AUSTIN, Texas, Nov 18, 2012 (AFP) - Fernando Alonso will start Sunday's United States Grand Prix from seventh on the grid, and on the cleaner side of the circuit, after his Ferrari team made a strategic decision to break the seal on Felipe Massa's gearbox.
As a result Brazilian Massa, who had out-qualifed his Spanish team-mate, was handed a five place penalty that drops him from sixth to 11th.
The team admitted it was a pragmatic decision taken in Alonso's best interests because it gives him an improved chance of catching defending world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, who starts the race from pole position.
Engineers believe that those on the dirty, even-numbered, side of the grid will lose two positions at the start because the 'green' new Circuit of the Americas is very slippery off the racing line.
Massa did a practice start from the even-numbered side of the grid on Saturday after qualifying and said there was less grip than would be normal in wet conditions.
If Vettel wins, Alonso needs to finish at least fourth to keep the championship alive.
If Vettel is second, Alonso must be eighth or better to stay in the hunt. If Vettel is third, Alonso must be in the top 10.
Lewis Hamilton of McLaren did a practice start on Saturday morning and said: "It wasn't very good. It was really poor. I barely went anywhere when I let the clutch out.
"That is why I am saying they need to clean the inside because it is just as slippery as when we started driving yesterday.
"While the track is bedding-in now and getting much, much better, that part is untouched, so it is going to be very much the same as the pitlane, which has no grip at all. I don't know what they have got to do, but at least clean it."