Vettel stays on top in final Austin practice
17 November 2012 – Sebastian Vettel has remained quickest in final practice ahead of the US Grand Prix. The World Champion, who has topped all three sessions so far at the brand-new Circuit of the Americas, led Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado. Ferrari were caught out by a nine-minute yellow flag period as Sergio Pérez collided with Charles Pic.
As final practice loomed, all teams were particularly cautious about not over-reacting to the changes in temperature. Barely an hour before the session started, the ambient reading in Austin was a chilly -1°C (30°F) and this hour-long period was staged 60 minutes earlier than it is at the European races. Any dramatic setup changes, while allowing a car to better suit the track now, would only have a negative effect by the time qualifying arrived at noon.
A massive 65,000 spectators had attended Friday free practice and more are coming today, as a selection of celebrities and drivers – such as Rubens Barrichello – watched on from the paddock and garages. 20 minutes in, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa narrowly avoided contact, but the same could not be said for Pérez and Pic. The Mexican, who had already received a reprimand and fine yesterday, dived down the inside of the Frenchman to result in a somewhat unnecessary collision. The stewards will be looking into the matter.
As Hamilton was informed of a small issue, Button went quickest, while Ferrari decided to ignore the cold track and practice pit-stops while preparing tyres. Although this made sense at the time, the strategy back-fired as yellow flags for Jean-Éric Vergne annoyed Felipe Massa and meant both red cars were forced to slow down on some of their quickest runs. The reason for Vergne’s stoppage was broken suspension; it remains to be seen whether this was caused by clouting a kerb or if the issue was a mechanical failure on the Faenza-built Toro Rosso.
Lotus ran new exhausts on the cars of Romain Grosjean and Abu Dhabi winner Kimi Räikkönen, but a suspected gearbox problem for the former could result in a grid penalty. This left Alonso and Nico Rosberg to complete the top five as both HRT drivers missed the 107 percent cut-off by a sizeable margin; should this happen in qualifying, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan will be banned from starting unless a dispensation is granted by the FIA.
Hamilton demonstrated rapid pace, in the first sector especially, but it was Option tyre-shod Vettel who flew to the fastest lap time of 1:36.490, edging out the McLaren by two and a half tenths of a second. Button had led the way for much of the session, but fell back down to tenth place when rivals fitted the Medium tyres.
Qualifying for the United States Grand Prix will mark the first grid-deciding session for F1 in America since Indianapolis last welcomed the sport back in 2007.
Qualifying for the United States Grand Prix begins at 12 noon local time (GMT -6) and can also be tracked through the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Report