It was once again a Red Bull Friday in Austin today as Sebastian Vettel headed Mark Webber in practice for the American Grand Prix, ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg.
After narrowly losing the race victory to Lewis Hamilton last year, Austin remains an un-ticked box for Vettel and Red Bull and today’s pace illustrated that they are in no way letting their foot off the gas.
He is also looking to set a new record of eight consecutive wins in a season. And on the basis of his form here in qualifying simulation and long runs on both types of tyre, he looks set to achieve it.
It was a disrupted day for the F1 paddock as this morning’s FP1 session was initially delayed by half an hour as thick fog descended on the Circuit of Americas and limited visibility for both the drivers and the doctor’s helicopter.
After the delay, practice began in sunny conditions but within ten minutes was the subject of a red flag. Due to the poor weather conditions the doctor’s helicopter could not make it to the circuit and prompted a further fifteen minute delay.
From there, the half an hour that remained gave a mixed order as Fernando Alonso topped the times ahead of Jenson Button and Valtteri Bottas. Button was later found to have passed a car under the red flag and was consequently handed a three-place grid penalty by the stewards, which include 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell.
The troubled morning session meant that this afternoon saw plenty of action on a circuit which is still very new to the Formula One field. And the cars were quickly up to speed with the fastest times of the respective session in 2012 as the tarmac has matured and released its oily lay that was produced during construction.
And it was Red Bull that quickly emerged as the pacesetters, in both one-lap and long-run configuration. The gain from the hard to medium tyre was between 8/10ths and a second, which will make for an exciting qualifying session. Red Bull and Mercedes may risk saving the option tyre run in Q1 for two runs in Q3.
Nevertheless, it looks set to be another weekend where we need to look elsewhere for some close battles and there are some interesting ones throughout the field.
With Hamilton ending the day directly behind his German team mate Mercedes are in good shape to cement their second place in the Constructors’ Championship. They are particularly strong through the increasingly impressive first sector, swooping through a six-turn snake prior to the long back straight.
Their closest rivals, Ferrari, had a mixed day. Following Alonso topping the times in FP1, the Spaniard ended the afternoon session in tenth place whilst the soon to be Williams driver, Felipe Massa, was twelfth. Traction out of slow corners remains the Prancing Horse’s issue, and on a circuit that requires slow speed traction they will be looking over their shoulder at a strong Lotus. They may well also find themselves behind a Sauber on the grid and in the race.
Heikki Kovalainen was the star of the day, fitting straight in to the Lotus E21 and setting an impressive pace. He ended the day in fifth place – three ahead of Romain Grosjean – and proved himself as a suitable candidate to replace Kimi Raikkonen, in these final two races at least.
Between the Lotus pair are the two Saubers, headed by Esteban Gutierrez. This is as much of a home race as the Mexican will experience until at least 2015 and he put together a good performance in front of the thousands of Mexicans that make the short journey across the border.
The top ten was completed by this morning’s fastest pair, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.
It was a special day for American Alexander Rossi, taking in his first American Grand Prix practice behind the wheel of the Caterham. He ended the morning session 7/10ths of a second faster than Charles Pic.
Danii Kvyat also made an appearance before his full-time drive for Toro Rosso in 2014. The young Russian ran an impressive session to finish 2/10ths down on Daniel Ricciardo.
AMERICAN GRAND PRIX, Austin, Practice
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m37.305s 35
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m37.420s +0.115s 37
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m37.785s +0.480s 38
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m37.958s +0.653s 38
5. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m38.073s +0.768s 41
6. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m38.229s +0.924s 40
7. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m38.254s +0.949s 40
8. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m38.255s +0.950s 33
9. Jenson Button McLaren 1m38.269s +0.964s 34
10. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m38.461s +1.156s 33
11. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m38.719s +1.414s 31
12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m38.938s +1.633s 37
13. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m38.941s +1.636s 31
14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m39.246s +1.941s 28
15. Paul di Resta Force India 1m39.410s +2.105s 34
16. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m39.512s +2.207s 37
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m39.579s +2.274s 36
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m39.784s +2.479s 33
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1m40.376s +3.071s 39
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m40.563s +3.258s 35
21. Max Chilton Marussia 1m46.226s +8.921s 31
22. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m47.009s +9.704s 20