November 1, 2019 / 6:21 PM / 11 days ago

Hamilton signals he is ready to clinch title in style

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton posted the top time on Friday in free practice for the U.S. Grand Prix, signalling he is ready to clinch a sixth Formula One drivers’ title in style.

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - U.S. Grand Prix - Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, U.S., 23/10/16. Red Bull's Max Verstappen of the Netherlands arrives in the garage area on race day. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Hamilton, who could secure the crown without even scoring a point in Texas, lapped the Circuit of the Americas in one minute 33.232 seconds to send Mercedes to the top of the timing sheets and put down his marker on a seventh U.S. Grand Prix win.

Charles Leclerc was second quickest 0.301 behind the Briton as Ferrari look to crash the Mercedes party by claiming what would be a seventh consecutive pole position on Saturday.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who was stripped of his Mexican Grand Prix pole last Saturday after failing to slow for yellow warning flags, had the top time in first practice but could only produce the third-best effort in the afternoon session.

The Dutchman was followed by Ferrari’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in fourth.

Hamilton, already the most successful driver in U.S. Grand Prix history with six wins including five in Texas, has designated the Circuit of the Americas a “good hunting ground”, making it the perfect spot to clinch another title.

Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas, the only driver still with a chance of overtaking Hamilton in the drivers’ standings, had the fifth-best time but will need something better if he is to have any hope of taking the title fight to Brazil.

Hamilton will secure the title if he finishes eighth or better on Sunday but does not need to score any points at all to continue for another year as champion if Bottas does not win.

Bottas, 74 points behind with three races remaining worth a maximum 78, has yet to finish higher than fifth in Texas.

Unseasonably cold conditions greeted drivers as they arrived at the track, with frost covering the brush, but it was a choppy circuit that brought out the complaints.

“These bumps are insane out here — I don’t know if this track is safe,” Hamilton told his team over the radio as he headed out in the morning session where he finished eighth quickest.

If Hamilton was unhappy with the conditions he was no doubt pleased to have the reassuring voice of race engineer Peter Bonnington back in his headset.

‘Bono’, as Bonnington is known to friends and team mates, missed the Mexico Grand Prix due to a “a personal medical procedure” and had been expected to miss two races but was back in the pits here to help Hamilton try to clinch a sixth title.

Editing by Clare Fallon

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