Lewis Hamilton was only third fastest in second practice at the US Grand Prix as Mercedes team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg set the pace.
Hamilton was 0.291 seconds slower than Rosberg, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo splitting the Mercedes.
Rosberg heads Hamilton by 33 points in the championship with 100 still available in the remaining four races.
Hamilton badly needs to win in Austin in Sunday to revive his rapidly faltering hopes of retaining his title.
Hamilton stays in touch
The world champion was fastest in first practice, in which he was impressive in setting a rapid initial pace and maintaining an advantage throughout as Rosberg closed in.
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Hamilton looked quick in the first stages of second practice, lapping within 0.3secs of Rosberg on the first runs, despite using the slower medium tyre while the German was on the soft.
But his qualifying simulation run on the super-soft tyre did not go as well.
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However, Hamilton was evenly matched with Rosberg on the race-simulation runs in the second part of the session, when Ricciardo was marginally faster than both Mercedes drivers on the super-soft tyres.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was fourth fastest, ahead of Ricciardo’s team-mate Max Verstappen and the Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez.
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McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were eighth and ninth, ahead of Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who made a mistake on his flying lap.
The Finn incurred the wrath of both Alonso and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, who both felt he was obstructive on track at various points of the session.
Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, fighting for his future in F1, had a spin and managed 17th fastest time, five places and 0.2secs behind team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
US Grand Prix Second practice
US Grand Prix coverage details