The Formula 1 fraternity gives a big howdy from Austin, Texas, where Stetsons, brewskis, ribs and--for this weekend only--on-track action abound. The one glaring absence at the Lone Star State race is Kimi Raikkonen, who has written off 2013 to undergo back surgery. We are to believe his going under the knife really couldn't be put off by a couple more weekends, and this early finish to his season has nothing to do with his issues with Lotus.
Fans of Finnish drivers have reason to stick around, though, because Kimi's replacement hails from the same Nordic country. With any luck, our efforts to wake up for qualifying and the race will be met with some very close racing. On to our predictions.
1. Sebastian Vettel will take an eighth consecutive win. And we don't want to dwell on this. Next.
2. Mixed bag for the Mexicans: points for Sergio Perez, none for Esteban Gutierrez. The newly fired Perez (he will be replaced by Kevin Magnussen at McLaren next year) has to stay calm and drive smartly if he wishes to extend his F1 career beyond a mere three seasons. It seemed like only yesterday when he was talking about challenging for the title in the lead-up to this season. Oh, well. He looked pretty anonymous during the practice sessions on Friday (Saturday here), but he still has the qualifying pace and the race form to catch the eye of other teams, if his sponsorship money hasn't already courted interest among cash-strapped contenders by now.
3. Heikki Kovalainen will contribute to Lotus's weekend tally. Seeing Kovalainen back on the track--for an actual race, not just Friday practice--is a bit like reuniting with a friend after an extended period of time. We're objective enough to acknowledge that the one-time GP winner didn't really make the most of his big-league opportunities in 2008 and 2009. But as a plug-and-play replacement for his tight-lipped compatriot, he is so far matching the much-improved Romain Grosjean. His Friday race-simulation lap times were notably consistent.
4. Lewis Hamilton will take third in the drivers' standings, while Mercedes hangs on to second in the constructors' table. Technically, Lewis would equal Kimi's net worth in 2013 points if he were to finish the race in P6. Since Kimi has more second-place finishes, however, he'd still retain his third place in the championship if that were the case--for this weekend, at least. Lewis will thus have to cross the line in P5 to give himself--and us--a fighting chance.
Meanwhile, Mercedes and Ferrari are separated in the constructors' table by 11 points. Based on qualifying form and recent race performances, the German squad should be able to hang on to that spot.
5. Marussia will remain 10th in the team battles ahead of Caterham. A clinical, almost goof-proof prediction here, yet in our heart of hearts, we are rooting for Caterham to prove us wrong by managing to bring at least one car home in P13. The AirAsia-sponsored team has extended its support to the victims of typhoon Yolanda via special branding on its cars and fundraising efforts. We can only say thank you very much, and best of luck in these last two races.
In Philippine time, qualifying kicks off at 2am on Sunday (November 17). The race airs live on Monday (November 18) at 3am.
Photos from Lotus F1 Team
|USA||Free Practice One||Free Practice Two|
|Pos||Driver (Team)||Time, +Gap (Tire)||Driver (Team)||Time, +Gap (Tire)|
|1||F. Alonso (Ferrari)||1:38.343 (H)||S. Vettel (Red Bull)||1:37.305 (M)|
|2||J. Button (McLaren)||1:38,371, +0.028 (H)||M. Webber (Red Bull)||1:37.420, +0.115 (M)|
|3||V. Bottas (Williams)||1:38.388, +0.045 (H)||N. Rosberg (Mercedes)||1:37.785, +0.480 (M)|
|4||E. Gutierrez (Sauber)||1:38.532, +0.189 (H)||L. Hamilton (Mercedes)||1:37.958, +0.653 (M)|
|5||N. Rosberg (Mercedes)||1:38.657, +0.314 (H)||H. Kovalainen (Lotus)||1:38.073, +0.768 (M)|
|6||L. Hamilton (Mercedes)||1:38.979, +0.636 (H)||E. Gutierrez (Sauber)||1:38.229, +0.924 (M)|
|7||F. Massa (Ferrari)||1:39.005, +0.662 (H)||N. Hulkenberg (Sauber)||1:38.254, +0.949 (M)|
|8||M. Webber (Red Bull)||1:39.083, +0.740 (H)||R. Grosjean (Lotus)||1:38.255, +0.950 (M)|
|9||N. Hulkenberg (Sauber)||1:39.158, +0.815 (H)||J. Button (McLaren)||1:38.269, +0.964 (M)|
|10||P. Maldonado (Williams)||1:39.200, +0.857 (H)||F. Alonso (Ferrari)||1:38.461, +1.156 (M)|
|11||R. Grosjean (Lotus)||1:39.238, +0.895 (H)||A. Sutil (Force India)||1:38.719, +1.414 (M)|
|12||S. Perez (McLaren)||1:39.256, +0.913 (H)||F. Massa (Ferrari)||1:38.938, +1.633 (M)|
|13||H. Kovalainen (Lotus)||1:39.487, +1.144 (H)||S. Perez (McLaren)||1:38.941, +1.636 (M)|
|14||A. Sutil (Force India)||1:39.699, +1.356 (H)||D. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)||1:39.246, +1.941 (M)|
|15||P. di Resta (Force India)||1:39.836, +1.493 (H)||P. di Resta (Force India)||1:39.410, +2.105 (M)|
|16||D. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)||1:39.863, +1.520 (H)||V. Bottas (Williams)||1:39.512, +2.207 (M)|
|17||D. Kvyat (Toro Rosso)||1:40.065, +1.722 (H)||J. Vergne (Toro Rosso)||1:39.579, +2.274 (M)|
|18||S. Vettel (Red Bull)||1:40.662, +2.319 (H)||P. Maldonado (Williams)||1:39.784, +2.479 (M)|
|19||A. Rossi (Caterham)||1:41.399, +3.056 (H)||C. Pic (Caterham)||1:40.376, +3.071 (M)|
|20||M. Chilton (Marussia)||1:41.605, +3.262 (H)||G. van der Garde (Caterham)||1:40.563, +3.258 (M)|
|21||C. Pic (Caterham)||1:42.054, +3.711 (H)||M. Chilton (Marussia)||1:46.226, +8.921 (H)|
|22||R. Gonzalez (Marussia)||1:43.716, +5.373 (H)||J. Bianchi (Marussia)||1:47.009, +9.704 (M)|
Legend: H—hard compound; M—medium compound. H. Kovalainen replaces K. Raikkonen at Lotus for the last two races of the season. For first free practice, D. Kvyat (Toro Rosso), A. Rossi (Caterham) and R. Gonzalez (Marussia) drove in place of J. Vergne, G. van der Garde and J. Bianchi, respectively