Austin, 1 November – Fernando Alonso set the sixth fastest time in today’s qualifying for the seventeenth round of the world championship, here at the Circuit of the Americas. His Scuderia Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen posted the ninth best time, but a grid penalty for Jenson Button moves him up one place on the grid, putting him eighth and on the dirty side, right behind the Spaniard.
It’s been an interesting Texan weekend so far, mainly because tyre performance has turned out differently to what everyone was expecting. This should have been a straightforward one stop race, but a performance gap of around 1.5 seconds per lap between the Soft and Medium tyres means that a two stopper is most likely.
I think that this was a good qualifying and, looking at the times of the cars ahead of me, I don’t think I could have done much more.
Team strategists will therefore have to choose the best cross over moment to switch between the faster Soft, which will degrade much quicker and the more consistent Medium Pirelli. The more strategic choices there are, the greater chance of turning them to one’s advantage and the Ferrari duo will be hoping to move up the order during the course of the 56 lap race.
The Mercedes dominance continues, with their power units monopolising the two front rows, with the eponymous team at the front, after Nico Rosberg recorded his seventh pole of the year, just pipping Lewis Hamilton. The Williams duo is on row two, with Valtteri Bottas quicker than Felipe Massa. Fernando has the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo alongside him, while Kimi is on the outside of Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren.
With only 18 cars taking part this weekend, the qualifying format had to be modified slightly: instead of six cars dropping out at the end of Q1 and Q2, today only four cars were eliminated at the end of the first two sessions. The smaller grid also means that, with points extending to the tenth placed finisher, in theory, over half the field will score points in tomorrow’s race.
Fernando Alonso: “I think that this was a good qualifying and, looking at the times of the cars ahead of me, I don’t think I could have done much more. Before coming here, we had thought about changing the power unit, but then we opted for one we had already used, so as not to start from the pit lane. The track surface is much better than in past years, with a lot more grip, but at the same time, there’s more tyre degradation so a two stopper is inevitable. The temperatures have dropped from yesterday to today, but I don’t think this factor, along with the expectation that the wind direction will change for tomorrow, will affect the strategy. The races are long and anything can happen, including on the reliability front, as has especially been the case this season.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “The behaviour of my car was better today than yesterday and I was reasonably happy with the balance, even if I still didn’t manage to put together a good enough lap to be higher up the grid. For some reason, we haven’t managed to fix a problem with the front end. In all sectors of the track the car tends to slide causing a lot of understeer. Unfortunately, this is a very limiting factor and not ideal. But as usual, tomorrow in the race, we will try our best to get the most out of what we have to work with. I am sure that by continuing to work, improving day by day, we will soon find a solution.”
Pat Fry: “The increase in temperature from free practice three meant that, in qualifying, it was as warm as the averages expected for tomorrow and produced an improvement in both the behaviour of the car and the performance of the tyres. Unfortunately, we struggled to get the Mediums up to temperature in Q1, while on the Softs, we were more or less where we should be on the first lap. As was the case in Sochi, tyre performance will play a key role here in Austin, even if the scenario is very different: we expect the soft compound to show quick degradation, while the harder one should allow us to run a more extended stint. However, during the race it will be very important to manage both compounds, because graining could severely affect performance. The start, reliability and pit work will be the factors on which to build our race tomorrow, as we try and gain some places.”