The weekend is here, and boy do we wish we were in Austin for the second running of the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas. Qualifying is set to start in two hours but lets recap Friday’s practice and some of the events of this ever evolving silly season.
FP1 was delayed for thirty minutes due to fog (I know, weird – in Texas), and then subsequently red flagged due to the lack of a medical helicopter. Apparently circuit officials didn’t realize it had left, also odd. But that didn’t stop some promising rookies from taking to the track and hammering away for the remainder of the session. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat drove FP1 and was lapping just .2 seconds behind Daniel Ricciardo, the man he’ll be replacing. At Caterham, American Alexander Rossi performed well, outpacing Charles Pic by nearly a second per lap.
Earlier this week Kimi Raikkonen announced he would not return for the final two races in Texas and Brazil, so Lotus scrambled to find a substitute for the Finn. Davide Valsecchi, Lotus’ reserve driver, arguably should have received the drive (as it is literally in his job description), but was snubbed for Caterham reserve driver, Heikki Kovalainen. This incident has cast a pretty dark shadow over Lotus upper management, but you wouldn’t know it by the track performance on Friday. Kovalainen adjusted to the E21 chassis in FP1, but outpaced Romain Grosjean to a fifth fastest time in FP2. Wonder if this weekends performance could vault the Finn back into a permanent F1 seat?….
Felipe Massa knows something about that, as he’s been fighting for a seat in the sport for the past few weekends since Raikkonen was rehired by Ferrari for 2014. Williams announced they will take Massa and current driver Valterri Bottas for 2014, dropping Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado. In another rather strange and unexpected move, McLaren has opted to drop Sergio Perez for 2014, and instead hire Kevin Magnussen. Wait you haven’t heard of Magnussen? You know, the winner of Formula Renault 3.5 this year. Yeah, we didn’t either. This controversial decision will leave Perez without a seat, unless he’s picked up by Lotus, or perhaps the duo of Caterham and Marussia. Either way, he’ll be fighting with Maldonado and anyone else who finds themselves sacked in the next two weeks.
Qualifying today should be interesting. The track seems to still be quite fresh in its only second year of running, so expect to see lots of cars running wide and locking up the fronts. If we go by FP2, the Red Bulls once again look unbeatable as they topped the charts. Mercedes has rebounded slightly. Nico Rosberg feels confident in his car’s balance, and Lewis Hamilton starts out with a brand new chassis for the last two races. His impressions are good; following a few miserable performances and having complained about terrible handling in his Merc, the mechanics tore it all down and discovered carbon cracks which compromised the chassis. Let’s see if King Lewis has what it takes to defend his run of two US GP titles…
Surprise! Sebastian Vettel has won again. Can you believe it?! Well, yes. Vettel ties Michael Schumacher with a record of 7 grand prix victories in a row, and if winning the championship a fourth straight time last week wasn’t enough, this feat should surely cement Vettel as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time.
With Mark Webber on pole, things looked good for the Aussie to nab his 10th career win, but Vettel and Nico Rosberg quickly stymied that thought. Webber’s start was average, but Rosberg quickly shot up alongside Vettel and pushed the #2 Red Bull to third. Kimi Raikkonen had been DQ’ed from yesterday’s qualifying session due to a floppy floorboard (say that 10 times Kimi) and was forced to start behind Jules Bianchi at the end of the grid. By Turn 1 he had disposed of Max Chilton and Bianchi, but was properly offed when Charles Pic turned into him and broke the Lotus‘ steering. Webber finished second, with Rosberg third and making a case for himself as the superstar that Mercedes desire.
Typical Vettel clinic by the end of lap 1; he worked out his 2-second lead and would hold it for the remainder of the race. On lap 14 he dove into the pits in front of Felipe Massa by 26 seconds, then reemerged still infront of the Brazilian. Massa looked compelling at the halfway point as he lead Fernando Alonso, but a slow pit stop onto the wrong compound would push Massa down to 8th place. Alonso nearly batted off Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso at the pit outlet which caused some scrutiny by FIA officials. The frenchman pushed over on the racing line, leaving a faster (but not by much) Ferrari with no where to go but off the track. Alonso would finish fifth, behind a very impressive Romain Grosjean.
The rest of the top 10 featured a few unfamiliar faces. Force India made a big turnaround today after getting both drivers into the points. Paul di Resta drove confidently on a forgiving set of Pirelli’s to 6th position, Adrian Sutil on a similar run to 10th. Sergio Perez snuck his McLaren into 9th, but was nearly creamed into the pitlane wall by Sauber. The young ace Nico Hulkenberg was released right infront of Perez, but was later rewarded a drive through penalty for the incident. This marks the first unimpressive drive from Hulkenberg since Sauber reconfigured their wing setup.
Speaking of unimpressive drives, Lewis Hamilton pulled his Mercedes into 7th position, having floundered for much of the race. The car had seen quite a few repairs done since yesterday’s incident at the end of qualifying. Turns out the rear wishbone broke which lead to Mercedes replacing the entire rear suspension… and subsequently the brake discs, calipers and pads all around. Not enough to get HAM up to his teammate on the podium.
So in two weeks F1 comes State-side once again. Wish I could be there at the Circuit of the Americas to watch, but for once I’ll get to sleep in on a Sunday morning. Cheers.
Forget 2012’s championship three-peat, on Sunday at the Buddh International Circuit, Sebastian Vettel won six races in a row to claims his fourth Championship title for Red Bull. His win also cements another consecutive constructors championship for the Milton Keynes team. The enormity of this win is unbelievable. Vettel sits fourth in number of total race wins behind absolute legends of the sport, Ayrton Senna with 41, Alain Prost with 51, and Michael Schumacher with 91. With three races left in the season, hats off to Vettel and Red Bull for performing absolute dominance.
It was good racing all around especially with the guys rounding off the podium. Nico Rosberg finished second to add to the Mercedes points haul in the constructors championship (now leading Ferrari by 4) and a surprising third place finish, Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman fought his way up from P17 at the start to land his Lotus on the podium, and near the end engaged teammate Kimi Raikkonen in a wheel-to-wheel fight which saw Grosjean leave the track altogether. Back to Mercedes, Rosberg continues to be better on his tires than teammate Lewis Hamilton… more on him later.
The man expected to finish on podium, Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber, had yet another heartbreaking incident which ended his race prematurely. On Lap 20, Webber was ordered to pull off track and stop due to an alternator failure. The dismay in his voice was evident as he pulled into the runoff area, a sight so frequent in the last few races of the year. Aside from a rocky start, Webber was on track to take the fight to Vettel due to a different tire strategy. Webber, slow off the line, made contact with the cascade elements on the front of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and jostled into Raikkonen before Turn 2. This caused Alonso to pit prematurely for new tires and front wing damage; he never recovered and finished just out of the points in 11th.
Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa finally converted his good P5 starting position into a positive fourth place finish. Massa monopolized after the start to claim second position behind Vettel, and then fought his way back up against the pair of Lotuses on lap 58, excecuting a thrilling three-abreast pass with Grosjean over Raikkonen. Following right behind was a knife’s-edge drive by McLaren youngster, Sergio Perez in fifth position, for his best finish of the year thus far. Perez wrung out every last ounce of performance from his car, and made some spectacular moves late in the race over Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton. On clapped-out tires, both Raikkonen and Hamilton were sitting ducks as they were passed easily in the closing laps.
Closing out the top 10 were Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil for Force India, followed by Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso. Sutil had been holding 4th position for most of the race after going a tremendous 41 laps without stopping. Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg retired in the closing laps, resulting in his startling absence from the points this weekend. Hulkenberg has amassed four top 10 finishes since Italy.
We have but one week ’til the next race in Abu Dhabi. How will things shape up now that Vettel has secured his 4th World Title? He has the opportunity to make his current 6-win streak into a 9-win obliteration of the 2013 season. Does Red Bull have what it takes to get him there? Obviously not if you’re Mark Webber… Stay tuned, I’m sure we’ll hear some more evolution in that story in the days to come.