It was another foggy start to the day, and this time around there was mugginess to contend with in the form of 92 percent humidity. That meant the track was slippery; garages adjusted (the Williams F1 team posted pictures of putting on the medium Perelli tires for Bottas and Maldonado). It seemed as though almost every car took a slide off the track at some point during Practice 3. Vettel, who has the F1 Driver Championship all locked up, wasn’t fazed by the conditions and posted the fastest Practice 3 time (1:36.733), which was quicker than both of his previous practices.
Slip Slidin’ Away. Many of the drivers didn’t fare quite so well. Heikii Kovalainen, Lotus’ new driver, started out well in fifth at the end of P2. Nick Chester, engineering director at Lotus F1, remarked yesterday, ”We feel he’s done a brilliant job today, particularly with all the procedures and getting used to driving a new car. We felt it might take a little bit of time. But actually straight away in P1, he was already looking after the car very well.” Kovalainen joined Lotus for these last two races after driver Kimi Raikkonen had back surgery in France last week; the Lotus car is sporting a “#GetWellSoonKimi” message. Raikkonen is moving to Ferrari next season—the team had invited the legendary Michael Schumacher to drive the final circuits but he declined, and Kovalainen stepped in. In an interview with Fox Sports yesterday, Kovalainen said there’d been a bit of adjustment to the Lotus steering wheel (“I was pressing the wrong buttons quite a few times today”) and the team was putting together a new seat for him in time for P3. Perhaps the added time was due to caution.
Qualifying Sessions. The sliding around continued in Qualifying 1, with drivers Guiterrez, Pic, Hamilton, Maldonado, Chilton, and Sutil all off the track at various points. Maldonado (Williams F1) was involved in two incidents that were to be investigated after the qualifying session; the first was with Gutierrez (Sauber) and the second involving Chilton (Maurussia), both at Turn 20. Maldonado did not have a fastest time for Q2. The way it works: in Q1, all of the cars race together for 20 minutes; the slowest seven are given starting grid positions 16-20 and don’t go on to Q2.
Q2 starts over with the 15 fastest from Q1; the five slowest cars are eliminated after that round, earning positions 11-15. In Q3, the last ten cars duke it out to determine the pole position (#1) and to stay in a top ten starting spot. The top ten for Q3 were Weber, Perez, Kovalainen, Grosjean, Bottas, Vettel Hamiliton, Hulkenberg, and Gutierrez. Vettel managed to squeak by Webber (1:36.388 to 1:36.441) to secure the pole position, continuing the back-and-forth battling of the two Red Bull drivers. In third was Romain Grosjean (Lotus). A complete list of the qualifying session times and resulting starting positions for tomorrow’s United States Grand Prix can be found at the official F1 site.
A New F1 Record? If Vettel continues his dominating trend, he will score his eighth consecutive win in the 2013 season and the 44th victory of his career. He’s now passed Michael Schumacher’s record (set in 2004 with seven consecutives wins) and, with 11 wins in this season, is set to equal Schumacher’s record of 13—he’d have to win here in Austin and then again at the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 24. Vettel was heard over the team radio exclaiming, “Shake and bake, baby!” as he finished his last lap; he explained that his engineer started using the line from the 2006 comedy “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby” because it “just seemed right.”
Playing the Role of Spoiler Will Vettel see those records or will teammate Mark Webber pull a fast one? It looked like Webber had the pole position secured today; he’s been racing well and had held the pole position for Abu Dhabi and the Japanese Grand Prix in October. Webber is retiring at the end of this season; he denied any regrets about the decision, saying that he’s “not having any second thoughts” though it is “frustrating to not get pole.” He likes COTA: “It’s a pretty nice circuit with fast sections at the start,” though he felt that he didn’t get what he wanted at Turns 19 and 20 today. “I’m here to push the boundaries,” he said. And he could very well—there’s bad blood between the two Red Bull teammates; Vettel snatched a 2013 win from Webber at the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang after being instructed by the team to hold behind. He said that win was “payback” for Webber doing the very same to him two years ago in the British Grand Prix.
And don’t forget that, at the inaugural 2012 American Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) snatched victory from Vettel in lap 43. That was a picture-perfect day, and tomorrow could be a stunner as well; the forecast calls for morning clouds and a high of 86 degrees F, with low winds, high humidity, and a 10 percent chance of rain. Will it be a perfect day for an upset or an outstanding day for records? Either way, it will be exciting!