The Formula One circus was greeted to a heavy blanket of fog this Friday morning. The first practice was delayed by about half an hour, as result, but once underway, the joy of driving around the Circuit of the Americas was evident yet again.
The star of practice was undoubtedly Alexander Rossi. The young Californian captured the support of all 58,000 spectators today, not through any groundbreaking lap time, but through the simple fact of his rarity. For seven years, Americans have yearned for a home driver, and Rossi is on his way to fulfilling those dreams.
The fog created some surprises in the morning, with Fernando Alonso finishing the first practice session on top, followed by Jenson Button in his Mclaren. Behind the top two was Valtteri Bottas of Williams, the Finn, and his car, enjoying the slightly slippery conditions brought on by the fog.
Heikki Kovalainen made his debut with Lotus as Kimi Raikkonen‘s replacement, with the announcement coming yesterday that the Finn would be replacing his surgery-bound countryman. Kovalainen ended the first practice session in a solid 13th.
The sun finally came out in the afternoon, and so did Red Bull. Anonymous in first practice, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber made their mark on the field by going one-two in the second practice session, over a second faster than the ultimate time from FP1.
Behind the Red Bulls were the two Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The latter was particularly happy with his performance today, after recent disappointments in the past two races seemed to be a thing of the past thanks to a brand new chassis. Some rather unnerving cracks were discovered deep within the chassis after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, reportedly a result of some excursions over the high curbs.
Kovalainen was the most impressive, however, by going fifth fastest in his Lotus. The Finn looked as if he has always been driving the black and gold machine this year, as a staggeringly consistent, if not earth-shattering fast, 25-plus lap stint on the hard tires put him in good stead for a strong performance on Sunday, as well as Saturday. If people thought he would just play a support act to the impressive Romain Grosjean, he has come to prove them wrong.
The Saubers of Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez were also showing strongly, as they took seventh and sixth, respectively. Their long runs were also very impressive, so providing qualifying goes reasonably well, expect these two to be in the hunt for good points. Look out, in particular, for Esteban to make a concerted effort to impress in front of his “home” crowd.
Nobody, however, other than Webber, looks capable of challenging Vettel on Saturday or Sunday. Vettel’s long run on the medium tires was fascinating in the fact that he was lapping a second faster per lap at the end of the stint than he was at the beginning. With many teams considering a one-stop strategy for the race, this type of tire performance from the Red Bull and Vettel could make a challenge on Sunday even more futile than it already looks. Only time will tell if Vettel will equal Juan Manuel Fangio‘s all -time record of nine-consecutive wins. That time may come very soon, indeed.