Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus, Circuit of the Americas, 2013

Mixed grid should produce lively race – behind Vettel

2013 United States Grand Prix pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus, Circuit of the Americas, 2013Sebastian Vettel looks hard to beat as he eyes a potentially record-breaking eighth consecutive grand prix victory this weekend.

But unless something unexpected happens with his car – and Red Bull have had reliability problems this year – it’s likely most of the interest in the United States Grand Prix will be around the places behind him.

Qualifying produced a few surprises and has left some drivers in unusually high starting positions (Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas) or further down the grid than usual (Nico Rosberg), which should create plenty of intrigue during the race.

The start

Last year the lack of grip off the racing line on the grid was a major cause of concern for teams at the start. So much so that Ferrari deliberately incurred a gearbox change penalty on Felipe Massa’s car when moved Fernando Alonso forward one place and onto the clean side of the track.

The Circuit of the Americas has now benefited from 12 months’ use and the difference between the two is not expected to be as severe. Last year drivers on the odd-numbered side of the grid were mostly able to draw level with those one place ahead of them within a few hundred metres of the start.

There will still be an advantage to starting on the clean side of the grid, as Vettel acknowledged after snatching pole position. That being so, and given Mark Webber’s often-lacklustre starts, it’s hard to see anyone beating Vettel to turn one and, thereafter, the win.

However Romain Grosjean should not be discounted. Remember his fantastic getaway at Suzuka, where he leapt into the lead from fourth on the grid. He stands a decent chance of taking the fight to the Red Bulls.

Strategy

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Circuit of the Americas, 2013A single pit stop for tyres is likely to be the order of the day during the race. “Our tyre choice here is on the conservative side,” Pirelli motor sport director Paul Hembery acknowledged, which also presented problems for the drivers during qualifying, particularly when track temperatures dipped part-way through the session.

Sunday is expected to be unusually warm for this time of year in Austin, with temperatures pushing towards 30C. “I think that the sunshine predicted for tomorrow could help us to have a good race,” said Fernando Alonso, one of the drivers who judged conditions very well in qualifying, taking sixth on a day when the Ferrari F138 looked distinctly unco-operative.

“It just goes to show how much things can change with around ten degrees higher track temperature,” Alonso said. “Here we have suffered a lot in getting the tyres to work, especially in the morning sessions when the temperatures were lower.”

With just one stop for tyres likely for most drivers, making up positions will largely be a case of overtaking on the track. Last year drivers found the long sequence of corners from turn two to eleven made it hard to get close enough to another driver to launch an attack on the main straight. But the lack of grip on the track surface contributed to some good action.

As the surface is in better condition now it remains to be seen what effect that will have on the racing – as well as the addition of a second DRS zone on the pit straight.

Some drivers who were caught out by the conditions in qualifying find themselves out of position on the grid has a result. Nico Rosberg has several places to make up having been knocked out in Q2. Like Alonso he is counting on warmer weather bringing the track to him.

Finally, this is an especially important race for Heikki Kovalainen who lines up eighth on the grid as he tries to make good on his two-race run for Lotus and find a place on the grid for next year.

He knows he’s got big shoes to fill in the E21. “I?m not making any predictions, but we?ve seen that Kimi [Raikkonen] could do pretty well working forwards from similar grid positions,” he said.

Here’s all the data from qualifying for the United States Grand Prix.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’38.516 1’37.065 (-1.451) 1’36.338 (-0.727)
2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’38.161 1’37.312 (-0.849) 1’36.441 (-0.871)
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’38.676 1’37.523 (-1.153) 1’37.155 (-0.368)
4 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1’38.339 1’37.828 (-0.511) 1’37.296 (-0.532)
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’37.959 1’37.854 (-0.105) 1’37.345 (-0.509)
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’38.929 1’37.368 (-1.561) 1’37.376 (+0.008)
7 Sergio Perez McLaren 1’38.367 1’38.040 (-0.327) 1’37.452 (-0.588)
8 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1’38.375 1’38.078 (-0.297) 1’37.715 (-0.363)
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’37.821 1’37.439 (-0.382) 1’37.836 (+0.397)
10 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’38.082 1’38.031 (-0.051) 1’38.034 (+0.003)
11 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’38.882 1’38.131 (-0.751)
12 Paul di Resta Force India 1’38.894 1’38.139 (-0.755)
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1’38.588 1’38.217 (-0.371)
14 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’38.743 1’38.364 (-0.379)
15 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’39.094 1’38.592 (-0.502)
16 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’38.880 1’38.696 (-0.184)
17 Adrian Sutil Force India 1’39.250
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’39.351
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1’40.491
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’40.528
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1’40.596
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1’41.401

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel 26.241 (2) 38.573 (2) 31.524 (1)
Mark Webber 26.091 (1) 38.507 (1) 31.615 (2)
Romain Grosjean 26.427 (8) 38.874 (4) 31.854 (3)
Nico Hulkenberg 26.293 (3) 38.964 (6) 32.039 (9)
Lewis Hamilton 26.369 (7) 38.852 (3) 31.979 (6)
Fernando Alonso 26.330 (5) 38.911 (5) 32.025 (8)
Sergio Perez 26.339 (6) 39.174 (9) 31.939 (4)
Heikki Kovalainen 26.688 (15) 39.083 (8) 31.944 (5)
Valtteri Bottas 26.318 (4) 39.044 (7) 32.002 (7)
Esteban Gutierrez 26.528 (9) 39.213 (10) 32.077 (11)
Daniel Ricciardo 26.656 (14) 39.290 (13) 32.165 (12)
Paul di Resta 26.548 (10) 39.257 (12) 32.326 (14)
Jenson Button 26.711 (16) 39.426 (15) 32.074 (10)
Nico Rosberg 26.652 (13) 39.241 (11) 32.227 (13)
Felipe Massa 26.728 (17) 39.424 (14) 32.396 (15)
Jean-Eric Vergne 26.576 (11) 39.430 (16) 32.464 (16)
Adrian Sutil 26.813 (18) 39.730 (18) 32.707 (17)
Pastor Maldonado 26.640 (12) 39.704 (17) 32.755 (18)
Giedo van der Garde 27.081 (19) 40.405 (21) 32.868 (19)
Jules Bianchi 27.424 (22) 40.140 (19) 32.964 (20)
Charles Pic 27.215 (20) 40.337 (20) 33.044 (21)
Max Chilton 27.328 (21) 40.702 (22) 33.349 (22)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Paul di Resta Force India 314.3 (195.3)
2 Adrian Sutil Force India 312.6 (194.2) -1.7
3 Jenson Button McLaren 312.4 (194.1) -1.9
4 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 311.8 (193.7) -2.5
5 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 311.2 (193.4) -3.1
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 311.1 (193.3) -3.2
7 Valtteri Bottas Williams 311.1 (193.3) -3.2
8 Pastor Maldonado Williams 310.8 (193.1) -3.5
9 Sergio Perez McLaren 310.7 (193.1) -3.6
10 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 309.6 (192.4) -4.7
11 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 309.4 (192.3) -4.9
12 Felipe Massa Ferrari 308.5 (191.7) -5.8
13 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 308.4 (191.6) -5.9
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 308.3 (191.6) -6.0
15 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 308.0 (191.4) -6.3
16 Mark Webber Red Bull 307.9 (191.3) -6.4
17 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 307.9 (191.3) -6.4
18 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 306.9 (190.7) -7.4
19 Charles Pic Caterham 306.6 (190.5) -7.7
20 Romain Grosjean Lotus 306.1 (190.2) -8.2
21 Max Chilton Marussia 302.3 (187.8) -12.0
22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 302.2 (187.8) -12.1

Over to you

Can anyone keep Red Bull from another one-two? And where will Heikki Kovalainen finish on his F1 comeback?

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

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Images ?? Lotus/LAT, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo