Saturday, 17 November 2012 06:45

USGP Friday Practice

Circuit of The Americas today welcomed a massive first-day crowd of 65,360 to the 2012 FORMULA 1 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX.

Race goers were treated to a spectacle of sound and color as Formula 1™ drivers took to the Grade 1, 3.4-mile circuit for the very first time.

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, current points leader in the drivers’ world championship standings, produced the best time of the day during the second of two 90-minute practice sessions, recording a sizzling lap time of 1:37.718.  His teammate, Mark Webber, posted the second-best time of 1:38.475.

The 2012 championship continues to build to a fabulous end-of-season climax, not just with the gripping fight between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso for the drivers’ title, but with the return to America for the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix and the inaugural race at the impressive new Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas.

Few races have been so eagerly awaited, on the track recently described by 1978 world champion Mario Andretti as “Phenomenal. Everything I had hoped for, and more.”

It is one of only five anti-clockwise circuits on the calendar (the others being Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi and Interlagos) and features 20 corners, 11 left-handers, nine rights; there are more corners above 250 km/h than at Spa, and more below 100 than at Hungaroring. It promises to tax drivers and engineers to the maximum with its blend of sections from the world’s great tracks, especially in Friday’s two free practice sessions.

Turns 2 and 3 echo the Senna S in Interlagos; 4-6 pay homage to Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel at Silverstone; 12-14 reflect the stadium section at Hockenheim; and 16-18 are a mirror of Istanbul Park’s famous Turn 8. The circuit will feature a single DRS Zone, on the back straight between Turns 11 and 12, and the activation zone is likely to be approximately 650 metres before Turn 12.

The race is a step into the unknown, and a track which has never been raced on before. As a result, teams are unlikely to run test drivers on Friday, though HRT have confirmed that China's Ma Qing Hua will get another FP1 outing in Narain Karthikeyan's car.

Pirelli are bringing their P Zero Silver hard and P Zero White medium tyres, the conservative compounds reflecting the number of factors that remain uncertain at this stage, and the teams will be given an extra set of the hard compound for Friday’s two free practice sessions in order to help them learn the all-new track.

Pirelli expect the track to be fast and challenging, with warm ambient temperatures adding to the mechanical demands placed on the tyres. The 5.513-kilometre (3.425-mile) lap features varying elevations that alternate slower and more technical sections with other areas that are very quick. Initial information suggests that the surface will be quite smooth.

The opening sector of the lap is particularly demanding, with a uniquely profiled hairpin Turn 1 and then a rapid sequence of direction changes from Turns 4 through to 6. This puts a lot of energy through the tyre structure, particularly the outside tyre that has to withstand the majority of the cornering forces. Traction is also a vital aspect of tyre performance in order to find optimal grip coming out of the slower corners.

“Austin is one of just three new tracks for us in Formula One competition this year, alongside Bahrain - which we’ve tested at previously - and Hockenheim, where we previously raced in GP3,” says Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery. “So in many ways America will be the biggest challenge for us of the year, but stepping into the unknown is a situation that we are used to: last season the majority of tracks were completely new to us.

“We’ve chosen the hard and the medium compounds as we think it will be quite a demanding track, based on the asphalt samples and simulation data we have gathered. Naturally we’ve leaned towards a slightly more conservative choice in order to cover every possibility at a brand new circuit, but the tyre choice in Abu Dhabi was also conservative and yet we saw one of the most exciting races of the year. We’re all absolutely delighted to be returning to America with Formula One: it’s a crucial market for us as well as being the home of many of the most enthusiastic fans out there. We’ve felt a huge buzz about this race, and with the championship so finely poised it couldn’t come at a better time.”

Because of the time difference to Europe - Austin is six hours behind GMT - FP1 begins at 09.00 local time on Friday, FP2 at 13.00. FP3 begins at 09.00 on Saturday, with qualifying getting underway at 12.00. The race begins at 13.00 on Sunday and will run over 56 laps, or 308.405 kilometres (191.643 miles).

The odds continue to favour Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, as the German nurses a 10-point lead over Alonso and has what is currently a faster car than the Ferrari F2012. Much will thus depend on what Ferrari can bring in the way of upgrades.

“I think it's great that we are travelling to the United States again,” Vettel says. “I’ve been in the simulator learning the Austin track; how it flows and getting a general feel for it. What we know from designer Hermann Tilke is that the hallmark of the circuit will be the big differences in altitude within a lap as the highest point is expected to be 40 feet higher than the lowest. The site has natural elevation changes, which promises a fast course with difficult corners for us to familiarise ourselves with. It was also important to the designers that the fans in the stands could see a lot of the track and see the cars for a good amount of each lap. The track has 20 corners and we go anticlockwise.”

Alonso has his head down, focused purely on making the most of whatever Ferrari can provide, and says simply of the title fight: “We just need to concentrate on our race and if we finish in front of Sebastian in the next two races then maybe we have a chance. So that’s our concentration now.

“I'm confident,” Alonso adds. “We will fight until the end. We are not fast enough, this is true and we are honest with ourselves, we know this. We need to accept this. It's a weak point, the performance that we have at the moment in our package, but we have some strong points which we will try to use.”

After losing the Singapore and Abu Dhabi races to mechanical failure, Lewis Hamilton - the winner of the last US Grand Prix, at Indianapolis in 2007 - is even more determined than ever to sign off his McLaren career with a win.

“It’s crazy to think that the last US GP was five years ago! It’s a race I still remember like yesterday, though - the nervy anticipation as I drove into the Speedway for the very first time, the thousands of supportive fans, and the fantastic car I had beneath me that enabled me to take my second grand prix victory in the space of a week. For me, those were incredible, thrilling times.

“I have to admit, I’m absolutely made-up that we’re going back to the States. It’s a fantastic country and a place where our sport truly deserves to be. I think the Circuit of The Americas looks like it could also be the place that modern Formula 1 finally calls home. I’ve only driven it on the computer and in the sim, but I think it’s going to be a track that drivers enjoy, which produces some great, close racing, and which fans will quickly love.

“This is a new circuit, a new challenge and a new opportunity - I’m definitely looking to be the first Grand Prix winner at the Circuit of The Americas.”

More than anything besides outright speed, McLaren will be praying for reliability. Red Bull have virtually got their hands on another constructors’ trophy, but the situation is finely poised for second with Ferrari only 22 points ahead of McLaren, and Lotus only 30 adrift of McLaren. Further back, Sauber are within 12 points of Mercedes for fifth, and Force India are 22 ahead of Williams. And don’t forget the fight between Marussia and Caterham, for the crucial 10th place. That’s not over yet, either.

The weather for the Austin weekend is expected to be settled with partial cloud and ambient temperatures of around 20 degrees Celsius.

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel, P1 - 1:38.125, 1st; P2 - 1:37.718, 1st

“It was slippery this morning and a bit like driving on ice. It wasn’t so easy, but we managed to get into a rhythm. We had a bit of a problem this afternoon and so couldn’t run as much as we wanted, but we got two good runs which is important for tomorrow and Sunday. I think there were a couple of surprises today in terms of pace, so we’ll see tomorrow. The track will constantly improve - it’s good that we are amongst the guys at the top, now we’ll try to improve the car to make sure we stay there.”

Mark Webber, P1 - 1:40.650, 5th; P2 - 1:38.475, 2nd
“It's a pretty good track, it's quick, especially the first sector which is quite full on, although sectors two and three are more traditional and similar to other tracks. It was very slippery to start with, which was quite frustrating probably for all of us, but in the end the track rubbered in pretty well and we got into a good rhythm. As with all new circuits, you've got to work out where you can prioritise your time and where to compromise. It's got a bit of everything really, so it’s good.”

Fernando Alonso, P1 - 1:40.337, 3rd; P2 - 1:38.483, 3rd

“It’s no surprise to see the two Red Bulls ahead of the field: in the last few races they have had the best package, therefore today’s result is logical. We know what are our strengths - team work and reliability - and we will make the most of them in the fight. The updates we have brought here seem to work, but we still need to look more closely at the data before having a definite answer. I am happy about this, but it’s also true that while we are making small steps forward with each passing race, so too are the others, so the distance between us remains unchanged. Would I be happy to be third again tomorrow afternoon? Sure, but this is only Friday and we have been in this position before and then on Saturday other cars have got ahead of us. The circuit? A nice surprise, even if we had an idea of what to expect from the simulator: it’s very demanding, especially the first sector which is very fast and where you can really feel the acceleration of a Formula One car. The track is very smooth and not at all porous: it reminds me a lot of Portimao in Portugal, so if it was to rain, it could be like driving on glass.”

Felipe Massa, P1 - 1:40.966, 6th; P2 - 1:39.029, 6th
“Today was given over above all to getting to know this new track: we did a lot of laps, mainly with this in mind. In the morning, the track was dirty and very slippery: I can’t remember ever driving on a surface that offered so little grip! Then the situation improved and we began to get a bit more confidence and find the right lines. I like the track a lot: it’s fun driving here and I think we will see a great show over the weekend. The tyres? Definitely hard! It will be important to work out how to get them up to temperature, especially as far as qualifying is concerned.”

Lewis Hamilton, P1 - 1:39.543, 2nd; P2 - 1:38.748, 4th

“What a great turn-out for a Friday! I never expected to see so many people in the grandstands - it makes me feel even more excited for Saturday and Sunday. This is a great drivers’ track - it’s very tough to pull together three perfect sectors. Personally, I find the final two sectors easier than the first; those high-speed changes of direction need a good set-up, and balancing that requirement against the demands of the slow-speed stuff is tricky. Turn One probably looks more exciting from the outside than it does from inside the cockpit - it’s certainly not easy, though. You can get oversteer, or lock up, and it’s tricky to get a perfect line through there. Overall, we’ve had a good day. Our main difficulty this morning was switching on the tyres in the cooler conditions. But we’ll make some changes overnight - there are definitely some improvements we can make.”

Jenson Button, P1 - 1:40.528, 4th; P2 - 1:38.786, 5th
“The circuit was very slippery this morning - as all new track surfaces are, particularly as it was also very cold. But this afternoon’s warmer temperatures meant we could get a better feel for the circuit in FP2. Turn One to Turn Nine is a brilliant and free-flowing section - particularly if the car is working well. Turn One is a strange corner though - with a very wide entry rather like Turn Three in India. Turn Three here - the start of the esses - is fantastic though. It’s quicker than Becketts at Silverstone. It’s very unusual to find a section of corners like this on a modern Formula One track. I love it. Nevertheless, I don’t think overtaking is going to be easy here, because it’ll be so tricky to stay close to the car in front of you. But the circuit is great fun to drive, and I hope we can put on a great race.”

“Turn One probably looks more exciting from the outside than it does from inside the cockpit – it’s certainly not easy, though. You can get oversteer, or lock up, and it’s tricky to get a perfect line through there.

“Overall, we’ve had a good day. Our main difficulty this morning was switching on the tyres in the cooler conditions. But we’ll make some changes overnight – there are definitely some improvements we can make.”

Kamui Kobayashi, P1 - 1:41.036, 8th; P2 - 1:39.653, 9th

“The high-speed corners of the new circuit are very enjoyable, I really like driving here. The first session was about getting familiar with the track and waiting for the tarmac to improve for a better grip level. In the beginning of the second session I did a 20-lap long run on hard tyres before we then had a break due to a broken exhaust. But the mechanics fixed the car quickly and I was able to go out on medium compound tyres as well. I must say I have big warm up problems with both compounds. It just doesn’t work in qualifying if you need ten laps to get the tyres to work. We will now go and look for solutions.”

Sergio Perez, P1 - 1:41.473, 10th; P2 - 1:40.326, 14th
“We had a good day in terms of getting all the programme done without any issues. The track is amazing, and I especially like the first sector a lot. I really believe we will see a great race here and I can’t wait to race in front of so many Mexicans. Nevertheless I am not happy with the balance of my car yet, but I’m confident we will manage to improve it.”

Last modified on Saturday, 17 November 2012 07:00
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