2014 US Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

Rosberg’s Number Nine

Just went it seemed like Lewis Hamilton was preparing to strike a hammer blow to Nico Rosberg’s title tilt, the German has delivered in the style of a true champion. After being beaten in each and every practice session by Hamilton, the man who has taken victory four times consecutively, Rosberg has won a crucial mental battle and thrown the gauntlet down with a spectacular pole lap. Hamilton may have struggled with brake issues but today was Rosberg’s day. Can he convert his eighth pole of the season to his fifth victory?

Perfect Timing

Despite the hydraulic leak in FP2 and the ever-present brake concerns, Lewis seemed to have everything covered this weekend. The Englishman carried his excellent practice pace, which had seen him top FP3, into qualifying, as he controlled proceedings in Q1. However, the brake problems which had proved to be an intermittent concern throughout yesterday’s running recurred, just as Nico Rosberg began to build a head of steam himself. As Lewis’ frustration with what he termed a “thing” rather than a “car” became evident, Nico demonstrated the pace that he promised was in his pocket yesterday. Topping the timesheet in emphatic fashion in Q2, the German carried this form into the final part of qualifying and Lewis had no answer to his title rival.
This turn of speed was even more impressive, considering the fact that Nico had suffered an FP3 interrupted by brake issues of his own. He experienced glazing of his discs, which meant that his running was limited. This unquestionably contributed another hurdle for him to clear, adding to those which are the inevitable hangover of being beaten four times consecutively by your teammate. 
For me, this was Rosberg’s best performance of the season – and what a time to deliver it. On a circuit which has been a Hamilton venue in its admittedly short history, Rosberg has placed the Brit on the backfoot. This may be his first visit to the circuit in which he has a car potential of guiding him to victory, but many people had Hamilton down as their favourite to take another win. While this is merely a step towards 25 points, Nico has dramatically swung the state of affairs in the mental battle today and threatens to take his fifth victory at a pivotal point in the campaign.

Winning Ways

Mercedes are in dominant form this weekend, but the battle to be best of the rest seems to be as fierce as ever. Williams stepped up to the plate once again and locked out the second row of the grid, with Valtteri Bottas taking P3 and Felipe Massa in P4. Bottas’ sparkling form continues and the Finn is becoming more confident and looks more and more likely to cement his fourth position in the championship.
However, Daniel Ricciardo will have an excellent shot at the final spot on the podium tomorrow, qualifying in a highly respectable P5. The Aussie was not only the highest placed Renault runner but also demonstrated highly commendable long run pace on Friday, which should allow him to challenge the Williams duo in the race. Starting on the clean side of the grid may also permit an early overtake on Massa at Turn 1.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel did make an appearance in qualifying after it seems the FIA backed Red Bull into a corner. While from an engineering perspective, it makes no sense to run in a session when a pit lane start is imminent, this excuse for not competing may have proved to be insufficient for the FIA who would withhold the right to prevent Vettel from entering the race on account of being outside of the 107% rule. Consequently, Vettel completed one flying lap in Q1, putting on a show for his many adoring fans and then dropped out of the session in the opening exchanges. Red Bull played the situation to perfection. Expect to see Vettel charging through the field on Sunday afternoon, as the team have opted for a low drag rear wing to promote his straight line speed and make overtaking in the DRS zone substantially easier. Moreover, all of the work completed in practice has been geared towards race simulation – it is fair to assume that his race setup is near optimum.

Sauber’s Surprise

Amid talks of a race boycott on financial grounds, it was the so-called ‘small teams’ who enjoyed great qualifying results. Firstly, Adrian Sutil managed to squeeze into the final part of qualifying, to the delight of his team, for the very first time this season. Sauber, who are yet to score a point in 2014, will start the race with a car in ninth place, while Pastor Maldonado is to start in P10 for Lotus. Similarly to Sutil, Maldonado is yet to score a point in 2014 and after a dismal 2013 campaign at Williams, the Venezuelan looks to end a points drought which began back in August last year.

FP3 Timesheet
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.107
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.990
3 Felipe Massa Williams 1:38.214
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:38.437
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.727
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:38.927
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:38.960
8 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:39.000
9 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:39.143
10 Jenson Button McLaren 1:39.241
11 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:39.335
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:39.448
13 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:39.561
14 Sergio Perez Force India 1:39.582
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:39.688
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:40.208
17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:41.443
18 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:43.765

Qualifying Result
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams
4 Felipe Massa Williams
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
7 Kevin Magnussen McLaren
8 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
9 Adrian Sutil Sauber
10 Pastor Maldonado Lotus
11 Sergio Perez Force India
12 Jenson Button McLaren*
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India
14 Jean Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
15 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
16 Romain Grosjean Lotus
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso**
18 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull***

*Jenson Button recieved a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
**Daniil Kvyat recieved a ten place grid penalty for using a sixth internal combustion engine.
***Sebastian Vettel will start from the pit lane after taking a sixth powertrain.


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