Drivers praise COTA but race prospects aren’t good

2012 United States GP Friday practice analysis

Posted on

| Written by

F1 drivers were full of praise for the new home of the United States Grand Prix after sampling it for the first time today.

But the signs aren’t great for Sunday’s race prospects with very low tyre degradation and drivers concerned about possibilities for overtaking around the Circuit of the Americas.

Drivers’ verdict on the Circuit of the Americas

Jenson Button as one of several drivers to heap praise on the track: “Turn one to turn nine is a brilliant and free-flowing section – particularly if the car is working well.

“Turn one is a strange corner though – with a very wide entry rather like turn three in India. Turn three here – the start of the ‘esses’ – is fantastic though. It’s quicker than Becketts at Silverstone. It’s very unusual to find a section of corners like this on a modern Formula One track. I love it.”

However he was sceptical the track would be easy to pass other cars on: “I don’t think overtaking is going to be easy here, because it’ll be so tricky to stay close to the car in front of you.”

Michael Schumacher said the track would prove a good showcase of F1’s appeal for American fans: “The circuit will certainly help to showcase how attractive our sport can be.

“It has a very nice layout, and the good thing is that it is very challenging. Yesterday I went out to explore the track on a scooter, and it was very different from today when the low seating position of our cars compromises your vision a lot.”

There were many complaints about the lack of grip on the track when practice began but Daniel Ricciardo expects that to improve: “The new track lived up to the expectations we had before coming here, although the lack of grip spoilt it a little bit.

“But as the track rubbers-in and cleans up, I’m sure it will get even better. The grip level did improve from morning to afternoon but I’d expected a bit more. In fact I reckon next year, we could find a completely different circuit, although by this Sunday I think it will be much more fun.”

But fellow Australian Mark Webber was not quite as fulsome in praise, pointing out that after the first sector it became much like any other modern circuit: “It’s a pretty good track, it’s quick, especially the first sector which is quite full on, although sectors two and three are more traditional and similar to other tracks.”

Longest stint comparison

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint:

Sebastian Vettel105.762105.721104.75104.462110.035103.901
Mark Webber106.991106.472105.112105.399105.658112.531104.787104.406104.417110.592103.967
Jenson Button110.361105.111105.26104.448104.659104.106104.228
Lewis Hamilton106.213101.593100.744115.031100.446107.562115.051106.892104.97
Fernando Alonso105.637104.00799.446106.37599.255109.72398.483
Felipe Massa103.911102.596100.756102.924100.064108.275101.58
Michael Schumacher109.669107.993106.547107.114105.836105.596105.832
Nico Rosberg109.084107.615106.823105.383105.59105.853105.431104.95
Kimi Raikkonen107.657106.605105.481105.478106.301105.265
Romain Grosjean113.023106.063104.972105.024105.044105.897105.264105.576105.157104.188104.622110.777
Paul di Resta109.178107.729107.259107.352106.866106.341105.946110.204105.53105.387104.922
Nico Hulkenberg109.309107.814106.895106.148106.189106.788105.956107.036105.118104.848103.821
Kamui Kobayashi111.867107.409105.954115.21106.208108.44105.357105.679105.988106.246105.817107.734104.921104.902104.439104.56104.637
Sergio Perez102.909101.007101.609109.825104.451100.454106.808100.425
Daniel Ricciardo105.159101.772100.93103.037100.435100.952
Jean-Eric Vergne109.944107.72109.064111.75106.859106.358106.156106.95
Pastor Maldonado107.636104.302106.959102.904103.983107.833126.773101.541105.364100.23
Bruno Senna106.801105.446101.392111.996101.214100.239109.509101.46599.531
Heikki Kovalainen110.117108.187108.084108.139109.919108.182107.56109.538107.526108.141110.899108.63107.449
Vitaly Petrov110.542108.223107.493108.508106.928106.645107.172107.029108.323106.638
Pedro de la Rosa109.372107.553105.64110.064105.101104.453
Narain Karthikeyan108.962108.201111.148107.605110.136106.121106.131105.114
Timo Glock110.959103.744109.862102.903104.865102.797102.652
Charles Pic116.335111.012119.059112.596109.249110.5108.469108.039107.82107.683109.886107.489

It’s clear from looking at the stints drivers ran on Friday that the tyres are able to last a long time. Sauber’s head of track engineering Giampaolo Dall’Ara is unhappy with the choice of medium and hard tyres for this race: “The biggest challenge is to get the tyres to work, as they are definitely too hard for the circuit.”

Kamui Kobayashi said: “I have big warm-up problems with both compounds. It just doesn’t work in qualifying if you need ten laps to get the tyres to work.”

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said they had erred on the side of caution: “As this is a completely new circuit with a number of potentially unknown factors, we deliberately opted for a conservative tyre choice here.”

As was the case in the last two races, a single pit stop will be all that’s needed for most drivers on Sunday.

Sector times and ultimate lap times

CarDriverCarSector 1Sector 2Sector 3Ultimate lapGapDeficit to best
11Sebastian VettelRed Bull-Renault26.496 (4)38.647 (1)32.575 (1)1’37.7180.000
22Mark WebberRed Bull-Renault26.289 (1)39.075 (6)32.923 (2)1’38.2870.5690.188
34Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes26.433 (2)38.973 (4)32.981 (3)1’38.3870.6690.361
45Fernando AlonsoFerrari26.647 (8)38.731 (2)33.105 (5)1’38.4830.7650.000
56Felipe MassaFerrari26.645 (7)38.824 (3)33.083 (4)1’38.5520.8340.477
63Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes26.580 (5)38.982 (5)33.224 (6)1’38.7861.0680.000
78Nico RosbergMercedes26.588 (6)39.222 (8)33.638 (11)1’39.4481.7300.000
814Kamui KobayashiSauber-Ferrari26.844 (11)39.233 (9)33.432 (7)1’39.5091.7910.144
919Bruno SennaWilliams-Renault26.902 (13)39.136 (7)33.493 (8)1’39.5311.8130.000
1010Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault26.451 (3)39.402 (13)33.689 (13)1’39.5421.8240.744
117Michael SchumacherMercedes26.873 (12)39.340 (11)33.589 (9)1’39.8022.0840.313
1218Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault26.759 (10)39.521 (16)33.590 (10)1’39.8702.1520.360
1315Sergio PerezSauber-Ferrari26.724 (9)39.470 (15)33.805 (15)1’39.9992.2810.327
149Kimi RaikkonenLotus-Renault27.068 (16)39.351 (12)33.747 (14)1’40.1662.4480.000
1516Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso-Ferrari26.952 (14)39.570 (17)33.654 (12)1’40.1762.4580.259
1612Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes27.084 (17)39.284 (10)33.856 (16)1’40.2242.5060.476
1717Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso-Ferrari27.006 (15)39.449 (14)33.999 (17)1’40.4542.7360.062
1811Paul di RestaForce India-Mercedes27.295 (18)39.728 (18)34.045 (18)1’41.0683.3500.362
1920Heikki KovalainenCaterham-Renault27.577 (21)40.420 (20)34.302 (19)1’42.2994.5810.177
2024Timo GlockMarussia-Cosworth27.517 (20)40.326 (19)34.528 (20)1’42.3714.6530.281
2121Vitaly PetrovCaterham-Renault27.507 (19)40.490 (21)34.666 (21)1’42.6634.9450.183
2225Charles PicMarussia-Cosworth27.909 (22)40.806 (22)34.744 (22)1’43.4595.7410.079
2322Pedro de la RosaHRT-Cosworth28.060 (23)40.940 (23)35.393 (24)1’44.3936.6750.060
2423Narain KarthikeyanHRT-Cosworth28.331 (24)41.130 (24)35.376 (23)1’44.8377.1190.277

Sebastian Vettel’s second practice run was disrupted by a water leak. However he was still able to set the quickest time by a comfortable margin.

Althought Fernando Alonso was third-fastest, Lewis Hamilton had strong sector times but didn’t pull them all together in the same lap.

Complete practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Sebastian VettelRed Bull-Renault1’38.1251’37.71847
2Mark WebberRed Bull-Renault1’40.6501’38.47566
3Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’40.3371’38.48364
4Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes1’39.5431’38.74859
5Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes1’40.5281’38.78661
6Felipe MassaFerrari1’40.9661’39.02957
7Nico RosbergMercedes1’41.1591’39.44864
8Bruno SennaWilliams-Renault1’44.5481’39.53167
9Kamui KobayashiSauber-Ferrari1’41.0361’39.65364
10Michael SchumacherMercedes1’42.5881’40.11555
11Kimi RaikkonenLotus-Renault1’41.8801’40.16655
12Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault1’42.5391’40.23065
13Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault1’41.9981’40.28662
14Sergio PerezSauber-Ferrari1’41.4731’40.32664
15Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso-Ferrari1’41.8251’40.43558
16Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso-Ferrari1’41.8331’40.51661
17Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes1’41.0231’40.70063
18Paul di RestaForce India-Mercedes1’41.7831’41.43064
19Heikki KovalainenCaterham-Renault1’43.4431’42.47666
20Timo GlockMarussia-Cosworth1’44.4641’42.65257
21Vitaly PetrovCaterham-Renault1’43.5221’42.84661
22Charles PicMarussia-Cosworth1’43.2881’43.53861
23Pedro de la RosaHRT-Cosworth1’46.9171’44.45329
24Narain KarthikeyanHRT-Cosworth1’45.11420
25Ma Qing HuaHRT-Cosworth1’48.55919

Ferrari were second-quickest behind the Red Bulls, so when Sebastian Vettel referred to “a couple of surprises today in terms of pace” it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to work out who he was referring to.

“The updates we have brought here seem to work but we still need to look more closely at the data before having a definite answer,” was Fernando Alonso’s verdict on the day’s running.

“I am happy about this, but it’s also true that while we are making small steps forward with each passing race, so too are the others, so the distance between us remains unchanged. Would I be happy to be third again tomorrow afternoon? Sure, but this is only Friday and we have been in this position before and then on Saturday other cars have got ahead of us.”

Speed trap

#DriverCarEngineMax speed (kph)Gap
115Sergio PerezSauberFerrari322.4
214Kamui KobayashiSauberFerrari322.10.3
317Jean-Eric VergneToro RossoFerrari320.51.9
416Daniel RicciardoToro RossoFerrari320.32.1
511Paul di RestaForce IndiaMercedes318.73.7
67Michael SchumacherMercedesMercedes3184.4
78Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes317.94.5
86Felipe MassaFerrariFerrari316.75.7
95Fernando AlonsoFerrariFerrari316.65.8
109Kimi RaikkonenLotusRenault315.66.8
1118Pastor MaldonadoWilliamsRenault315.66.8
1219Bruno SennaWilliamsRenault315.47
1310Romain GrosjeanLotusRenault315.37.1
143Jenson ButtonMcLarenMercedes3157.4
154Lewis HamiltonMcLarenMercedes314.38.1
1623Narain KarthikeyanHRTCosworth314.18.3
1712Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes3148.4
1822Pedro de la RosaHRTCosworth313.78.7
1925Charles PicMarussiaCosworth3139.4
2020Heikki KovalainenCaterhamRenault312.69.8
2124Timo GlockMarussiaCosworth312.59.9
2221Vitaly PetrovCaterhamRenault312.410
231Sebastian VettelRed BullRenault308.314.1
242Mark WebberRed BullRenault30814.4

The Red Bulls are rooted to the bottom of the speed traps by a clear 4kph. But if they’re going to annex the front row and scamper off into the lead through COTA’s twisty first sector, it won’t matter.

2012 United States Grand Prix

    Browse all 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix articles

    Image © McLaren/Hoch Zwei

    Author information

    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

    Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

    35 comments on “Drivers praise COTA but race prospects aren’t good”

    1. Hm, maybe that Vet-Ham-Alo podium will happen tomorrow?

      1. Ï think Webber can spoil that one here .

    2. I’m sure that Seb will romp of into the distance even if Mark surprises again with another pole so I guess it makes sense at this stage for both cars to be putting their eggs in the “high downforce/low speed” basket, but with Marks famously slow starts ( when it happens to Lewis it is a McLaren fault, but at RBR it is Marks fault ) I wonder if the alternate strategy used so effectively by Seb might not be a good idea.

      1. for Mark, that is.

    3. OmarR-Pepper (@)
      17th November 2012, 1:00

      Vettel can win if he keeps that pace, but I imagine RB are exhaustively checking that water leak, the fuel robot, the alternator, the DDRS and the Coanda exhaust

      1. Robot or rain dance? The choice is yours.

    4. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate)
      17th November 2012, 1:28

      Hmm. Looks like Pirelli missed the mark.

      1. @braketurnaccelerate I think we should let them off the hook for this one. Better an underwhelming race (if that is what we get) than a repeat of the 2005 race.

        1. @keithcollantine Regardless of the unknown conditions, I get the feeling that Pirelli are being conservative because they don’t want to be the ones “giving” the title to a team/driver because of their tyre choices.

          They rather be conservative and “watch it happen”.

          1. I’ve never thought about that element, but I fear there might be some truth to it.
            It was fine to do as they pleased in 2011 – the championship was never really in doubt – but if say Ferrari got a huge advantage from a certain set of tyres then there would be a massive controversy! Better for Pirelli’s sake to err on the side of caution.

        2. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate)
          17th November 2012, 3:32

          @keithcollantine – Fair enough. Though I’m sure there was plenty of time for them to ship Alguersuari and their Renault R30 over to get some feel for the track. Heck, there hadn’t been a race car to complete a full circuit before they declared the Hard/Medium combo. I think they were predicting Texas to be much much hotter than it was for some reason. Looking at past weather the average high temps in Austin are around 75-65ºF (24-18ºC) for the month of November, exactly what it is now.

    5. Such a shame that a conservative tire choice by Pirelli might spoil what could be a really great race. It’s too early to pass full judgement, but the tires definitely don’t suit the circuit.

      1. i think pirelli have done the right thing.

        cars had little grip through fp1/fp2 & it was a joy to watch drivers really having to drive the cars again, fighting for grip & sliding around everywhere. was the best, most enjoyable session i’ve seen for years :)

        the soft/high wear tyres have given the drivers far too much grip for far too long, the hard compounds giving less grip is just what we need as its exactly what drivers often had to deal with right up until the early 90s when refueling saw compounds start to get a lot softer.

      2. In all fairness, Pirelli didn’t have much of a choice.

    6. To me the recent comments from drivers talking about not been able to follow a car ahead shows how utterly ridiculous DRS & high-Deg tyres are.
      Both may produce passing/unpredictability in certain situations, However neither does anything to actually improve the racing.

      They are both just masking the initial problem & as long as there still been relied upon to ‘artificially spice up the show’ the underlying problems that actually harm the racing are never going to be solved.

      I know the phrase ‘Ban DRS, bring proper tyres’ usually gets replys like ‘There will then be no passing’, However I think that would actually be the best thing for F1 as it would once again put full emphasis on whats causing the problems & the teams/FIA would then be forced to actually do something about them rather than just applying the DRS/Pirelli Band-aid.

      Don’t forget that Pre DRS/Pirelli the talk was all about changing the cars/tracks, Tracks like Abu-Dhabi spoke of alterations to improve racing & the teams were planning a less aero/limited ground effects formula for 2014 (Something used in other open wheel series such as Indycar).
      DRS was originally only a temporary stop-gap to get us to 2014 when it would go & the new regs would take over, However now teams have dropped the 2014 reg changes because they believe DRS/Pirelli’s are a cheaper & easier to implement solution way of ‘artificially spicing up the show’.

      If they really want to improve the racing & provide a good quality of racing on every track they need to go back to the original plan, DRS & high-deg tyres a temporary stop-gap solution with real changes/improvements to cars/some circuits on the way. Stick with DRS/Pirelli & your always going to have this problems of cars been too aero dependant, been unable to follow one another & the quality of racing will never improve.

      1. i always felt like the way to fix aero dependency was to stop making the track surfaces so perfectly smooth… might be overly simplistic though

        1. A simpler way to fix aero dependency is to remove the wings from the cars.

          1. + Infinity !

      2. I agree. I don’t know how to fix the problem, but you’re right that all these gimmicks to “improve the show” aren’t it.

      3. Absolutely agree Dizzy.

      4. Can I be vice president of this post?

        Let’s get some serious aero regulations and tons of tire grip –> racing!

    7. I can’t imagine why Pirelli decided to be conservative with the tyres, what’s the worst that could happen at a US GP if they brought softer ones? :D

      1. Michael Brown (@)
        17th November 2012, 2:47

        Somebody always asks the question you ask and another replies with Indy 2005. Well the circuit has high degradation but it’s nowhere near the amount they faced at Indy 2005, which was a one-off. I wish they would have brought Soft-Medium or Soft-Hard to the circuit to at least bring some variety to the strategy. Plus, wouldn’t faster degrading tires rubber in faster?

        1. @lite992 – I think the smiley means he was kidding ;)

    8. Since Vettel showed great race pace and top speed in Abu Dhabi, I expected Red Bull might more focus on top speed than pure downforce. However it seems that’s not the case.

    9. Here’s Pirelli’s answer. They didn’t wanted the tires to decide the title.

      1. But isn’t that exactly what they are doing now? If they have consistently selected matching tires throughout the season, any change from that path will change the path of the championship.

        1. @poul No. Their choices will always affect the outcome but what they’re doing now is minimising the amount of variables their tyres will impose.

          1. Thanks, I understand the idea but I just disagree with the premise:
            When the first 18 races has a certain reasoning for tire selections it is not affecting the championship but part of its foundation. But when you alter that reasoning because of the championship you end up affecting it.

            Of course they are also scared of any kind of US tire disaster but the result may be that the race itself will be so dull that it’s a disaster anyway.

          2. I am sorry to say that qualifying only proved my point. The result of “avoiding to affect the championship” is that we are stuck with tires that Alonso just cannot switch on! A fundamentally wrong decision to deviate from the usual praxis. Sad really.

    10. Well whatever we say, the fact remains Seb has got the title in bag..the car is too damn fast….

    11. Unless Vettel has more problems, ala Abu Dhabi, then I think it’s going to be very difficult for Alonso to really close the gap. He might be able to keep the Championship alive until Brazil, but by then I expect it to be all but over.

      I blame Grosjean :P

    12. Hm, really hard to make any sense of the long-stint pace. Both the Ferrari’s and Hamilton are very quick, but not very consistent. Vettel, Webber and Button on the other hand seem more consistent, and about equal on pace. Redbull and Mclaren usually run very heavy on fuel, while Ferrari and Lotus do not. This seems to suggest Hamilton could be the fastest on race day, if he can get the consistency right (could’ve been traffic, not sure..). This could be the first Vettel-Hamilton-Alonso (whichever order) result ever. Really looking forward to the race :)

      1. “Redbull and Mclaren usually run very heavy on fuel, while Ferrari and Lotus do not”

        Well in race they all have the same fuel. In practice how do you know who had more or less???

    13. Hey, simplify the aero. Prescribe maximum span, chord, and breadth for front and rear wings. Keep the small rear wing. Make the front wing span smaller and simplify it – a single airfoil with no winglets or other elements. Ban diffusers altogether. It will slow the cars down considerably in corners, make them faster on the straights, and re-remphasize horsepower, braking, tires, suspension, and above all drivers’ skills. And send Adrian Newey off into retirement with a great big golden parachute along with full legal assurance, including deposition of his grandchildren in FIA’s HQ as hostages, that he will never, ever design a race car again. : )

    Comments are closed.