Alonso motivated by title heartache

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Losing the championship at the final race in two of the past three seasons may be enough for some drivers to enter a new year still reeling from the result, but Fernando Alonso insists that he is only motivated by his recent title heartache.

“I feel privileged to fight for the world championship two times in three years. Very few people have the opportunity to fight for a world championship.

“We lost two times in the three years in the last race and we want to have the opportunity to fight again for the world championship, hopefully again this year and hopefully to change the result. This is maybe some extra motivation for me and the team.”

Since joining Ferrari in 2010, Alonso has produced some of his best performances in the sport, and he claimed three wins last season on his way to second place in the championship. Having lost out to Sebastian Vettel by just three points, Alonso pointed to the beginning of last season as the stumbling block in his title challenge as he hopes to have a better start in 2013.

“It will be difficult to start any worse. The winter has been much better than last year. We need to start on the right foot and hopefully score some good results for the championship.”

The double world champion also admitted that he did not have a clear idea of the pecking order, but he was hopeful that Ferrari would be in the mix for the win on Sunday.

“No one knows who can win this race at the moment. I expect the five top teams to have a little advantage and not have many surprises in the first races. It’s very close and very difficult to choose one favorite. It’s very difficult and dangerous to make any conclusion.”

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.