US Grand Prix: Red Bulls on top after fog blurs picture

 

They say that everything in Texas is bigger and, unfortunately, here in Austin yesterday that meant the delays caused by the weather.

There was a 30-minute one before the first practice session for tomorrow’s US Grand Prix could begin because of the density of fog, which meant that the medical helicopter could not take off from the local airport. Though the session was eventually started, it was cut from 90 to 60 minutes. There was then a further delay, after Jenson Button had set the early pace, when the helicopter had still not arrived.

To add further spice to the proceedings, Fernando Alonso ended up fastest, from Button and Valtteri Bottas. That’s right, three underdogs leading the more fancied drivers. Throw in Mark Webber in only eighth place for mighty Red Bull, and the champion Sebastian Vettel only 18th in the sister car, and it was clear not everyone was focused on the pursuit of fast lap times.

But Lewis Hamilton was happier. The 2008 champion’s Mercedes was found to have serious chassis damage when it was stripped for intensive inspection prior to the race as the team tried to figure out why it behaved so differently from team-mate Nico Rosberg’s in the recent Abu Dhabi GP. Where Rosberg had finished third, Hamilton could only manage seventh place.

The two cracks that were discovered accounted for the handling problems Hamilton has experienced of late, and a new chassis helped him as he took sixth place yesterday, four-tenths of a second shy of Rosberg. But for rookie Rodolfo Gonzalez’s Marussia gliding to a halt with mechanical problems late in the session, Hamilton would have been quicker. As it was, the Venezuelan’s plight necessitated yellow “slow down” flags at the end of the lap, when Hamilton’s first sector time showed significant improvement on his previous best.

“It was a good session,” he reported. “The car feels good and I think we’ve made a reasonable start.”

Further back, as Romain Grosjean set the 11th-fastest time for Lotus, Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement Heikki Kovalainen demonstrated his mettle with the 13th-fastest time, only two-tenths of a second adrift. And as local hero Alexander Rossi blew away his Caterham team-mate Charles Pic on his morning-only outing, the Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat likewise demonstrated his potential in the clearest terms with a lap that left him within two-tenths off Daniel Ricciardo, the man who will partner Vettel at Red Bull and whom he will controversially replace at Toro Rosso next season.

There has been a deal of scepticism about the timing of Raikkonen’s back operation, many believing Ferrari scheduled it so that their 2014 driver will not be able to help Lotus beat them to runner-up slot in the constructors’ World Championship. But the Finn underwent successful surgery at the hands of Professor Afshin Gangi at Strasbourg’s University Hospital yesterday. A statement from the Lotus team said: “Kimi will now rest for a few days and he will start his recovery process as early as next week.”

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