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Sebastian Vettel (1:36.338) snuck pole for the 2013 United States Grand Prix away from teammate Mark Webber on the last lap of qualifying, who looked impossibly dominant in Q3. Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg qualified on the second row for Sunday’s race, with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso on row three. Alonso had to push his Ferrari into Q3, while Sergio Perez and Heikki Kovalainen slid into sixth and seventh fastest. Though Valtteri Bottas had been impossibly quick all through the qualifying sessions, he managed only ninth, just behind countryman and Kimi Raikkonen replacement Heikki Kovalainen. Esteban Gutierrez rounded out the top ten, though he will be investigated after qualifying for possible impeding of Pastor Maldonado.

Q1 felt fairly typical, with the Red Bull drivers waiting seemingly forever to join the other drivers on the track. Both Ferraris performed terribly, only skating through to Q2 after Adrian Sutil had a brake failure that forced him off the track at T1 and to pull to the side on his final lap after the flag. Maldonado came under pressure, weaving through traffic to find clear track, with both Gutierrez and Max Chilton to be investigated for possibly impeding him after qualifying. He was knocked out in Q1, taking his post quali press time to blame someone in the team for messing with the settings on his car, resulting in decreased speed.

Q2 saw a number of unexpected drivers knocked out, with Nico Rosberg unable to do better than fourteenth fastest. Felipe Massa also underperformed in his Ferrari, only managing fifteenth, while Button was thirteenth fastest. Button also will suffer a three place grid penalty after passing Toro Rosso Friday driver (and Daniel Ricciardo’s 2014 replacement) Daniil Kvyat while the red flags and lights were shown in the truncated first practice. Charles Pic also received a five place penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change for his Caterham.

Alonso (1:38.343) was fastest in the first practice session Friday, one which got off to a shaky start and continued, sputtering along in fits and starts. Heavy fog covered the circuit, leaving the medical helicopter unable to take off should the need arise. That caused a delay in the session, with a projected late end and hour long run time. Unfortunately the session began only to be stopped, as the first helicopter suffered a mechanical issue that necessitated a second aircraft be flown in from Austin. Though little running occurred between the first start and red flag, Alonso’s time held throughout. Button, Bottas, Gutierrez, and Rosberg led as the top five, with Webber eighth, Raikkonen’s replacement Kovalainen thirteenth, and Vettel eighteenth fastest.

In the afternoon, Vettel (1:37.305) and Webber regained their positions as fastest, leading Rosberg, Hamilton, and Kovalainen as the fastest five. The latter was nearly two tenths faster than Grosjean, who was eighth fastest with a full season to get used to the Lotus. Chilton and the Texas marshals provided some interest near the end of the session. Chilton’s Marussia suffered a brake failure, with Chilton pulling to the side of the circuit and stopping. While attempting to crane the car away, the marshals had some difficulty with crossing the gravel trap and nearly got their machine stuck in the gravel.

Vettel (1:36.733) and Webber again led the final Saturday morning practice session, with Hamilton, Hulkenberg, and Grosjean rounding out the top five. Kovalainen’s impressive pace in a car he first sat in this weekend dropped a bit, with the Finn only thirteenth fastest. Still, he was just three tenths off Grosjean’s pace. Alonso and Massa (eleventh and seventeenth fastest) fared just as badly in their Ferraris. Though Hulkenberg finished the session fourth, he put his Sauber very close to Vettel’s fast time for much of the soft tyre runs.

Q1:
The breeze that had blown all day had increased in intensity as the light went green for the twenty minutes of Q1 at Austin. Chilton got the session started, with di Resta and Gutierrez soon following. Quickly, the track filled with cars in the sunshine. Three minutes into the session, only Vettel and Webber remained in the garage, with the latter not even in his car. Hulkenberg wondered why his Sauber felt different, only to learn on the radio while posting an installation lap that the team changed his brakes.

Early times were typically off the pace, with Hulkenberg (1:43.698) leading five minutes into the session. Grosjean, Massa, Bottas, Vergne, di Resta, Maldonado, Ricciardo, Chilton, and Kovalainen were the top ten at that point, though all were impossibly slower than practice times. Maldonado continued to go off track at T19, though replays also showed him nearly running into a Sauber, who came back across him a few turns later as Gutierrez wove for tyre warm up. The stewards would investigate the incident after qualifying. Alonso soon led the timesheets, only for Hamilton to replace him, then others as the track seemed to slightly improve. The heavier wind seemed set to keep the times slower, especially on the hard tyres.

At halfway, Grosjean (1:38.676) led Bottas, Alonso, Hamilton, Kovalainen, di Resta, Massa, Gutierrez, Rosberg, and Sutil as the top ten. Neither Red Bull had left the garage, joining van der Garde, Bianchi, Pic, and Chilton in the knockout zone. Maldonado and Ricciardo were on the bubble, ready to drop once Vettel and Webber deigned to set a time. Webber joined with about eight to go, with Vettel following. Both were shod with the hard tyres. All drivers were complaining of the different conditions in the first quali session from the final practice, with both McLarens showing too much understeer. Button suggested that there might be too much front wing.

Most had gone in for fresh tyres and a change as five minutes remained. Webber’s (1:38.493) first time put him on top as most of the competition rejoined with the softer medium tyres. Vettel went less than a tenth slower to be second fastest. With four minutes to go, Maldonado, Ricciardo, van der Garde, Bianchi, Pic, and Chilton were in the knockout zone. Everyone but Grosjean, third fastest, was then lapping. Maldonado moved up to fourteenth, even as Chilton seemed to block him slightly into the final turn. It was not as damaging to the Venezuelan’s lap time as Maldonado’s own issue earlier in the lap at T12. Chilton and Maldonado would also be investigated after quali. Hamilton next moved up to fastest, by a half second on Webber. Gutierrez and Bottas also bettered the Red Bulls, as did Perez. Vettel had pitted with two to go, as Grosjean left.

Button moved from sixteenth to seventh, leaving Massa on the bubble in sixteenth. Meanwhile, Hamilton pitted from the top with a minute to go. Massa could not improve, but had another lap to give it a go. Maldonado slipped to eighteenth, with Sutil seventeenth and another lap to try to leap out of the knockout zone. Sutil would be unable to move on, with a miscue at T1. Bottas jumped to fastest, moments before both Ferraris pitted, safe but barely moving on to Q2 despite their medium tyres. Sutil pulled to the side of the trackending his session on his final lap. In the end, Bottas (1:37.821) led Hamilton, Gutierrez, Webber, Hulkenberg, Perez, Kovalainen, Vettel, Button, and Grosjean the top ten. Everyone but the Red Bulls used a set of the medium tyres.

Knocked Out in Q1:
17. Adrian Sutil
18. Pastor Maldonado
19. Giedo van der Garde
20. Jules Bianchi
21. Charles Pic
22. Max Chilton

Q2:
The Toro Rosso drivers led the way for the fifteen minutes of Q2, as many others got their qualifying programs going straight away. As the track had changed for the slower after practice, the teams had much work to do to improve their times. Hamilton (1:38.104) led five minutes into the session, over Bottas, Gutierrez, Alonso, Kovalainen, Vergne, Ricciardo, Massa, Rosberg, and di Resta as the top ten. They were then the only men to have set times. Button and Perez were on track, just beginning their first timed laps. Di Resta soon moved up to second fastest as many of the men who had already set times returned to the garage.

At halfway, Button’s first lap put him seventh fastest. Most of the others were in the garage, though Vettel and Webber had not yet left. A minute later, Weber did. With six to go, Massa, Perez, Hulkenberg, Webber, Grosjean, and Vettel were in the knockout zone. Perez soon moved up to second fastest, dropping Rosberg.

With five to go, Hamilton still led on his previous time, with Perez, di Resta, Bottas, Gutierrez, Alonso, Kovalainen, Button, Vergne, and Ricciardo the top ten. Rosberg, Massa, Webber, Grosjean, and Vettel were still in the relegation zone, though Grosjean looked set to move up. He did so, going fastest overall (1:37.523). Hulkenberg could not improve, despite a fastest overall first sector. Alonso would soon best that, but it was Webber who went straight to the top on his first fast lap. Hulkenberg went third fastest, only to drop to fourth as Bottas continued his quick pace to second. Alonso would improve on that as the track seemed to come back to the drivers. Vettel’s (1:37.065) first lap put him fastest, nearly three tenths faster than his teammate.

With two to go, Gutierrez, Rosberg, Kovalainen, Button, Massa, and Vergne populated the knockout zone, with Webber heading back to the garage. No one seemed set to post an improved time in the final seconds before the flag, though they began improving on their final fast laps. The top three and fifth fastest Grosjean all pitted, with the latter fueled too light to run another lap.

Vergne would not improve on his last lap, sitting sixteenth. Ricciardo remained ninth, with Gutierrez jumping up to eigth. Kovalainen dropped Ricciardo by going ninth. Perez also moved up, dropping Kovalainen to tenth but on through to Q3. Massa could not improve and pitted from fifteenth fastest. In the end, Vettel (1:37.065), Webber, Alonso, Bottas, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Gutierrez, Perez, and Kovalainen moved on to Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Daniel Ricciardo
12. Paul di Resta
13. Jenson Button
14. Nico Rosberg
15. Felipe Massa
16. Jean-Eric Vergne

Q3:
Perez, Bottas, and Webber got the ten minutes of Q3 started, with Grosjean and Kovalainen following. Vettel soon joined, seeming to lend credence to the idea that longer runs were required to get the cars up to speed after the wind change. Webber’s first time (1:36.699) was the fastest of the weekend. Once the rest of the men lapping set their first times, Webber led Vettel, Grosjean, Perez, and Kovalainen at halfway, with five minutes to go. Vettel was a tenth off his teammate.

Hamilton and Hulkenberg soon joined the fray, with Alonso and Gutierrez the only drivers still in the garage with four minutes to go. Webber rejoined with three to go, as Grosjean appeared to be having an issue in the garage. Alonso waited until two and a half minutes remained to set out for his first laps, with Grosjean rejoining behind.

All ten drivers were on the track with two minutes to go. Bottas set a fastest overall first sector, a personal best second sector, and moved up to third on a slower final sector. Webber improved his own first sector on his final lap, then did so in the second sector, to post a 1:36.441 for provisional pole. Further back, Hulkenberg went third on his lasp lap, with Bottas remaining fourth. He dropped to fifth, then sixth as Hulkenberg and Alonso moved up. Vettel looked unable to challenge Webber, but pulled out an impossible fast final sector to take pole from his teammate despite a couple of trips touching the Astroturf with his right side tyres. Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Hamilton, and Alonso rounded out the provisional front three starting rows for Sunday’s race.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2013 United States Grand Prix:

  Driver Team Time Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:36.338 12
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:36.441 14
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:37.155 17
4. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:37.296 20
5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.345 20
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:37.376 19
7. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:37.452 21
8. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:37.715 21
9. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:37.836 24
10. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:38.034 20
11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:38.131 18
12. Paul di Resta Force India 1:38.139 18
13. Jenson Button* McLaren 1:38.217 16
14. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.364 19
15. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:38.592 17
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:38.696 15
17. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:39.250 10
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:39.351 11
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:40.491 10
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:40.528 11
21. Charles Pic** Caterham 1:40.596 10
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1:41.401 10

*will receive a three-place grid penalty for passing under red flag conditions

**will receive a five place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change

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  • Andreas

    Interesting quali with some surprises. Heikki Kovalainen (P8), Valtteri Bottas (P9) and Nico Hulkenberg in P4 – all three were in their own ways punching above their weight. Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa was caught out by changing conditions, and Pastor Maldonado’s P18 isn’t very flattering to him. There were a few close calls with drivers on hot laps catching up to slower cars, putting them in compromised situations.

    The biggest “wow, did that really happen?” of the day, though, was hearing Maldonado in his interview with Sky insinuating that the team is messing with his tyre pressures, to intentionally put him off pace. And he said it with a wry smile, with a visibly uncomfortable Williams PR man right next to him. Wow…

  • bobw

    I was impressed with the Vettel/Webber battle and even more impressed with Grosjean’s third place. He has really turned into a producer for Lotus. It was great to see Hulkenberg in fourth over Hamilton. Kovalainen was pretty good for jumping in the car yesterday for the first time. I would look for him to do better during the race when he is settled in.

  • UAN

    I don’t know why you make the title “Vettel Steals Pole from Webber”. It could also be “Webber almost steals pole from Vettel”. Pole is for the person who wins it :)

    That being said, mega Q3 from Webber and Vettel. Looked like Webber had even despite his slight error in the last sector. Great to see these two really going at it.

    Bottas and Hulkenberg were also outstanding – especially Bottas. Good to see both Perez and Gutierrez put in solid drivers to get into Q3. And I say Alonso for the first time in a while didn’t under perform in Q3.

    Wonder what happened with Rosberg? How quickly the tide turns, from the last couple of races where he was “owning” Lewis, much to the delight of Hamilton detractors, and then … the shifting fortunes of F1.

    Should be a fun race. Though I see Grojean and possible Hulkenberg getting by Webber by T1. I hope not. To be fair, both Red Bulls have been a bit sluggish off the line since Japan and Grojean could jump them both.