November 15th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - It's been a while since a Ferrari topped a practice session this season, but that's what happened in the first practice session today in Austin Texas. Fernando Alonso was fastest, ahead of Jenson Button's McLaren and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas.
A short glance down the times reveals that the results of FP1 are not representative of the relative pace of the teams at the Circuit of the Americas. Sebastian Vettel, who is likely to be the pace-setter at least at some point this weekend, was 18th fastest, as he and Red Bull presumably concentrated on higher fuel running than their rivals.
The start of first practice was delayed due to heavy mist over the track that made it impossible for the medical helicopter to do its job. The start of the session was delayed, first by 10 minutes, then another 10 minutes and another 10 minutes, before it was announced that practice would get underway 40 minutes after the scheduled start time.
The 90-minute session was shortened to an hour after all of the start delays, and got underway at 9:40am local time in Austin. But just 15 minutes into the action, the red flag was out and the drivers returned to the pits while the crowds and television audience around the world wondered what had gone wrong. There was no sign of an accident or any obstruction on the track.
It turned out that the medical helicopter had not arrived at all, which made it unacceptably risky to have Formula One cars circulating at full speed. Exactly why the helicopter was not at the circuit is unclear. It could have been a matter of miscommunication, as the session was only allowed to start in the first place because the helicopter was reportedly on its way to the track.
After a delay of another half hour or so, the medical helicopter finally arrived and the session could resume. Formula One regulations require that there be a break of at least 2 hours between practice sessions, which meant the first session was further limited in duration and when he green flag came out there were only 32 minutes left on the clock.
Although these issues took place on Friday, which is normally the least well attended day of the weekend, they reflect quite badly on the organisers of the race. Formula One desperately needs to establish itself in the United States, where local forms of motorsport such as NASCAR and Indycar are extremely popular, and problems like a missing medical helicopter that causes on-track action to cease do not help the cause of F1 in the US.
For FP1, a few drivers gave up their cars to reserve drivers. Daniil Kvyat made his F1 weekend debut in Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso after earning his FIA Super Licence just last week. Alexander Rossi took over Giedo van der Garde's car to the delight of his home fans. Rodolfo Gonzalez was on track for Marussia, driving Jules Bianchi's car, which came to a halt in the dying moments of the session with smoke issuing from the exhausts in what looked like an engine failure.
Heikki Kovalainen was in action for Lotus, driving the Lotus E21 for the first time as he prepares for his first race for the team on Sunday. Kovalainen was first out on track when the session first got underway, and he finished up just a quarter of a second off the pace of his team-mate, Romain Grosjean. Considering that Kovalainen has not raced in F1 since the end of 2012 and has never driven the Lotus E21 before today, his FP1 performance is impressive and bodes well for the rest of his US Grand Prix weekend.
Full result from FP1:
|8||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:39.083||0.740||17|
|14||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:39.699||1.356||15|
|15||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:39.836||1.493||15|
|18||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:40.662||2.319||21|