|© AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Taking part in his 100th Grand Prix and setting sights on his third world title, Sebastian Vettel made a clean sweep of the practice sessions for the United States GP after he went quickest in the final running on a cold Saturday morning.
The defending champion clocked a time of 1 minute 36.490 seconds around the Circuit of The Americas with several drivers still struggling to find grip on the brand new track.
The only promising aspect of the session was that the Red Bull’s driver gap to rivals was not over a second on this occasion, after Lewis Hamilton got his McLaren within two-tenths of the German’s time in second place.
Williams’ Pastor Maldonado sprung a surprise in third place, spicing up the prospects for qualifying later in the day.
Both the Ferrari drivers headed out on to the track halfway into the 60-minute session, a move that that compromised its programme as they were welcomed by a yellow flag situation.
Jean-Eric Vergne stopped his Toro Rosso at Turn 7 after he hit a kerb hard and damaged the right-front of his car. The marshalls took several minutes to clear the stricken car spoiling the runs of both the Ferrari drivers.
“I think we have yellow flag every lap,” complained Felipe Massa who was forced to carry on with his race engineer Rob Smedley instructing the Brazilian that he may have to lift off for some two seconds for those laps.
In the end Fernando Alonso was nearly seven-tenths off the pace in fourth, a run which included a massive moment at the tricky Turn 19, and Massa - separated from his teammate by Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg – in sixth.
There was more action on the track after Marussia’s Charles Pic and Sergio Perez collided, with the two drivers spinning as a result and damaging their front wings.
Both lost track time as they were forced to head back to the pits for inspection after what appeared to be misunderstanding between the two drivers.
"The damage did not prevent him completing the session, but will almost certainly have compromised his overall aero performance," Marussia said on its Twitter page referring to the damage sustained on the floor of Pic's car.
Sauber’s Perez, who was eighth quickest in the end, was reprimanded on Friday after he was found guilty of impeding the Marussia of Timo Glock during second practice.
Mark Webber was seventh with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button rounding up the top ten.
Michael Schumacher was 12th and Kimi Raikkonen, who had won the preceding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in 13th, both 1.2 seconds slower than Vettel’s time.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean was the first driver to end his session as his car had a gearbox problem.
Narain Karthikeyan, who was replaced for the opening practice session on Friday, has so far failed to set a time within the 107 percent rule in his two outings with the both HRTs in danger of failing to qualify later in the day.