United States Grand Prix - day one


The weather for the first day of practice at Circuit of the Americas was considerably warmer than the couple gone before – but that brought a new problem.

Where there were concerns on Thursday that getting tyres up to temperature might prove difficult, on Friday morning that worry had disappeared, to be replaced by one of visibility. For a few hours it was very foggy in Austin.

For the sake of foreign (European) TV coverage, the first free practice session was brought forward an hour, to begin at 9.00, but it was delayed by 40 minutes, for the medical helicopter had not arrived. Only when it reached the circuit finally were the drivers allowed on their way, but it was decided to reduce the session to one hour.

Read more about the United States Grand Prix
Nigel Roebuck’s prologue
Formula 1’s travels through the USA
I was there when… 1979 United States GP

On a very green circuit the times didn’t matter much, as Sebastian Vettel’s position – 18th fastest – rather suggested. Fastest in the session was Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, ahead of Jenson Button’s improving McLaren, Valteri Bottas’s surprising Williams, Esteban Gutiérrez’s Sauber and the Mercedes pair, Nico Rosberg again in front of Lewis Hamilton.

The afternoon session, though, had a more familiar look: Vettel first, Mark Webber second, then the Mercs of Rosberg and Hamilton – and then Heikki Kovalainen, who replaces Kimi Räikkönen at Lotus for the last two races of the year.

Given that Heikki’s season has consisted of the odd free practice session for Caterham, and given that he was sitting in the Lotus for the very first time, this was a pretty commendable effort, and went some way towards silencing those who criticised the team for not allowing test and reserve driver Davide Valsecchi to get a couple of Grands Prix under his belt. In the financial circumstances of today they might well have been the only F1 drives of his life…

Valsecchi admitted he was devastated not to get the opportunity. “I knew the team were trying to get Nico [Hülkenberg] in the car, but once he had turned it down, I really thought I would get my chance…”

Heikki Kovalainen at Enstone
2006 – test driver
2007 – rookie season – seventh in the Drivers’ Championship
2007 Japanese GP – second place – the team’s best result all year

Eric Boullier said he understood Davide’s disappointment, but stressed that he had to put the team first, and at the moment the emphasis is on constructors’ points, for Lotus still have thoughts of finishing the year in the top three, and, being in desperate financial straits, need every dollar going in Bernie’s end-of-season pay-out.

Sad to say, today’s big rumour in the paddock – this situation seems literally to change from day to day – is that the much-vaunted Quantum Motorsports money, which supposedly was going to give Lotus financial stability, now looks unlikely to materialise at all. Privately, Hülkenberg is saying that he has ‘no chance’ with the team now, and most people initially took that to mean that the way was therefore clear for Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan petro-dollars to move into the team.

Or maybe not. A source close to Maldonado suggests that Pastor has been displeased by Lotus’s behaviour towards him: “If they have money, they want Hülkenberg – and if they don’t, they want Pastor only because he brings sponsorship. He doesn’t like that…” Well, he may not like it, but he needs a bite on a reality sandwich: let’s face it, all things being equal, no one would pick Maldonado over Hülkenberg.

Probably the situation will have changed again by this time tomorrow, but the suggestion in the Austin paddock – on Friday afternoon – was that Maldonado would move to Sauber, and that Hülkenberg’s only chance of remaining in F1 would be with a return to Force India. One hopes something comes of this: Nico belongs in a top team, but the idea of his missing out on a drive altogether is too ridiculous to contemplate. These are very strange times in Formula 1.

Click here to read more from Nigel Roebuck

f1  United States Grand Prix – prologue

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