Drivers praise COTA but race prospects aren’t good

2012 United States GP Friday practice analysis

Jenson Button, McLaren, Circuit of the Americas, 2012F1 drivers were full of praise for the new home of the United States Grand Prix after sampling it for the first time today.

But the signs aren’t great for Sunday’s race prospects with very low tyre degradation and drivers concerned about possibilities for overtaking around the Circuit of the Americas.

Drivers’ verdict on the Circuit of the Americas

Jenson Button as one of several drivers to heap praise on the track: “Turn one to turn nine is a brilliant and free-flowing section ?ǣ particularly if the car is working well.

“Turn one is a strange corner though ?ǣ with a very wide entry rather like turn three in India. Turn three here ?ǣ the start of the ‘esses’ ?ǣ 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.”

However he was sceptical the track would be easy to pass other cars on: “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.”

Michael Schumacher said the track would prove a good showcase of F1’s appeal for American fans: “The circuit will certainly help to showcase how attractive our sport can be.

“It has a very nice layout, and the good thing is that it is very challenging. Yesterday I went out to explore the track on a scooter, and it was very different from today when the low seating position of our cars compromises your vision a lot.”

There were many complaints about the lack of grip on the track when practice began but Daniel Ricciardo expects that to improve: “The new track lived up to the expectations we had before coming here, although the lack of grip spoilt it a little bit.

“But as the track rubbers-in and cleans up, I?m sure it will get even better. The grip level did improve from morning to afternoon but I?d expected a bit more. In fact I reckon next year, we could find a completely different circuit, although by this Sunday I think it will be much more fun.”

But fellow Australian Mark Webber was not quite as fulsome in praise, pointing out that after the first sector it became much like any other modern circuit: “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.”

Longest stint comparison

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint:

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2012drivercolours.csv

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
Sebastian Vettel 105.762 105.721 104.75 104.462 110.035 103.901
Mark Webber 106.991 106.472 105.112 105.399 105.658 112.531 104.787 104.406 104.417 110.592 103.967
Jenson Button 110.361 105.111 105.26 104.448 104.659 104.106 104.228
Lewis Hamilton 106.213 101.593 100.744 115.031 100.446 107.562 115.051 106.892 104.97
Fernando Alonso 105.637 104.007 99.446 106.375 99.255 109.723 98.483
Felipe Massa 103.911 102.596 100.756 102.924 100.064 108.275 101.58
Michael Schumacher 109.669 107.993 106.547 107.114 105.836 105.596 105.832
Nico Rosberg 109.084 107.615 106.823 105.383 105.59 105.853 105.431 104.95
Kimi Raikkonen 107.657 106.605 105.481 105.478 106.301 105.265
Romain Grosjean 113.023 106.063 104.972 105.024 105.044 105.897 105.264 105.576 105.157 104.188 104.622 110.777
Paul di Resta 109.178 107.729 107.259 107.352 106.866 106.341 105.946 110.204 105.53 105.387 104.922
Nico Hulkenberg 109.309 107.814 106.895 106.148 106.189 106.788 105.956 107.036 105.118 104.848 103.821
Kamui Kobayashi 111.867 107.409 105.954 115.21 106.208 108.44 105.357 105.679 105.988 106.246 105.817 107.734 104.921 104.902 104.439 104.56 104.637
Sergio Perez 102.909 101.007 101.609 109.825 104.451 100.454 106.808 100.425
Daniel Ricciardo 105.159 101.772 100.93 103.037 100.435 100.952
Jean-Eric Vergne 109.944 107.72 109.064 111.75 106.859 106.358 106.156 106.95
Pastor Maldonado 107.636 104.302 106.959 102.904 103.983 107.833 126.773 101.541 105.364 100.23
Bruno Senna 106.801 105.446 101.392 111.996 101.214 100.239 109.509 101.465 99.531
Heikki Kovalainen 110.117 108.187 108.084 108.139 109.919 108.182 107.56 109.538 107.526 108.141 110.899 108.63 107.449
Vitaly Petrov 110.542 108.223 107.493 108.508 106.928 106.645 107.172 107.029 108.323 106.638
Pedro de la Rosa 109.372 107.553 105.64 110.064 105.101 104.453
Narain Karthikeyan 108.962 108.201 111.148 107.605 110.136 106.121 106.131 105.114
Timo Glock 110.959 103.744 109.862 102.903 104.865 102.797 102.652
Charles Pic 116.335 111.012 119.059 112.596 109.249 110.5 108.469 108.039 107.82 107.683 109.886 107.489

It’s clear from looking at the stints drivers ran on Friday that the tyres are able to last a long time. Sauber’s head of track engineering Giampaolo Dall’Ara is unhappy with the choice of medium and hard tyres for this race: “The biggest challenge is to get the tyres to work, as they are definitely too hard for the circuit.”

Kamui Kobayashi said: “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.”

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said they had erred on the side of caution: “As this is a completely new circuit with a number of potentially unknown factors, we deliberately opted for a conservative tyre choice here.”

As was the case in the last two races, a single pit stop will be all that’s needed for most drivers on Sunday.

Sector times and ultimate lap times

Car Driver Car Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3 Ultimate lap Gap Deficit to best
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 26.496 (4) 38.647 (1) 32.575 (1) 1’37.718 0.000
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 26.289 (1) 39.075 (6) 32.923 (2) 1’38.287 0.569 0.188
3 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 26.433 (2) 38.973 (4) 32.981 (3) 1’38.387 0.669 0.361
4 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 26.647 (8) 38.731 (2) 33.105 (5) 1’38.483 0.765 0.000
5 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 26.645 (7) 38.824 (3) 33.083 (4) 1’38.552 0.834 0.477
6 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 26.580 (5) 38.982 (5) 33.224 (6) 1’38.786 1.068 0.000
7 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 26.588 (6) 39.222 (8) 33.638 (11) 1’39.448 1.730 0.000
8 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 26.844 (11) 39.233 (9) 33.432 (7) 1’39.509 1.791 0.144
9 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 26.902 (13) 39.136 (7) 33.493 (8) 1’39.531 1.813 0.000
10 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 26.451 (3) 39.402 (13) 33.689 (13) 1’39.542 1.824 0.744
11 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 26.873 (12) 39.340 (11) 33.589 (9) 1’39.802 2.084 0.313
12 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 26.759 (10) 39.521 (16) 33.590 (10) 1’39.870 2.152 0.360
13 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 26.724 (9) 39.470 (15) 33.805 (15) 1’39.999 2.281 0.327
14 9 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 27.068 (16) 39.351 (12) 33.747 (14) 1’40.166 2.448 0.000
15 16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 26.952 (14) 39.570 (17) 33.654 (12) 1’40.176 2.458 0.259
16 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 27.084 (17) 39.284 (10) 33.856 (16) 1’40.224 2.506 0.476
17 17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 27.006 (15) 39.449 (14) 33.999 (17) 1’40.454 2.736 0.062
18 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 27.295 (18) 39.728 (18) 34.045 (18) 1’41.068 3.350 0.362
19 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 27.577 (21) 40.420 (20) 34.302 (19) 1’42.299 4.581 0.177
20 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 27.517 (20) 40.326 (19) 34.528 (20) 1’42.371 4.653 0.281
21 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 27.507 (19) 40.490 (21) 34.666 (21) 1’42.663 4.945 0.183
22 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 27.909 (22) 40.806 (22) 34.744 (22) 1’43.459 5.741 0.079
23 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 28.060 (23) 40.940 (23) 35.393 (24) 1’44.393 6.675 0.060
24 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 28.331 (24) 41.130 (24) 35.376 (23) 1’44.837 7.119 0.277

Sebastian Vettel’s second practice run was disrupted by a water leak. However he was still able to set the quickest time by a comfortable margin.

Althought Fernando Alonso was third-fastest, Lewis Hamilton had strong sector times but didn’t pull them all together in the same lap.

Complete practice times

Pos Driver Car FP1 FP2 Total laps
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1’38.125 1’37.718 47
2 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1’40.650 1’38.475 66
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’40.337 1’38.483 64
4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1’39.543 1’38.748 59
5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1’40.528 1’38.786 61
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’40.966 1’39.029 57
7 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’41.159 1’39.448 64
8 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1’44.548 1’39.531 67
9 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1’41.036 1’39.653 64
10 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’42.588 1’40.115 55
11 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1’41.880 1’40.166 55
12 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1’42.539 1’40.230 65
13 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1’41.998 1’40.286 62
14 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1’41.473 1’40.326 64
15 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1’41.825 1’40.435 58
16 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1’41.833 1’40.516 61
17 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1’41.023 1’40.700 63
18 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1’41.783 1’41.430 64
19 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1’43.443 1’42.476 66
20 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1’44.464 1’42.652 57
21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1’43.522 1’42.846 61
22 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1’43.288 1’43.538 61
23 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1’46.917 1’44.453 29
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1’45.114 20
25 Ma Qing Hua HRT-Cosworth 1’48.559 19

Ferrari were second-quickest behind the Red Bulls, so when Sebastian Vettel referred to “a couple of surprises today in terms of pace” it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to work out who he was referring to.

“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,” was Fernando Alonso’s verdict on the day’s running.

“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.”

Speed trap

# Driver Car Engine Max speed (kph) Gap
1 15 Sergio Perez Sauber Ferrari 322.4
2 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber Ferrari 322.1 0.3
3 17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso Ferrari 320.5 1.9
4 16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso Ferrari 320.3 2.1
5 11 Paul di Resta Force India Mercedes 318.7 3.7
6 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes Mercedes 318 4.4
7 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes 317.9 4.5
8 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari Ferrari 316.7 5.7
9 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari 316.6 5.8
10 9 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus Renault 315.6 6.8
11 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams Renault 315.6 6.8
12 19 Bruno Senna Williams Renault 315.4 7
13 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault 315.3 7.1
14 3 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 315 7.4
15 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren Mercedes 314.3 8.1
16 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT Cosworth 314.1 8.3
17 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 314 8.4
18 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT Cosworth 313.7 8.7
19 25 Charles Pic Marussia Cosworth 313 9.4
20 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham Renault 312.6 9.8
21 24 Timo Glock Marussia Cosworth 312.5 9.9
22 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham Renault 312.4 10
23 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault 308.3 14.1
24 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Renault 308 14.4

The Red Bulls are rooted to the bottom of the speed traps by a clear 4kph. But if they’re going to annex the front row and scamper off into the lead through COTA’s twisty first sector, it won’t matter.

2012 United States Grand Prix

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35 comments on Drivers praise COTA but race prospects aren’t good

  1. George (@george) said on 17th November 2012, 0:51

    Hm, maybe that Vet-Ham-Alo podium will happen tomorrow?

  2. HoHum (@hohum) said on 17th November 2012, 0:57

    I’m sure that Seb will romp of into the distance even if Mark surprises again with another pole so I guess it makes sense at this stage for both cars to be putting their eggs in the “high downforce/low speed” basket, but with Marks famously slow starts ( when it happens to Lewis it is a McLaren fault, but at RBR it is Marks fault ) I wonder if the alternate strategy used so effectively by Seb might not be a good idea.

  3. OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 17th November 2012, 1:00

    Vettel can win if he keeps that pace, but I imagine RB are exhaustively checking that water leak, the fuel robot, the alternator, the DDRS and the Coanda exhaust

  4. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate) said on 17th November 2012, 1:28

    Hmm. Looks like Pirelli missed the mark.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th November 2012, 2:05

      @braketurnaccelerate I think we should let them off the hook for this one. Better an underwhelming race (if that is what we get) than a repeat of the 2005 race.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 17th November 2012, 3:23

        @keithcollantine Regardless of the unknown conditions, I get the feeling that Pirelli are being conservative because they don’t want to be the ones “giving” the title to a team/driver because of their tyre choices.

        They rather be conservative and “watch it happen”.

        • Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 17th November 2012, 3:36

          I’ve never thought about that element, but I fear there might be some truth to it.
          It was fine to do as they pleased in 2011 – the championship was never really in doubt – but if say Ferrari got a huge advantage from a certain set of tyres then there would be a massive controversy! Better for Pirelli’s sake to err on the side of caution.

      • Todd (@braketurnaccelerate) said on 17th November 2012, 3:32

        @keithcollantine – Fair enough. Though I’m sure there was plenty of time for them to ship Alguersuari and their Renault R30 over to get some feel for the track. Heck, there hadn’t been a race car to complete a full circuit before they declared the Hard/Medium combo. I think they were predicting Texas to be much much hotter than it was for some reason. Looking at past weather the average high temps in Austin are around 75-65ºF (24-18ºC) for the month of November, exactly what it is now.

  5. Aldoid said on 17th November 2012, 1:36

    Such a shame that a conservative tire choice by Pirelli might spoil what could be a really great race. It’s too early to pass full judgement, but the tires definitely don’t suit the circuit.

    • roger_e said on 17th November 2012, 1:44

      i think pirelli have done the right thing.

      cars had little grip through fp1/fp2 & it was a joy to watch drivers really having to drive the cars again, fighting for grip & sliding around everywhere. was the best, most enjoyable session i’ve seen for years :)

      the soft/high wear tyres have given the drivers far too much grip for far too long, the hard compounds giving less grip is just what we need as its exactly what drivers often had to deal with right up until the early 90s when refueling saw compounds start to get a lot softer.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 17th November 2012, 16:58

      In all fairness, Pirelli didn’t have much of a choice.

  6. Dizzy said on 17th November 2012, 1:40

    To me the recent comments from drivers talking about not been able to follow a car ahead shows how utterly ridiculous DRS & high-Deg tyres are.
    Both may produce passing/unpredictability in certain situations, However neither does anything to actually improve the racing.

    They are both just masking the initial problem & as long as there still been relied upon to ‘artificially spice up the show’ the underlying problems that actually harm the racing are never going to be solved.

    I know the phrase ‘Ban DRS, bring proper tyres’ usually gets replys like ‘There will then be no passing’, However I think that would actually be the best thing for F1 as it would once again put full emphasis on whats causing the problems & the teams/FIA would then be forced to actually do something about them rather than just applying the DRS/Pirelli Band-aid.

    Don’t forget that Pre DRS/Pirelli the talk was all about changing the cars/tracks, Tracks like Abu-Dhabi spoke of alterations to improve racing & the teams were planning a less aero/limited ground effects formula for 2014 (Something used in other open wheel series such as Indycar).
    DRS was originally only a temporary stop-gap to get us to 2014 when it would go & the new regs would take over, However now teams have dropped the 2014 reg changes because they believe DRS/Pirelli’s are a cheaper & easier to implement solution way of ‘artificially spicing up the show’.

    If they really want to improve the racing & provide a good quality of racing on every track they need to go back to the original plan, DRS & high-deg tyres a temporary stop-gap solution with real changes/improvements to cars/some circuits on the way. Stick with DRS/Pirelli & your always going to have this problems of cars been too aero dependant, been unable to follow one another & the quality of racing will never improve.

  7. Gridl0k said on 17th November 2012, 2:07

    I can’t imagine why Pirelli decided to be conservative with the tyres, what’s the worst that could happen at a US GP if they brought softer ones? :D

    • Somebody always asks the question you ask and another replies with Indy 2005. Well the circuit has high degradation but it’s nowhere near the amount they faced at Indy 2005, which was a one-off. I wish they would have brought Soft-Medium or Soft-Hard to the circuit to at least bring some variety to the strategy. Plus, wouldn’t faster degrading tires rubber in faster?

  8. Eggry (@eggry) said on 17th November 2012, 3:20

    Since Vettel showed great race pace and top speed in Abu Dhabi, I expected Red Bull might more focus on top speed than pure downforce. However it seems that’s not the case.

  9. Neel Jani (@neelv27) said on 17th November 2012, 7:57

    Here’s Pirelli’s answer. They didn’t wanted the tires to decide the title.

    http://en.espnf1.com/usa/motorsport/story/95120.html

    • But isn’t that exactly what they are doing now? If they have consistently selected matching tires throughout the season, any change from that path will change the path of the championship.

      • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 17th November 2012, 17:00

        @poul No. Their choices will always affect the outcome but what they’re doing now is minimising the amount of variables their tyres will impose.

        • Thanks, I understand the idea but I just disagree with the premise:
          When the first 18 races has a certain reasoning for tire selections it is not affecting the championship but part of its foundation. But when you alter that reasoning because of the championship you end up affecting it.

          Of course they are also scared of any kind of US tire disaster but the result may be that the race itself will be so dull that it’s a disaster anyway.

        • I am sorry to say that qualifying only proved my point. The result of “avoiding to affect the championship” is that we are stuck with tires that Alonso just cannot switch on! A fundamentally wrong decision to deviate from the usual praxis. Sad really.

  10. Well whatever we say, the fact remains Seb has got the title in bag..the car is too damn fast….

  11. JamieFranklinF1 (@jamiefranklinf1) said on 17th November 2012, 11:25

    Unless Vettel has more problems, ala Abu Dhabi, then I think it’s going to be very difficult for Alonso to really close the gap. He might be able to keep the Championship alive until Brazil, but by then I expect it to be all but over.

    I blame Grosjean :P

  12. ME4ME (@me4me) said on 17th November 2012, 11:38

    Hm, really hard to make any sense of the long-stint pace. Both the Ferrari’s and Hamilton are very quick, but not very consistent. Vettel, Webber and Button on the other hand seem more consistent, and about equal on pace. Redbull and Mclaren usually run very heavy on fuel, while Ferrari and Lotus do not. This seems to suggest Hamilton could be the fastest on race day, if he can get the consistency right (could’ve been traffic, not sure..). This could be the first Vettel-Hamilton-Alonso (whichever order) result ever. Really looking forward to the race :)

    • stirper said on 17th November 2012, 14:20

      “Redbull and Mclaren usually run very heavy on fuel, while Ferrari and Lotus do not”

      Well in race they all have the same fuel. In practice how do you know who had more or less???

  13. Sir JYS said on 17th November 2012, 19:20

    Hey, simplify the aero. Prescribe maximum span, chord, and breadth for front and rear wings. Keep the small rear wing. Make the front wing span smaller and simplify it – a single airfoil with no winglets or other elements. Ban diffusers altogether. It will slow the cars down considerably in corners, make them faster on the straights, and re-remphasize horsepower, braking, tires, suspension, and above all drivers’ skills. And send Adrian Newey off into retirement with a great big golden parachute along with full legal assurance, including deposition of his grandchildren in FIA’s HQ as hostages, that he will never, ever design a race car again. : )

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