Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

United States GP – Qualifying leaves a bitter taste in Austin

From one continent to another, the outcome of qualifying remains a bitter one for Scuderia Ferrari. On Saturday afternoon in Abu Dhabi, the two F2012s were seventh and ninth and the numbers were the same on the new Austin track, this time with Felipe Massa ahead of Fernando Alonso. The way qualifying evolved definitely did not follow the usual pattern, with just a single run for both drivers in each of the three sessions: in Q1 using the Prime, while switching to the Option for Q2 and Q3. The reason for this strategy resides with the difficulty in finding the right operating temperature for the tyres at this track, a problem that affected the whole session.

Stefano Domenicali: “A disappointing qualifying that puts us in a very difficult position in terms of the championship, given that our main rival will start from pole position. The main problem was linked to tyre performance, but let’s make it clear, the responsibility rests with us, because the tyres are the same for everyone and therefore it’s down to us to try and get them to work as well as possible. We must analyse very carefully the way qualifying went, to understand what didn’t work but above all, we must concentrate on preparing for the race. We have said it often, the sums are done on Sunday afternoon: clearly the outlook is not positive but we are well aware that the situation can be different in the race. There are no reference points for a new track therefore the unknown factors are greater than usual: we have a duty to tackle every aspect to perfection.”

Fernando Alonso: “We never managed to put together the best lap, which on these tyres and with these track conditions is always the last one you do. We knew it would be a complicated weekend but clearly today we were too slow and we will start from too far back. Having said that, the accounts are always done at the end of the race: also in Abu Dhabi we were slower than our main rivals and then we got back three points in the classification. Our aim remains unchanged and it’s still possible: on Sunday all sorts of things can happen. Reliability, strategy – it will be important to work out when is the best time to pit because here, the cold tyres can be slower by several seconds – and team work will be as usual important. The updates? We tried to find the best possible combination between all the parts we had available, as it’s not always the case that the latest part is the best choice, especially when you are at a brand new track. We will push to the limit, as we have done since the start of the year at every race weekend.”

Felipe Massa: “This qualifying was pretty much a lottery: the lucky number is always the last one! With this type of tyre on this asphalt one struggles to get the tyres up to temperature and one has to lap continuously before being able to set a good time. IN Q2, we managed it, but in Q3 things did not go as well: it’s never easy to do the perfect lap with so little grip. It will definitely not be an easy race for us, given the grid positions of our main rivals, but we must stay focused because all the same, tomorrow will be hard for everyone. We will have to do our utmost and then we will see how it goes. Starting from the dirty side of the track is definitely not helpful: it’s the first time we’re not happy about gaining a grid position!”

Pat Fry: “A very difficult qualifying, there’s no doubt about it. The tyre-asphalt combination created conditions that were very difficult to interpret and we probably struggled more than others. We even tried to make the most of FP3 to prepare as well as possible for qualifying and now we must look at the data carefully to try and understand what didn’t work out as it should have done. Clearly we can expect a very complicated Sunday, but there’s no point crying over spilt milk. We must just try and do our utmost to give our drivers the chance to run as good a race as possible. From what we can see over these past two days, tyre degradation seems rather low, therefore it’s more than likely we can expect just one stop, so that’s probably one less variable in terms of the strategy.”

Qualifying session
Q1 MAS 8th 1.37.667 9 ALO 11th 1.37.968 9
Q2 MAS 3rd 1.36.549 8 ALO 9th 1.37.123 8
Q3 MAS 7th 1.36.937 7 ALO 9th 1.37.300 7

Weather: air 18/20°C, track 28/30 °C. Sunny Chassis: Alonso 295, Massa 294

United States GP – Two mountains to climb

Austin, 17 November – The Scuderia Ferrari drivers will have two mountains to climb tomorrow afternoon at the Circuit of the Americas. The first is the physical one that looms up at the end of the main straight going into Turn 1, to provide one of the most unique sights in Formula 1 and the second is the intangible one of the huge challenge Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will face to keep the Spaniard’s title hopes alive for another week until the F1 circus decamps in Sao Paolo for the final act of the year.

This afternoon’s penultimate qualifying session of the season was certainly the strangest of the 19 we have witnessed to date. If the neophyte American race fan was hoping to see some slick pit work and fast wheel changes he was disappointed, as most teams, the Scuderia included, simply sent their drivers out to do as many laps as possible in each of the sessions. Naturally, with this being a new circuit, Pirelli took a cautious approach to tyre choice and, in the unexpectedly cool conditions we have encountered all weekend, getting even the softer of the two compounds, the Medium, up to operating temperature was proving problematic. For the Scuderia it was as if the spectre of its car’s weak point a couple of seasons ago had returned.

Having qualified seventh and ninth, just like they did in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago, although this time Felipe was the quicker of the two, the Scuderia drivers move up a place on the grid tomorrow. Romain Grosjean, who was fourth in the Lotus takes a five place grid penalty for requiring a gearbox change. You’d say that gaining a position in the Stewards room is a handy help, but in fact, as this track surface is so green and slippery, moving from the racing line to the dirty side of the track might be more of a hindrance than a help.

As for Fernando’s title rival, it cannot be denied that Sebastian Vettel has totally dominated this first visit to Austin, topping every time sheet, including taking a pole position that honestly seemed a foregone conclusion well before the action got underway this afternoon. His team-mate Mark Webber is handily placed to help, setting the third fastest time. Splitting the two Red Bull drivers to share the front row with the German is Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren. Kimi Raikkonen, the winner in the desert two weeks ago will start his Lotus from fourth, while the third row sees Michael Schumacher place his Mercedes in fifth spot on the inside of Felipe. Sharing the fourth row with Fernando is Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India.

Tomorrow’s race is an important one in many ways: Formula 1 has struggled to find a permanent home in the United States for some time, so a crowd-pleasing show tomorrow would be a step in the right direction. For the Scuderia it could decide if the championship is still within Fernando’s grasp on Sunday night and if he lives to fight another day in Sao Paolo. Whatever the popularity of the sport here, Ferrari has always been hugely popular with American race fans and they can rest assured that everyone in the team will be doing their utmost to keep the flame burning until Brazil.

United States GP – Another uphill struggle for the Scuderia in qualifying

Austin, 17 November – From Abu Dhabi to Austin, the result of qualifying for Scuderia Ferrari has not changed: seventh and ninth places at the track alongside Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and seventh and ninth on the new and spectacular circuit on the outskirts of the Texan capital. One small difference, the drivers are the other way round this time, with Massa ahead of Alonso. If you take into account the fact that the two Ferrari men will move up a place on the grid because Grosjean takes a penalty for having to change his gearbox, which therefore puts them on the dirty side of the grid, a negative picture of the day is complete.

Felipe’s best time in Q3 was a 1.36.937, while Fernando posted a 1.37.300: Vettel took pole in 1.35.657, thus creating the biggest gap since the start of the season. Today, the main problem was clearly getting the tyres to the correct operating temperature, which in fact was also the case yesterday. Tomorrow looks like being a very tough race in which the main aim will be to keep the championship fight alive to Brazil.