Sebastian Vettel’s progress to an inevitable pole position could not be interrupted at the Circuit of The Americas on Saturday afternoon in Austin, but it was a much closer-run thing than might have been expected.
Using a new front wing on his Red Bull that only arrived last night, he set the pace in Q3 with 1m 35.877s, with only Lewis Hamilton able to challenge him with 1m 35.928s. Then Vettel shaved that to 1m 35.657s and it was just as well that he did, as Hamilton worked down to 1m 35.766s.
Behind the lead Red Bull and McLaren, Mark Webber managed 1m 36.174s for third, a position which could prove fortuitous given expectations that the odd numbered grid positions will be favoured by the clean line to Turn One.
Romain Grosjean did a fine job to take fourth with his Lotus in 1m 36.587s, ahead of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix-winning team mate Kimi Raikkonen on 1m 36.708s. Then came Michael Schumacher on 1m 36.794s for Mercedes. The Ferraris were only seventh and ninth, with Felipe Massa consistently outpacing a troubled Fernando Alonso. The Brazilian managed 1m 36.937s to pip Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg on 1m 37.141s, while the Spaniard could only post 1m 37.300s. At the back, Williams’ Pastor Maldonado lapped in 1m 37.842s to complete the top 10.
Grosjean, however, gets a five grid-place penalty for a gearbox change, leaving the order behind the top three as: Raikkonen, Schumacher, Massa, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Grosjean and Maldonado. Schumacher was investigated for allegedly impeding Alonso at one point in Q2, but the stewards decided to take no further action.
As Vettel had again set the pace in Q2 by more than half a second from Webber, Massa and Hamilton, the session was a disaster for McLaren as Button slowed and crawled to the pits reporting loss of power.
Raikkonen bumped him from Q3, then Bruno Senna’s 1m 37.604s secured 11th for Williams. Button was left in 12th with 1m 37.616s, just ahead of Force India’s Paul di Resta on 1m 37.665s. Jean-Eric Vergne had one of his best runs of the year to 14th for Toro Rosso on 1m 37.879s, while the Saubers disappointed with Sergio Perez only 15th on 1m 38.206s from Kamui Kobayashi on 1m 38.437s and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg on 1m 38.501s.
Vettel had also been fastest in Q1, his last-minute 1m 36.558s trumping Hamilton’s best of 1m 37.058s before the stoppage of Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT in Turn Two brought out yellows which prevented any further improvements.
Daniel Ricciardo was 18th and thus the first to fail to make it through to Q2, after lapping his Toro Rosso in 1m 39.114s.
Marussia had a race against time to repair the shattered floor of Charles Pic’s MR01 after its collision with Perez’s Sauber in FP3, which the stewards deemed to have been a racing incident. But Timo Glock and he aced Caterham, with Glock 19th on 1m 40.056s while Pic managed 1m 40.664s. Vitaly Petrov got closest to them with 1m 40.809s, with Heikki Kovalainen next on 1m 41.166s. Pedro de la Rosa was 23rd on 1m 42.011s for HRT, while team mate Karthikeyan managed 1m 42.740s before his problem arose.