The pre-race expectation and early practice form came to be in this morning’s qualifying at the 2012 United States Grand Prix. Which means Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) has claimed yet another pole position, the 36th of his career.
Yet, the margin of Vettel’s pole was not expected. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren, 1:35.766) got within a tenth of Vettel’s best time (1:35.657), to claim P2. From there it was a further four tenths back to Mark Webber (Red Bull, 1:36.174).
Conventional wisdom says Webber may have a slight advantage from P3 over Hamilton when the lights go out, due to the lack of off-line grip at the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin. But we all know that nothing conventional usually happens with Mark Webber’s starts; unfortunately his good getaways are the exception, rather than the rule.
Romain Grosjean (Lotus) again showed he has great potential by qualifying in P4 (1:36.587), but a gearbox change before qualifying means he will start the race from P9. His teammate, and most recent race winner, Kimi Raikkonen (1:36.708) will benefit, moving up to P4. Here he will find himself alongside fading great Michael Schumacher (Mercedes, 1:36.794).
For the championship battle, the big news is that Fernando Alonso (1:37.300) was out-qualified by his Ferrari teammate, Felipe Massa (1:36.937). After the Grosjean grid reshuffle Massa will start from P6, alongside Nico Hulkenberg (Force India, 1:37.141). While Alonso may be afraid to see himself in P8, alongside Grosjean.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso) will be disappointed with his failure to progress from Q1, managing only enough for P18. Daniel may have grounds to feel unfairly affected by a late yellow flag caused by HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan, although he also complained about a lack of tyre performance afterwards. Ricciardo’s plight was compounded by teammate Jean-Eric Vergne making it into Q2 and he will start four places ahead in P14.
So far the consensus seems to be the new track in Austin is a winner. And while most people think the spectacular climb and wide entry into turn 1 should result in a trouble-free start to the race we have a sneaking suspicion the first corner of lap 1 could be a talking point for a while to come.
Due to the time difference between Australia and the US, you’ll need to tune into watch the race bright and early at 6am (AEDST) on Monday morning. With both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships able to be won by Vettel and Red Bull make sure your alarm is set.
[Pics: Red Bull/Getty Images & Vodafone McLaren Mercedes]
United States GP – Conference 3
1 – Sebastian VETTEL (Red Bull Racing)
2 – Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren)
3 – Mark WEBBER (Red Bull Racing)
Congratulations Sebastian, brand new circuit, you lost 55 minutes yesterday, and yet you absolutely nailed it today.
Sebastian VETTEL: Yeah, I’m very, very pleased with the result obviously. We started off on the right foot I think yesterday. The first practice was very good for us. It was extremely slippery to be honest to start with. Obviously the circuit is brand new, the asphalt is brand new and it takes a while for the track to come in but it’s also quite a lot fun to slide around a couple of corners and it just got better throughout. I think you can see the lap times just got quicker. Through qualifying I think we were very happy. In the last section I would have loved to go a little bit quicker. I think I lost a little bit in the first and the last sector. It was a little bit closer than I wanted with Lewis. But overall, fantastic. Obviously, it’s very important here to start from the front. We start on the clean side, both of us, so yeah, should be a good race tomorrow.
And your championship rival, down in the ninth place, will probably start eighth. What are your feelings about that?
SV: Yeah, I mean, not much to feel. Obviously we have to look after ourselves and as I said I’m very happy. We had a smooth session, no issues. As you touched on, yesterday afternoon was not ideal, we lost a little bit of time. These things can happen and they might happen again. So you never know and therefore it’s the best strategy to keep your down and try to get the best, which I think was the target in qualifying. As I said I’m very happy with the result but so far nobody has scored any points. I think we have seen at the last race how quickly things can change and even starting at the back does give you opportunities, so we need to wait and see. But for us we focus on our race and tomorrow we have the chance to seal the Constructors’ Championship for the team so that’s what Mark and I will probably be looking out for.
Lewis, a tremendous lap – so, so close. But what about this first corner tomorrow? You’re going to be starting alongside Sebastian, going up the hill into that first corner.
Lewis HAMILTON: I’m not really concerned about the first corner, I’m more concerned about the dirty side of the grid. I did a launch from it earlier on in P3 and it was quite slippery. No, hopefully tomorrow is just about getting a good start. It’s so wide in Turn One, I don’t think really much can go wrong there generally… I might be wrong. But obviously I don’t want to get in the way of Sebastian’s race. However, I do want to win, so I’ll try my best to get through cleanly.
Third on the grid for you Mark Webber. At least you’ll start on the clean side behind your team-mate. What are your hopes for tomorrow?
Mark WEBBER: I’m pretty happy with qualifying actually. It’s a very tricky venue in terms of tyres, circuit conditions, all those type of things together Seb touched on. It’s easy to be out of the window here and not be super competitive if you don’t get everything together. I was pretty happy with the last part of Q3. We had to manage a little problem in the car, which in the end I don’t think would have costs us a position because the guys obviously were pretty quick and both did very strong lap times. But I’d have liked to have had a little bit more pace but overall I’m happy to the third on the grid. As you say it’s certainly up there towards the front and we can have a very, very strong grand prix from there. So, it’s a great job from the team. I think Constructors’-wise we’ve got our eye firmly on that tomorrow, to try and put that to bed and that’ll be a huge result for everyone at Milton Keynes and at Renault.
Sebastian, we haven’t really seen you going off at Turn 19. Have you been off there?
How have you been treating it? What is it about Turn 19 that’s so difficult and how have you been treating it?
SV: Obviously I tried to stay on the track – it’s faster – but it’s extremely difficult because obviously you want to carry as much speed as possible into the corner and ideally be as early and aggressive on power as you can. The difficultly, first of all, is that the apex is quite difficult to see, so it’s rather easy to overshoot, and then if you are not on the perfect line, there’s less grip, you lose the car or if you’re a little bit too keen, a little bit too quick on the way in, you tend to lose the rear quite aggressively, and then you have to catch the car in order not to spin. But staying on the track then is quite difficult. I think there are a couple of corners like that on the track. Obviously I think for all of us it was quite a surprise yesterday to start on this track, and it was very, very slippery. It was like driving on ice – and I think the first run would have been quicker on Intermediate tyres, so obviously the asphalt was pretty fresh for all of us. It took a while to come in but I think you see the lap times now just getting quicker and quicker, so the circuit is ramping-up massively.
You lost that 55 minutes yesterday, has that affected more your race preparations than your qualifying preparations?
SV: No, not really, because we were still able to get a decent run on lower fuel and one on high fuelling yesterday afternoon. The boys did a good job to get the car ready in time, just to have enough for two runs, as I said, a short run and a long run, so that was very important, otherwise you are a little bit… not in the dark because Mark had a solid P2, free practice two, but obviously you don’t, you can’t tick all the boxes you would like for Sunday. But that wasn’t the case: if anything I think we missed a little bit out on the short runs where we would have loved to try a couple of things in order to make the car go quicker in qualifying – but I think we can say we were quite competitive and very happy with the result today.
Lewis, tell us about the lap, because it was so close, it was getting very close to Sebastian’s.
LH: It was. I was very, very happy with my lap. I saw in Q2 that they were obviously massively quick, I think it was a second or something like that, nine-tenths. I didn’t know where I was going to find that, so I thought that the Red Bulls would be in the lead – but I just went into Q3 and pushed as hard as I could, went in really hard and just gave absolutely everything. I seemed to find a little bit more time at the last sector, on the actual lap that I did, it was two laps consecutive. Surprisingly, the second lap was even quicker, even though I’d already just done a fast lap. And on that lap, just I think way on the limit everywhere. A couple of oversteer moments; I think I lost about a tenth at the last corner. The thing is I gained it on the way in and lost it on the exit. That’s how racing is – but still really happy to be where…
What about the race tomorrow? You were very competitive obviously in qualifying but what about in the race itself?
LH: That side I don’t really know. We did a couple of laps on the longer run. Looking after tyres is going to be quite difficult tomorrow. Obviously it’s quite a demanding circuit for tyres with the overheating of the surface of the tyres so I don’t know. I hope I can get away well. I hope… going to ask Charlie to clean that side of the grid so the people on that side get an equal start and hope that I can fight Sebastian down to Turn One. After that it’s a difficult circuit to follow, I think, because it’s so fast. Position will be everything.
Mark, obviously, as you say, your thoughts are on Red Bull Racing’s Constructors’ Championship but would you be happy with third?
MW: In the race tomorrow? No. I think we for sure want to move forward. You never know how tomorrow will unfold. Clearly we’ve put ourselves in a good position to capitalise on a very, strong clean grand prix from myself. If there’s any issues in front at any stage, you’re there to grab that. I had a pretty good feeling with the car on the long run on Friday actually, so that’s good for us. We’ll just have a good sleep tonight and have our head down for tomorrow.
And is the strategy, the tyre strategy fairly straightforward?
MW: Reasonably, yes, I would say. But there’s a few things that we need to understand during the race tomorrow to see if it is as straightforward as we think.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Thomas Richtr – Nova TV) One is the easiest for overtaking, ten is the most difficult: how do you rate your chances on this track for tomorrow?
SV: I think we will find out tomorrow! It’s always difficult because we haven’t been here before. If you remember, we went to Abu Dhabi and we thought it was going to be quite easy the first time and it proved wrong. Obviously the last couple of years it has got more exciting, more overtaking. I think it’s possible here. Probably the best place is where the DRS zone is, down to turn 12 but there’s a couple of other places as well.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto, Motor und Sport) Sebastian, the team of your main competitor started the whole qualifying on scrubbed tyres. Did you ever think about it? It seems to be a mistake if you look at the result.
SV: I don’t know. I haven’t obviously seen… yeah I have seen the rough result. I know that we are here, so I know the top three but obviously I don’t know what was going on for the people behind and what they were doing in terms of tyre strategy. I think the fact that here warm-up is not as straightforward as it usually is made it a bit more difficult for us in terms of first of all getting the lap, finding the lap, the peak performance of the tyre and also it’s the same for everyone and then it’s usually a bit busy around the track, so I think in terms of traffic it was a bit worse in Q3 than it usually is but I think for us it was pretty straightforward what we wanted to do and what we did, I think you can see.
Q: (Kate Walker – Girl Racer) Question for Seb and Mark: I understand that this is the first weekend or the first race where you are using the new alternators in the race. Do either of you have any reliability concerns?
MW: Good journalism. It’s good that you know more than me. I trust the guys, they do whatever they can to make sure that we have the best possibility to have the smoothest Sunday afternoon, irrespective of what parts are on the car, in what area of the car. So I have one hundred per cent trust in them that they’re going to do what they can to get us home and they’ve obviously selected those alternators for a reason and put their best foot forward.