Sebastian Vettel was in a class of his own on the opening day’s running at the Circuit of the Americas, comfortably topping both Friday Practice sessions ahead of the United States Grand Prix. The German would appear to be the favourite for victory, a result that could see him crowned a three-time world champion on Sunday afternoon.
The headline times in first practice were initially set by Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso but with the track evolving at a rapid rate, it was no surprise to see the quickest time come right at the end. It was even less surprising to see Vettel setting it but the gap to the opposition was startling. The reigning champion overtook Hamilton by eight tenths with two minutes to go before nearly doubling his advantage with the last lap of the morning, ending up 1.418s clear.
The afternoon began well for Vettel who was straight on the pace again but his team instructed him to return to the pits with a loss of water pressure. It turned out that the radiator had a leak and Sebastian was forced onto the sidelines for half an hour, allowing Mark Webber to take charge of the session in the sister RB8.
Once the problems were fixed, Webber was quickly demoted to second as Vettel pumped in a 1:37.718, three quarters of a second quicker than his teammate had managed in over double the track-time. Fernando Alonso gave Ferrari hope that the championship may not be decided here by matching Webber in third and edging out the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in fourth and fifth.
Felipe Massa was sixth in the second Ferrari, just in front of Nico Rosberg who led after half an hour before dropping back. Bruno Senna was eighth quickest with Kamui Kobayashi ninth despite missing much of FP2 with a broken exhaust. The top ten was completed by Michael Schumacher with Abu Dhabi winner Kimi Raikkonen only eleventh.
Most of the talk surrounding Formula One’s newest track was the stunning uphill approach to the blind turn one but the penultimate corner seemed to be leaving the biggest impression. Countless drivers were seen losing the back end and running wide through turn 19 and it also saw Jean-Eric Vergne and Heikki Kovalainen come to blows late on with the Toro Rosso’s front wing being damaged, not before it had punctured Kovalainen’s left-rear tyre.