After what was an unmistakably slow start to proceedings in Austin, Friday fans were delivered two very interesting sessions. While Sebastian Vettel unsurprisingly led the way with the fastest time of the day, the star of the show was Raikkonen’s able replacement, Heikki Kovalainen. The Finn quickly adapted an excellent understanding of the car and finished in a highly commendable P5 on the timesheet in FP2. Meanwhile, Daniil Kvyat put his newly acquired superlicence to good use as he made his practice debut for Toro Rosso in FP1, finishing just 0.2 seconds behind the Red Bull bound Ricciardo.
FP1 at COTA was far from normality, as team’s endured what can only be described as a truncated yet extended session, where Fernando Alonso finished fastest.
Fog descended on the circuit as the fans arrived for the Friday action, which meant that the session was delayed by 30 minutes as the helicopter could not make the journey from downtown Austin. However, as the mist cleared and the FIA had been informed of the helicopter’s imminent arrival, the session began in frantic fashion, as teams looked to pack as much into the hour as possible. Unsurprisingly, Heikki Kovalainen was the first man out onto the circuit, as he looked to get to grips with the E21. However, the session suffered yet another frustrating delay as a mysterious red flag appeared with 45 minutes remaining on the clock. While details are not yet clear, it is believed that the first helicopter never arrived at the circuit. When the FIA were informed of this, they called a halt to the session as they waited for the back up helicopter to complete the journey. Fortunately for the teams, the FIA stopped the clock during the 20 minute delay. While this reduced the time teams will have to prepare for the second session of the day, it meant that their already truncated programme was not going to be effected yet again.
When cars eventually emerged, there were a number of surprises. Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull could only manage P18 on the timesheet, as they opted to evaluate the long run performance on the German’s car. This could be in conjunction with the team’s fears of fuel pick-up issues on their 2014 development programme. Nothing has been confirmed by the team, but they may have opted to use the shorter session to evaluate these issues.
Meanwhile, Mercedes experienced competitive short run pace which, (fuel corrected) seems close to the pacesetting time set by Fernando Alonso, especially in the case of Lewis Hamilton. While he appeared to experience balance issues, he was still very strong. Following his difficulties in passing Esteban Gutierrez in Abu Dhabi, Lewis has suggested that he might experiment with an alternative wing set-up this weekend, in an attempt to reduce drag and make overtaking easier this weekend. Nico Rosberg has seemed less concerned by the drag of the W04, meaning that the Mercedes duo could run alternative aero packages this weekend.
Elsewhere, Williams experienced a surprising start to the weekend, as Valtteri Bottas set the fastest middle sector time of the session on his way to P3 on the timesheet. Pastor Maldonado also impressed in P11 on the timesheet, despite his open criticism of the team this week. Since ditching the coanda exhaust, the team have been on an upward progression; this weekend could be their best weekend of the season. Can Valtteri Bottas claim his first points of his F1 career?
Lastly, but certainly worthy of a mention, is GP3 champion Daniil Kvyat, who gained his first practice session with Toro Rosso today. The Russian, who gained his superlicence just last week, managed to finish just 0.2 seconds behind Daniel Ricciardo. While fuel loads remain a mystery, Kvyat has certainly made a very positive start in what was a difficult session to master.
01 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.343 16 laps
02 Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.371 +0.028 25 laps
03 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:38.388 +0.045 17 laps
04 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:38.532 +0.189 18 laps
05 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.657 +0.314 21 laps
06 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.979 +0.636 21 laps
07 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:39.005 +0.662 16 laps
08 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:39.083 +0.740 17 laps
09 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:39.158 +0.815 17 laps
10 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:39.200 +0.857 15 laps
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:39.238 +0.895 13 laps
12 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:39.256 +0.913 17 laps
13 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:39.487 +1.144 18 laps
14 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:39.699 +1.356 15 laps
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:39.836 +1.493 15 laps
16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:39.863 +1.520 19 laps
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:40.065 +1.722 20 laps
18 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:40.662 +2.319 20 laps
19 Alexander Rossi Caterham 1:41.399 +3.056 21 laps
20 Max Chilton Marussia 1:41.605 +3.262 19 laps
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1:42.054 +3.711 19 laps
22 Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia 1:43.716 +5.373 17 laps
Normal service resumed at the top of the timesheet in FP2, as Sebastian Vettel arrived in typical fashion. His Red Bull controlled proceedings, while Mark Webber backed up his teammate in P2. Meanwhile, Heikki Kovalainen was the star of the show, claiming P5 on the timesheet in only is second session behind the wheel of the E21.
Heikki’s pace was admirable on both long and short runs, eclipsing that of teammate Romain Grosjean. Follwoing a successful first outing with Lotus, and exuberant Heikki stated; “It’s been a pretty smooth landing, joining Lotus F1 Team. We’ve had no major issues on track today and we just need to keep chipping away to see how good we can get the car for tomorrow and Sunday. We lost a bit of track time in the morning, but the car balance was reasonably good straight away. I was able to settle in and work immediately on the setup and tyre work. All the procedures and routines are quite similar up and down the pit lane, plus I’m familiar with all the systems from driving with a Renault engine already this year and previously, so it was a pretty straight-forward day.” While the team targets points from Heikki this weekend, a seemingly mammoth task yesterday is now looking like a strong possibility. Opting to refuse long term servant of the team Davide Valsecchi was always going to be a controversial move, yet Lotus now have solid justification for signing the highly rated Finn.
Meanwhile, the Mercedes duo appear to be Red Bull’s closest challengers this weekend, as Rosberg and Hamilton finished P3 and P4 respectively. “The option tyre is working well for a long stint,” Lewis stated, “which may open up some possibilities for us with race strategy. It was a pretty straightforward day although we still have some work to do to nail the set-up because it’s not quite there yet. But all of us in the team are focused on ending the season on a high and taking that foundation with us into the winter.”
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:37.305 35 laps
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:37.420 +0.115 36 laps
03 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.785 +0.480 37 laps
04 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.958 +0.653 37 laps
05 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:38.073 +0.768 41 laps
06 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:38.229 +0.924 40 laps
07 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:38.254 +0.949 40 laps
08 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:38.255 +0.950 33 laps
09 Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.269 +0.964 34 laps
10 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.461 +1.156 33 laps
11 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:38.719 +1.414 31 laps
12 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:38.938 +1.633 37 laps
13 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:38.941 +1.636 30 laps
14 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:39.246 +1.941 27 laps
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:39.410 +2.105 34 laps
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:39.512 +2.207 37 laps
17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:39.579 +2.274 35 laps
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:39.784 +2.479 33 laps
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:40.376 +3.071 38 laps
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:40.563 +3.258 34 laps
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:46.226 +8.921 31 laps
22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:47.009 +9.704 20 laps