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Championship leader Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheets as Formula 1 enjoyed its first taste of Austin’s Circuit of the Americas on Friday morning. Fitting a new set of tyres for the extremely slippery new track surface, the Red Bull driver led the way from Lewis Hamilton and title rival Fernando Alonso.
F1 had been yet to visit the United States for five years, but almost three decades have passed since the sport was last in Texas. On that occasion it was Dallas and 1984. This time a brand-new, purpose-built, Hermann Tilke-designed venue is the setting and the only new circuit on the calendar this year. On a dry but cool morning, this was the start of the weekend which could decide the world title in Vettel’s favour.
The field was given one extra set of Slick tyres in order to learn the course - completely ‘green’ and complete with a layer of construction dust, having been laid just months ago. To nobody’s great surprise, a number of cars suffered off-track excursions and spins. The spectacular, uphill Turn 1 instantly proved popular but it was penultimate corner Turn 19 which caught out most.
1978 World Champion Mario Andretti watched on from the pit lane, but it was the current title holder who kicked off his 100th Grand Prix weekend in confident fashion by posting a lap time of 1:38.125. This saw off Hamilton by almost one and a half seconds, with over ten seconds separating the entire field, but lap times and margins remain somewhat irrelevant as the track conditions continue to improve.
Behind the top three, Jenson Button and Mark Webber completed the leading quintet from Felipe Massa, Nico Hülkenberg (who spun twice), Kamui Kobayashi (who made history by posting the circuit’s first ever lap time), Nico Rosberg and Sergio Pérez. All drivers complained of a distinct lack of adhesion as numerous first-time F1 visitors flocked to the scene. VIPs looked on from the striking viewing tower located on the infield, which features a glass floor looking onto the paddock.
Other factors contributing to remarkably slow and varied lap times are the fact that the session began one hour earlier than usual, that no support series had been on-track previously and that the surface temperature dropped by three degrees to just 15°C (59°F) midway through the 90-minute period. There is now a break of two and a half hours in which the teams are frantically working to improve their car setups, although ideal configurations are unlikely to be found before qualifying tomorrow.
As Vettel improved at the end of the session, Dhabi winner Kimi Räikkönen – who had been first on-track earlier today – parked his Lotus at the end of the pit lane.
Second practice begins at 1pm local time (GMT -6) and can also be tracked via the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Report
|1.||S. Vettel||Red Bull||01:38.125||30|
|5.||M. Webber||Red Bull||01:40.650||30|
|7.||N. Hulkenberg||Force India||01:41.023||29|
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