Perez moves ahead, leads Norris in FP2 in Austin

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB16B. 22.10.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, United States Grand Prix, Austin
© XPB 

Red Bull's Sergio Perez was in strong form on Friday afternoon at the Circuit of the Americas, with the Red Bull driver setting the top time of the afternoon to top the second free practice session.

Perez' time of 1:34.946s put him a quarter of a second quicker than McLaren's Lando Norris, with Mercedes pair Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton next up having seemingly taken it relatively easy after their morning dominance.

Perez' team mate Max Verstappen was left frustrated by traffic and failed to improve on an early lap time leaving him down in an anonymous eighth place where he found himself sandwiched between Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

A scorching hot and sunny Friday afternoon in Austin, Texas was the setting for the second free practice of the weekend, with Mercedes having blitzed the competition in the earlier session. However Valtteri Bottas' success in topping the times had been immediately tempered by the announcement that he was set for another engine change grid penalty of five places. Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel and Williams' George Russell are also now set for back row starts on Sunday.

Circuit atmosphere - fans. 22.10.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, United States Grand Prix, Austin

Vettel and his team mate Lance Stroll were among the first to hit the track when the lights at the end of pit lane went green for the start of the one-hour FP2, everyone taking an initial set of medium compound tyres. Bottas soon resumed his residency at the top with a time of 1:35.887s, but he was quickly bumped off the top by Sergio Perez putting in a new target time of 1:35.883s, the Mexican looking none the worse for his end-of-session clash with Mick Schumacher in the final minutes of FP1.

Max Verstappen slotted into third just ahead of Lewis Hamilton, with an incredibly slender 0.036s covering the entire top four after their initial runs. Bottas was then back on top with his next run clocking in at 1:35.883s only to again soon be pipped by Perez, while Verstappen and Hamilton squabbled at the final corner as they jockeyed for optimal position for their next push laps. Verstappen was not amused: "Stupid idiot!" he broadcast over the team radio, sounding thoroughly disgruntled.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A521. 22.10.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, United States Grand Prix, Austin

Behind the big four, Ferrari were best of the rest with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in fifth and sixth respectively ahead of McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo who was the first of the top ten to try out the soft tyres, followed by the Astons of Vettel and Stroll. Lando Norris was a late starter having been forced to return to pit lane after his initial outlap with something having come loose at his elbow in the cockpit; when he did get to come out and play he was immediately quick enough to take up fifth place, only to quickly suffer a flat-spot on his tyres. He wasn't alone to encounter teething problems, with Nikita Mazepin suffering from watering eyes, pedal problems for Leclerc, and George Russell remaining stationary in the Williams garage for the first 18 minutes.

By then the drivers were starting to switch to the soft compound for proper time trials, which allowed Stroll to go to the top on 1:35.561s. Bottas also made the switch and bettered the Canadian's time by two tenths, before Hamilton then entered the fray with a time of 1:34.842s which was half a second quicker than anyone else - only to have the time deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 19.

That left Bottas back in charge, at least until Perez once again improved to go top just before the half hour mark. He kept the crown even as others improved on the soft tyres, Norris moving up to second followed by Hamilton's latest effort even though it was still not a match for his earlier deleted run. Bottas was now fourth ahead of Ricciardo and Stroll followed by Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz, with Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi rounding out the top ten.

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL35M. 22.10.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, United States Grand Prix, Austin

Verstappen was growing increasingly agitated by finding himself continually mired in traffic preventing him from making a clean run sending him back to pit lane feeling deeply frustrated. He wasn't alone: Mazepin took 35 minutes to finally got in a representative time and even then there was a close call when a car was released from pit lane ahead of him. "What was that, man? What was that? I've just avoided a crash," reported the irate Russian rookie, adding: "Impossible to get a lap on this track."

After that it was time for drivers to go back to the medium compound in order to evaluate how quickly the tyres would degrade on longer distance runs. It meant there was little change to the top ten in the remainder of the session, which looked set to for a quiet finish with no incidents until Fernando Alonso spun off in the Alpine with three minutes remaining. He had caught too much kerb which sent him ploughing through the gravel to make light contact with the wall at turn 19 for a slightly early finish to his day. Fortunately the damage to the rear wing of the Alpine was minimal and he was able to return to pit lane without triggering a red flag.

The chequered flag came out on time moments later but appeared to catch Giovinazzi out, with the Alfa overshooting the pit lane entry and forced to reverse to make the turn after waiting for the others to file past before he finally made it back to the team garage.

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