won in five of F1’s eight races at the track.
Verstappen, a seven-time winner this season, hasn’t won at COTA but has been good. His sensational drive in the rain to fourth as a 17-year-old rookie with Toro Rosso in 2015 unveiled his potential as a championship contender. He finished second in 2018 and third in 2019.
Teammates could play a huge role Sunday.
Bottas drove his Mercedes to victory ahead of Verstappen in Turkey two weeks, and won in Austin in 2019 from pole position. Red Bull will need Sergio Perez running near the front to help Verstappen keep pressure on both Mercedes drivers.
2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top
As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.
It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.
Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.
Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.
After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.
Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.
Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.
A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.
Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.
Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.
RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.
Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.
Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.
Driver (SMX rank)
Hunter Lawrence (1)
Justin Cooper (42)
RJ Hampshire (3)
Haiden Deegan (4)
Jo Shimoda (16)
Guillem Farres (46)
Levi Kitchen (6)
Max Anstie (5)
Max Vohland (8)
Enzo Lopes (10)
Mitchell Oldenburg (13)
Carson Mumford (19)
Jordon Smith (7)
Ryder DiFrancesco (48)
Chris Blose (12)
Chance Hymas (27)
Tom Vialle (9)
Jett Reynolds (55)
Michael Mosiman (28)
Garrett Marchbanks (64)
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.