World champion Max Verstappen sets the pace in third practice in Texas
Max Verstappen set himself up for the first qualifying since he won the world championship by setting the fastest time in third practice at the United States Grand Prix.
The Dutchman, who clinched his second title in Japan a fortnight ago, finished three tenths clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz was third, 0.446 seconds off the pace. Lewis Hamilton took fifth spot, six tenths adrift of Verstappen.
Verstappen’s build-up to what should be his championship party has been dominated by talk of his Red Bull team’s breach of last year’s budget cap.
Team principal Christian Horner went on the attack on Saturday morning, labelling McLaren boss Zak Brown’s claims of cheating as shocking and appalling.
Ahead of practice on Saturday, a group of spectators booed Verstappen and directed a chant of “cheater” at the Dutchman as he was presented on stage during a fans’ event.
But the off-track politics does not appear to have dented the two-time world champion’s confidence as he soared to the top of the time sheets in the final running before qualifying.
Sainz trailed Verstappen, while the other Ferrari of Leclerc faces a grid drop of at least 10 places for exceeding his number of allocated engine parts.
Sergio Perez, who finished fourth in practice, is set for a grid penalty of five spots after taking on a fresh engine. Qualifying for the 19th round of the campaign gets under way at 5pm local time (11pm UK).
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