The qualifying simulations had been incredibly tight until the newly-crowned F1 world champion blitzed his rivals with a late effort to finish 0.320s clear of Leclerc and head into qualifying as the man to beat and the only driver to dip into the 1m35s. 

With gusty conditions proving tricky and catching the drivers out at COTA, Leclerc admitted his best lap - which at the time was within 0.010s of Verstappen - was “very, very messy”. 

Is Hamilton No Longer the Best Wet Weather Driver?

But the Moneqasque will drop 10 positions from wherever he qualifies for Sunday’s grand prix after Ferrari changed his engine and turbocharger in Austin. 

Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz wound up 0.446s adrift in third, ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who were split by just 0.004s as they finished half a second off the pace. 

But all three of the seven-time world champion’s soft-tyre runs were scrappy, suggesting he has more time to find in his upgraded W13. 

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso - who will serve a five-place grid penalty for an engine change - was over a second down in sixth. 

George Russell struggled to keep his Mercedes pointing in a straight line as he suffered from some extreme drifting which forced him to abandon two runs. When he finally put in a clean lap, the Briton ended up 1.2s behind Verstappen. 

The Aston Martin duo of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were eighth and ninth respectively, while Pierre Gasly rounded out the top-10 for AlphaTauri. 

A problem hampered Mick Schumacher’s session as the Haas driver ended up 19th, ahead of Zhou Guanyu, who was slowest of all after spending most of final practice stuck in the Alfa Romeo garage with an issue. 

Off track, the weekend has been dominated by talk of Red Bull's F1 cost cap breach. Speaking earlier on Saturday, Red Bull boss Christian Horner blasted his rivals for waging a "concerted campaign for a draconian penalty" against his team.