The FIA Formula One Championship teams turned their first laps on the new Circuit of The Americas (COTA) for the inaugural United States Grand Prix (USGP) in Austin, Texas. Some went off, and some just had a twitch or two but the two-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel laid down his flying lap with a time of 1m38.125s in his Red Bull Racing Renault.
Besides the usual setup changes and testing allowed changes they make before each grand prix, the drivers were learning the best lines to take on the new track; plus the sections that might give them an edge for overtaking. The track will change now that the rubber from the Pirelli tyres was laid down on the green track. The support series will also take to the new circuit, adding more changes for the Formula 1 drivers by practice 2 this afternoon.
Second fastest in his penultimate race for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes was Lewis Hamilton. The Briton was 1.418 of a second off the pace of Vettel. “It’s quite difficult to learn initially but it looks fantastic to drive,” said Hamilton on Thursday.
Title contender Fernando Alonso was third, and needs to find two seconds in order to challenge for the pole tomorrow. The Ferrari racer is well aware of the fact that he needs to take the victory on Sunday to have a shot at this year’s crown in the season finale in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Yesterday after viewing the track designed by Hermann Tilke, the Spaniard admitted “it will be challenging for us drivers and for the engineers as well”.
Jenson Button was fourth quick in practice 1 in his McLaren followed by Red Bull’s Mark Webber.
Kimi Raikkonen was the first to take to the new circuit. The Lotus Renault driver won the recent grand prix in Abu Dhabi. The Finn had a gaggle of cars follow him out, and they all took slow laps as they discovered the possible lines they wanted to test.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg might have pushed a bit too much as he lost the rear and went for a spin as he crested the tricky turn 1 apex. At least he made it into the record book for who spun first; he was seventh fastest at the end of the first session.
Hamilton explained the first turn: “Turn One probably looks more exciting from the outside than it does from inside the cockpit – it’s certainly not easy, though. You can get oversteer, or lock up, and it’s tricky to get a perfect line through there."
Now the teams and their star drivers will go over the data from P1, and make changes they feel are needed for the 3.425 miles (5.513kms), 20-turn circuit that offers up a variety of tricks: very fast corners, a long sweeping back straight, blind turns, tricky esses, and tight turns.