Austin - They like to talk about the “big sky” in Texas, but unfortunately this morning, it was a foggy sky over the Circuit of the Americas that greeted the Formula 1 circus on its second visit to Austin, for the penultimate round of the World Championship.
Therefore FP1 had to be extended to cope with a delay at the start and in the middle, but the second session resumed at the normal time, with the sunny weather we had been promised finally putting in an appearance.
Having stayed away yesterday, to allow extra recuperation time for his back, Fernando was perfectly comfortable at the wheel of the F138, eventually setting the tenth fastest time, two places ahead of Felipe. Last year the track could have been renamed the Ice Rink of the Americas, as the brand new asphalt was not bedded in and was oozing oil and so everyone in the paddock was pleased to see that the situation had improved as a result of the track being a year older and having seen some action since the last F1 race.
Nevertheless, especially in the colder conditions that prevailed in FP1, Pirelli’s choice of the Hard and Medium tyre currently seems a bit on the hard side. That might improve as the track rubbers in and if the higher temperatures promised for the next two days materialise. In general, both Ferrari men were not satisfied with the performance of the F138 today, as they worked through the usual programme of looking for a good set-up and analysing tyre behaviour over short and long runs.
The World champions elect continue to stamp their authority on the time sheets, with Sebastian Vettel fastest ahead of Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber. Respecting the current view of the car hierarchy at the moment, the two Mercedes were next, with Nico Rosberg third ahead of Lewis Hamilton and still on-message in terms of the performance pecking order, a Lotus was next in fifth place.
But it was a new name on the time sheet, as Heikki Kovalainen makes a return to racing for the final two rounds of the season, standing in for Kimi Raikkonen, who underwent planned surgery on his back in Europe today. Esteban Gutierrez went well for Sauber, to go sixth fastest at what is almost a home race for him, as last year we saw a huge influx of visitors from his native Mexico here in Austin.
Fernando Alonso: “I had no problem being back on track today. My back felt fine and I was able to drive the same as always. Compared to last year, the track conditions seemed better: for the first Grand Prix here, it was too new and there was a bit of oil on the track, while now there’s a lot more grip. As expected, there was very little degradation today as Pirelli’s choice of the Medium and Hard compounds here in Austin are an ultra-conservative choice. Generally, there were no major surprises and now we must wait and see how things go tomorrow and especially Sunday”.
Felipe Massa: “Today was hard to interpret, because in the morning we got off to a good start and it seemed the track was well suited to the characteristics of our car, but then that changed in the afternoon and we were unable to set competitive times. Compared to recent races, the car has stayed the same and therefore we cannot expect a very different level of performance. But it’s definitely important to understand why the car changed so much between the two sessions, especially as compared to last year, the asphalt has improved a lot and the grip has increased considerably. I don’t think that is down to the rise in temperature, but maybe the wind didn’t help. Now we have a lot of work ahead of us to try and improve for the rest of the weekend”.
Pat Fry: “Because of the fog in the morning, our first practice session was shortened to just half an hour of track time and that meant we had to reorganise our programme, concentrating mainly on aerodynamic testing, centred on the front and rear wings in order to find the best balance for the car. In the second session, before the usual long run tests, we tried a few different mechanical solutions aimed at completing our set up work. Compared to last year, the track seems to have improved and there is every chance that the more abrasive surface will ensure there is more grip. Tyre degradation is still an unknown factor to be assessed carefully, especially in the light of the data we acquired from the long runs. As usual, it will be very important to work out the best strategy and the number of pit stops to make during the race.”