Fernando Alonso has finished quickest during first practice for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, but two large delays meant that it was hard for many of the teams to deduce much from the shortened session on Friday morning.
The start of the first free practice session was delayed by forty minutes due to a thick layer of fog that had descended over the Circuit of the Americas, with race control shortening the session to one hour as a result. Conditions did eventually improve and Austin was soon bathing in bright sunshine. Kimi Raikkonen’s stand-in, Heikki Kovalainen, was the first driver to go out on track as he looked to get to grips with the E21 car, but it was the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez who set the early pace. American driver Alexander Rossi – deputizing for Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde on Friday morning – also got out early to post a time, although it was far from representative, being four seconds down on Button in P1 and six seconds ahead of Charles Pic.
However, the session was soon red flagged after fifteen minutes of running due to a problem with the medical helicopter. Had there been a crash that required a driver to be airlifted to hospital, this would not have been on hand, meaning that all cars were forced to return to the pits and wait for the arrival of the back-up helicopter.
After a delay of around thirty minutes, the helicopter arrived and the session was able to get back underway with just thirty minutes left on the clock. The drivers were quick to get back out and make up for the lost time, with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber being the first drivers to displace the McLaren drivers at the front. Valtteri Bottas also popped up into second place briefly as the track began to evolve, and the rest of the runners soon put in a competitive lap time. However, some drivers still lacked grip as Adrian Sutil became the first man to run wide at turn nineteen whilst Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez both locked up heading into the first corner.
Most of the teams opted to focus on their long runs due to the delay, with Sebastian Vettel filling his Red Bull full of fuel and failing to bother the front-runners as a result, eventually finishing in eighteenth place. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat got his first taste of running at a grand prix weekend, and posted a respectable time in comparison to full-time driver Daniel Ricciardo. Alexander Rossi made the most of the delayed session to finish ahead of Charles Pic, strengthening his case for a full-time seat, whilst Heikki Kovalainen quickly got to grips with the Lotus car to finish just behind Romain Grosjean. Esteban Gutierrez also put in a good display to finish in fourth place, delighting the sizeable Mexican contingency in Austin.
Due to the delays though, it was very hard for the teams to deduce much from the session, meaning that they will have to regroup and squeeze more running into the second practice session later today.