United States Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Formula 1 moves into the penultimate round at the Circuit of the Americas for the United States Grand Prix. The 5.513km circuit is one of the few on the calendar to run anticlockwise. The circuit itself is made up of a number of fast corners in the first sector, before the circuit hairpins back into a long straight for DRS in the second sector. The third and final sector is made up of slower speed corners, where overtaking will be more difficult. The package for this weekend is a tricky mix of speed in the initial sectors and downforce in the final sector. The Circuit of the Americas was built with elements of all the great racing circuits, and it translates well.

The Red Bull’s seemed unphased throughout qualifying, as both RB9s locking out the front row. Vettel narrowly clinched pole position by just a tenth of a second from his teammate in the final minute of qualifying. Webber had sat at the top of the timesheets for most of qualifying, putting in a 1:36.441 lap time, an impressive half a second on the rest of the field. Vettel’s fantastic final sector pace found him that extra tenth of a second, qualifying P1 with 1:36.338.

Grosjean slotted in just behind the Red Bulls in P3. The Lotus driver found pace in the E21 that rivalled that of world champions in the Mercedes and Ferraris. Heikki Kovalainen will sit the rest of the season in the Lotus seat while Kimi recovers from back surgery. The replacement Finn did well throughout qualifying, showing that a brief absence from a racing seat has not dampened his ability. Kovalainen will start P8.

Hulkenberg’s qualifying continues to improve, all the while without a confirmed race seat for 2014. Yet again, the Sauber-Ferrari was the fasted Ferrari engine in qualifying as Hulkenberg put in a flying lap of 1:37.296. The Sauber looked comfortable on track, even setting purple sector times in S1 despite issues from wind on track, and will line up P4. Gutierrez had a less than fortunate qualifying, being investigated for impededing Maldonaldo in Q1*, though managing to make it through to Q3, qualifying in P10.

Hamilton was consistently on the pace through qualifying, while Rosberg was unlucky to be out in Q2. With the rest of the field lapping slowly, Hamilton initially found it difficult to find a gap in the traffic in the earlier sessions. However in Q2 and Q3, Hamilton put his F1 W04 through its paces, battling for the top of the timesheets with Bottas and Hulkenberg, eventually qualifying P5. While Hamilton flew, Rosberg struggled to get on the pace battling with difficult tyre windows. The issues for the Mercedes saw him qualify P14.

Ferrari had a rather bipolar qualifying session, while Alonso finally got it right and Massa struggled with his F138’s package. After a string of less than satisfying qualifying sessions, Alonso looked confident on track in his F138. The Ferrari driver found pace despite earlier issues with track temperatures, lining up as respectable P6. With the pressure off Massa to find a seat for 2014, the Brazilian had a disappointing qualifying session. Massa’s best lap time was unexpectedly only fast enough for P15.

McLaren struggled to see both drivers succeed in qualifying. Perez, who is now essentially in a job interview now until the end of the season, was quite consistently on pace in today’s session. The Mexican appeared focussed on track, and put in an impressive flying lap only a tenth of a second behind Hamilton, and 0.07s behind Alonso to qualify P7. Yet again Button struggled with the feel of the car, complaining first of understeer at speed and oversteer in the slower corners. The result for Button meant a disappointing P13. To further add fuel to the fire, Button receives a three-place grid penalty for over taking during a red flag period in Friday’s free practice.

Williams saw a rather bipolar qualifying session for their drivers. Bottas managed to get a lot of pace out of the car, translating to sitting near the top of the timesheets for most of qualifying. The Finn’s qualifying effort was nothing short of incredible, though a last minute surge of times saw him topple down the timesheets to P9. Currently without a seat for 2014, Maldonado did little to add to his resume failing to make it out of Q1. Maldonado with start P18.

Ricciardo looked reasonably controlled on track, though the Toro Rosso just missed out on Q3 by less than a tenth of a second. Starting in P11, the Toro Rosso driver can at least choose which compound tyre to start on. Vergne was eager to get on track in Q2, heading out on the option tyre he’d used in Q1. Despite the early start, Vergne couldn’t find the pace in the final minutes of Q2 and was knocked out of the session in P16.

Di Resta out qualified his teammate, though was unlucky to miss out on Q3 after encountering a slow running Hamilton while preparing for a final flying lap. Nevertheless, di Resta qualified a reasonable P12. Sutil had vert little luck in his qualifying session with what appeared to be a mechanical issue with his Force India. The VJM06 looked to be struggling for grip around the circuit, running wide on several corners. Sutil failed to make it back to the pits, and will start P17 for tomorrow’s race.

Van der Garde out qualified Pic for P19 and P21, putting the Caterhams in a good position to challenge for tenth place in the championship. Bianchi split the Caterhams by qualifying P20, while Chilton will round out the back of the grid in P22, again**.

Time is running out for Webber to reach the top step of the podium, something that even an advantage of qualifying a tenth of a second behind the pole sitter wouldn’t much help. If all goes to Red Bull’s plan, Vettel will clear away for an unchallenged victory, leaving Webber to battle against Grosjean and Hamilton for the second step of the podium. Despite what could be a predictable podium, the Circuit of the Americas is a track that is incredible to drive, promising a race that should be exciting.

– Alex

* Gutierrez was later handed a ten-place grid penalty for impededing Maldonado

** Chilton received a drive through penalty for also impededing Maldonado, and Sutil

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