Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor James Parker
Sebastian Vettel took his 8th pole position of the season with his last effort in qualifying for tomorrows US Grand Prix. It was only ever about which Red Bull would be claiming top spot after the hour session, with both Webber and Vettel duking it out to the Chequered flag. Ultimately, Webber had to settle for second best, whilst Grosjean once again headed the race behind the Red Bulls by claiming 3rd place on the grid for tomorrow’s race.
The hard and medium compounds were the tyres of choice by Pirelli for qualifying at The Circuit Of The Americas. Many drivers were really struggling for grip on a slippery surface affected by the very strong 6.2 m/s tail wind which proved tricky for many throughout the entire first sector.
After a strong FP3 performance, The Hulk was quick to complain on his first run in Q1, as he radioed in from the car that his brakes felt different to Free Practice earlier in the day. The team confirmed that they changed the German’s brakes, yet had not told Hulk before Qualifying had begun.
Elsewhere, his team-mate Guttierez was fairing no better on his early runs. Getting some temperature into his tyres on a warm up lap, he looked to block the Williams of Pastor Maldonado on a quick run going into the final corner – was the Sauber man to get a penalty?
With 9 minutes gone of the session, the Red Bull’s were the only cars not to have ventured out onto the circuit, showing the confidence both drivers had in the cars ability. Grosjean was keeping up his fine form since the Summer break by completing some very competitive lap times – topping the session with a 1.38.6, 1 tenth ahead of the fantastic Valterri Bottas in the Williams.
For the final runs of the session, both Ferrari’s and Hamilton were quick to switch to the medium compound tyres in search of some grip, which surely would trigger the rest of the field to follow. As we entered the final 3 minutes of Q1, the Red Bull duo of Webber and Vettel went P1 and 2, with Webber pipping Vettel on a 1.38.5. Hamilton followed soon after to bring the bar down to 1.37.9, however the show was completely stolen by Bottas who dragged his Williams up to P1 – the first time a Williams topped a session since Maldonado at Monaco in 2012.
In the bottom 6 was a frustrated Adrian Sutil, along with a bitter Pastor Maldonado and the two Marussia’s and Caterham’s bringing up the rear of the grid.
The session was a very slow starter, and only with 5 minutes gone had drivers really started to post some competitive lap times on the medium compound tyres. Hamilton topped the timesheets with a 1.38.1, followed by an on form Di Resta and Bottas once again who continued to show some great pace. The change by Williams to adjust the car back to a non Coanda set up looked to be giving the Finn the confidence he needed behind the wheel.
Perez too was quick to join the top 3 on a 1.38.1, with now 4 drivers separated by less than 1 tenth of a second. One team who were struggling over the weekend were Ferrari, and Felipe Massa had no pace throughout the entirety of qualifying. He was sat outside of the top 10 in 11th pace as the session wore on.
With 4 minutes to go, Grosjean was once again looking quick as he topped the time sheets with a 1.37.5. However as both Red Bull’s took to the track he was soon displaced at the top by Webber who went 2 tenths clear, but it was Vettel who stamped the Bull’s dominance as he overtook his team-mate to take provisional 1st place with a 1.37.0.
The huge surprise however came further down the order outside the top 10, as both Felipe Massa and the Mercedes of Rosberg were out of Qualifying, finishing 14th and 15 respectively – both drivers were really struggling with the balance of their cars in the changed conditions. Joining them was Ricciardo, Di Resta, Button and Vergne.
But the standout performer once again was Bottas, who dragged his Williams up to 4th by the end of Q2, enforcing the true pace he had during the afternoon.
Everyone in Q3 was quick to jump on to the medium compounds, Bottas however was only interested in setting sector times on his first run and swiftly came back into the pitlane. Of the 5 who were planning to run early on in the session, Webber went comfortably top with a 1.36.7 – a great lap all round, whilst Vettel was 2nd a tenth down on his team-mate.
Webber was not finished, and on his second run he moved the goalposts even further down the road with a 1.36.4. Hulkenberg once again proved his pace in the Sauber was genuine from earlier in the weekend and went 3rd with his effort – however he was quickly displaced by Grosjean who looked set to be best of the rest.
Hamilton could only manage 5th place, whilst Alonso managed to drag a horrendously bad handling Ferrari up to 6th, but it was Vettel who pulled out all the stops on his final attempt to grab pole position from under the nose of Webber. The German was 2 tenths down over the course of the lap, but had a huge final sector to go top by 1 tenth over his team-mate.
McLaren’s Perez was 7th, who was doing his job hunt for 2014 plenty of favours, whilst super sub for Kimi Raikkonen – Kovalainen was 8th, followed by a tremendous Bottas in 9th (driver of the day) and Guttierez in 10th.
The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor:
One stop is theoretically the quickest way to complete the 56-lap United States Grand Prix. The fastest strategy should be to start on the medium, change to the hard on lap 19 and then continue to the finish.
An alternative (resulting in the same overall race time) is to start on the hard tyre, change to the medium on lap 37, and then go to the finish. Some drivers may try a two-stop strategy, if they feel there is enough speed in the car to make it work. In this case, the fastest strategy is to start on the medium tyre, change to the hard tyre on lap 10, and then change to the hard again on lap 33.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.338s 2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.441s +0.103s 3. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m37.155s +0.817s 4. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.296s +0.958s 5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m37.345s +1.007s 6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.376s +1.038s 7. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m37.452s +1.114s 8. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m37.715s +1.377s 9. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m37.836s +1.498s 10. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.034s +1.696s Q2 cut-off time: 1m38.078s Gap ** 11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.131s +1.066s 12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m38.139s +1.074s 13. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.217s +1.152s 14. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.364s +1.299s 15. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m38.592s +1.527s 16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.696s +1.631s Q1 cut-off time: 1m39.094s Gap * 17. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m39.250s +1.429s 18. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m39.351s +1.530s 19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m40.491s +2.670s 20. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m40.528s +2.707s 21. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m40.596s +2.775s 22. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m41.401s +3.580s