Sebastian Vettel continued his domination over his rivals on the Circuit of The Americas by placing his Red Bull-Renault on top of the speed charts in Austin, Texas. Lewis Hamilton gave it all he had in his McLaren-Mercedes on his final flying lap but came up short by one-tenth of a second.
After landing his sixth pole of the 2012 season, the defending world champion said, “I lost a little bit in the last sector but I am very happy. It’s good to start from pole and be on the clean side of the grid. We can be happy with the result and look forward to tomorrow.”
Alonso commented: “We never managed to put together the best lap, which on these tyres and with these track conditions is always the last one you do. We knew it would be a complicated weekend but clearly today we were too slow and we will start from too far back.”
Vettel already held the fastest lap time but he did not rest, and pushed on his final lap in Qualifying 3 to nail down a hot lap at 1m35.657s. Still on their final lap were Mark Webber (Red Bull) and Hamilton. While the fans held their breaths – and no doubt so did Vettel – Webber came across short of knocking off his teammate.
Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal: “A very strong qualifying for the team and it’s great to get the first pole at the Circuit of The Americas in Texas. Sebastian has been quickest in every session of the weekend so far and converted it into an excellent pole position.”
I went almost over the limit, really on the edge.
Hamilton was setting fast sector times. The Briton gave it all he had but came up short for the pole with a time of 1m35.766s, moving Webber in the blink of an eye to third.
“I came here this weekend to push almost beyond the limit - and that approach seemed to work in qualifying. I gave it everything. I did two consecutive quick-laps - 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,” said Hamilton.
For the final qualifying round with all times reset to zero for the pole position challenge and the top 10 grid slots were Vettel, Webber, Felipe Massa, Hamilton, Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg, Michael Schumacher, Alonso, and Kimi Raikkonen.
“The field wasn’t that settled today during qualifying, but it’s a tricky venue on tyres and that was the theme of the day. I’m happy to be third. The strategy for tomorrow looks reasonably straightforward, but it’s the first time we will have raced here, so we need to stay on our toes and be flexible if needed,” Webber said.
Lotus-Renault’s Grosjean knew that he had to put in a stunning performance due to having a five-place grid penalty prior to qualifying. Near the end of the practice 3 this morning the gearbox failed which meant the team had to change it which per the rules governing Formula One, the team received the penalty. Grosjean was hot, and laid down a 1m36.587 which was good enough for fourth but he ends up in the ninth starting position.
The drivers who gained an extra advantage with a higher grid position, besides the aforementioned Alonso, included Grosjean’s teammate Raikkonen whose best lap time was 1m36.708s. “I was actually expecting a more difficult qualifying session today, but the car was the best its 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,” Raikkonen said.
Moving up to fifth with a best lap of 1m36.794s is Schumacher who will close out his final season in Sao Paulo, Brazil. For now the Mercedes driver aims for a great result in tomorrow’s grand prix. The seven times champion said, “I had a good lap in Q3 and everything felt right with the car so we were able to maximize the potential. It will make a big difference here whether you start from the clean or dirty side of the grid, so gaining an extra place due to Grosjean's penalty was a nice surprise.”
Sixth ended up in the lap of Massa who has found a spark of life again after renewing with Ferrari for next year. The Brazilian best was a 1m36.937s and he commented: “This qualifying was pretty much a lottery: the lucky number is always the last one! It will definitely not be an easy race for us, given the grid positions of our main rivals, but we must stay focused. Starting from the dirty side of the track is definitely not helpful: it’s the first time we’re not happy about gaining a grid position!”
With Alonso in eighth, thanks to Grosjean having a gearbox change, the only top ten driver that did not benefit remains tenth on Sunday’s grid. Williams-Renault driver Maldonado was able to squeeze out a 1m37.842s in the final qualifying round.
Maldonado commented, “The performance wasn’t there yesterday so today was much better for us. All around the track are Venezuelan flags and there is a lot of support here for me as it’s so close to my home, so hopefully that will help give me an extra boost tomorrow!”
The missing man from Q3 was Jenson Button. The Briton was expected to be one of the top contenders for the pole today but he was seen slowly returning to the McLaren-Mercedes garage in Q2. Early reports indicate a throttle problem, and Button will start the return of a grand prix in the USA back in 12th.
Alonso is 10 points behind Vettel, and knows the championship on the line but he has not tossed in towel as he said, “Our aim remains unchanged and it’s still possible: on Sunday all sorts of things can happen.”
Vettel said, “In terms of the Championship, we need to focus on ourselves and try to get the best result that we can. If you’re thinking about where the others are, then you don’t get the optimum from yourself, and that’s what we need to focus on. Our job is done today, but so far no one has scored any points.”
(*) Five-place grid penalty for gearbox change on Grosjean’s Lotus-Renault.