Advantage Vettel – but Alonso still believes

2012 United States Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Circuit of the Americas, 2012Sebastian Vettel has a chance to clinch the drivers’ championship with one round to spare in the United States Grand Prix.

But Fernando Alonso, who starts seven places behind his rival, said he believes he will out-score him this weekend.

The start

The first corner at the Circuit of the Americas is already recognised as one of its most distinctive features. Wide and tight, it sits on top of one of the steepest climbs on the Formula One calendar.

And there are concerns it could be the scene of a first-lap pile-up as drivers seize their best opportunity to make up places at the start. Particularly as overtaking is expected to be difficult during this race.

But before they reach turn one another potential problem awaits half of the field: the lack of grip off-line.

Alonso originally qualified ninth and he might wish that’s where he was starting. Romain Grosjean’s penalty has elevated him to eighth, but that is on the dirtier side of the grip where little rubber has been laid so far this weekend. Even if the organisers clean the track, it could prove a significant disadvantage for the likes of him, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and others.

That is more good news for Vettel, who starts from pole position on the clean side and has a good chance of making it through turn one with being troubled by second-placed Hamilton.

Strategy

Strategic options are likely to be very limited. Pirelli expect a one-stop strategy to be the standard as tyre degradation is very low.

This will not help Alonso’s bid to gain places during the race. His best bet of coming good on his pre-race prediction of out-scoring Vettel appears to be some kind of technical problem for the Red Bull – something which has already happened during practice this weekend.

But if Vettel converts pole position into victory, Alonso must finish at least fourth or else the championship is over.

The championship

The drivers’ and constructors’ championship titles could be won by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull respectively in the race. Here’s how:

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’36.558 1’35.796 (-0.762) 1’35.657 (-0.139)
2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’37.058 1’36.795 (-0.263) 1’35.766 (-1.029)
3 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’37.215 1’36.298 (-0.917) 1’36.174 (-0.124)
4 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’38.051 1’37.404 (-0.647) 1’36.708 (-0.696)
5 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’37.927 1’37.102 (-0.825) 1’36.794 (-0.308)
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’37.667 1’36.549 (-1.118) 1’36.937 (+0.388)
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’37.756 1’37.066 (-0.690) 1’37.141 (+0.075)
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’37.968 1’37.123 (-0.845) 1’37.300 (+0.177)
9 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’37.486 1’36.906 (-0.580) 1’36.587 (-0.319)
10 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’37.537 1’37.011 (-0.526) 1’37.842 (+0.831)
11 Bruno Senna Williams 1’37.520 1’37.604 (+0.084)
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1’37.565 1’37.616 (+0.051)
13 Paul di Resta Force India 1’38.104 1’37.665 (-0.439)
14 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’38.434 1’37.879 (-0.555)
15 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’38.500 1’38.206 (-0.294)
16 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’38.418 1’38.437 (+0.019)
17 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’38.862 1’38.501 (-0.361)
18 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’39.114
19 Timo Glock Marussia 1’40.056
20 Charles Pic Marussia 1’40.664
21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’40.809
22 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’41.166
23 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’42.011
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’42.740

Ferrari tried to improve their position in Q3 by using scrubbed tyres but their qualifying result of seventh and ninth matched what they achieved in Abu Dhabi, albeit with their drivers reversed.

“A very difficult qualifying, there?s no doubt about it,” said technical director Pat Fry. “The tyre-asphalt combination created conditions that were very difficult to interpret and we probably struggled more than others.

“We even tried to make the most of [third practice] to prepare as well as possible for qualifying and now we must look at the data carefully to try and understand what didn?t work out as it should have done.”

Another team which struggled with the track conditions was Sauber. “We have lost a lot of performance compared to this morning?s practice session and at the moment we don?t really know why,” said Sergio Perez.

“The track temperature increased a lot, but for me the tyre warm up still wasn?t any better. My car tended to oversteer quite a lot in qualifying. Perhaps we did not follow the way the track conditions developed in the right direction.”

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel 25.919 (3) 38.009 (1) 31.566 (1)
Lewis Hamilton 25.818 (1) 38.026 (2) 31.873 (3)
Mark Webber 25.915 (2) 38.347 (7) 31.771 (2)
Kimi Raikkonen 26.221 (7) 38.208 (3) 32.093 (6)
Michael Schumacher 26.326 (11) 38.343 (6) 32.062 (5)
Felipe Massa 26.260 (10) 38.339 (5) 31.932 (4)
Nico Hulkenberg 26.225 (8) 38.309 (4) 32.315 (11)
Fernando Alonso 26.164 (6) 38.539 (11) 32.255 (9)
Romain Grosjean 25.976 (4) 38.411 (8) 32.156 (7)
Pastor Maldonado 26.092 (5) 38.485 (9) 32.290 (10)
Bruno Senna 26.459 (13) 38.553 (12) 32.196 (8)
Jenson Button 26.234 (9) 38.532 (10) 32.591 (13)
Paul di Resta 26.579 (16) 38.633 (13) 32.432 (12)
Jean-Eric Vergne 26.532 (14) 38.715 (14) 32.600 (14)
Sergio Perez 26.559 (15) 38.922 (17) 32.637 (15)
Kamui Kobayashi 26.428 (12) 38.747 (15) 32.819 (16)
Nico Rosberg 26.678 (18) 38.916 (16) 32.845 (17)
Daniel Ricciardo 26.625 (17) 39.308 (18) 32.960 (18)
Timo Glock 27.091 (19) 39.765 (20) 33.129 (19)
Charles Pic 27.149 (20) 39.930 (22) 33.357 (20)
Vitaly Petrov 27.397 (21) 39.701 (19) 33.688 (21)
Heikki Kovalainen 27.499 (22) 39.855 (21) 33.761 (22)
Pedro de la Rosa 27.531 (23) 40.299 (23) 34.152 (23)
Narain Karthikeyan 27.623 (24) 40.403 (24) 34.714 (24)

Lewis Hamilton was quickest through the first sector and was in with a chance of beating Vettel until the final sector: “I did two consecutive quick-laps ?ǣ and, on my second lap, having put in a ‘banker’, I didn?t really have anything to lose, so I went almost over the limit, really on the edge, but the car still seemed to handle it well.

“On the final corner, I gained a little time on the entry but lost it on the exit. I got every corner perfect, I reckon, except for that last one.”

Kimi Raikkonen was surprised to find himself fifth, which became fourth after his team mate’s penalty. “I was actually expecting a more difficult qualifying session today,” he said, “but the car was the best it?s felt all weekend so it turned out to be quite good.

“The set-up is still not exactly how I want it but it?s much closer. The warmer conditions make the car work much better and that certainly makes a difference.”

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 320.4 (199.1)
2 Sergio Perez Sauber 320.2 (199.0) -0.2
3 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 320.0 (198.8) -0.4
4 Bruno Senna Williams 319.5 (198.5) -0.9
5 Pastor Maldonado Williams 319.3 (198.4) -1.1
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 319.1 (198.3) -1.3
7 Paul di Resta Force India 318.4 (197.8) -2.0
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 318.3 (197.8) -2.1
9 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 318.2 (197.7) -2.2
10 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 317.7 (197.4) -2.7
11 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 316.8 (196.9) -3.6
12 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 316.6 (196.7) -3.8
13 Romain Grosjean Lotus 315.6 (196.1) -4.8
14 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 315.4 (196.0) -5.0
15 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 314.5 (195.4) -5.9
16 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 314.4 (195.4) -6.0
17 Jenson Button McLaren 314.3 (195.3) -6.1
18 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 314.1 (195.2) -6.3
19 Timo Glock Marussia 313.2 (194.6) -7.2
20 Charles Pic Marussia 313.1 (194.6) -7.3
21 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 312.5 (194.2) -7.9
22 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 312.3 (194.1) -8.1
23 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 308.4 (191.6) -12.0
24 Mark Webber Red Bull 308.0 (191.4) -12.4

The only consolation for Alonso is that he is significantly quicker than Vettel in a straight line – but there’s little so far to suggest he might be able to get on terms with the Red Bull in the race.

Over to you

Can Alonso stop Vettel from winning the championship in America? And how will the all-important start unfold?

Share your views on the United States Grand Prix in the comments.

2012 United States Grand Prix

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