Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have continued to dominate practice for the Indian Grand Prix by recording their second one-two finish in as many sessions on Friday with the German driver leading the way once again.
Vettel bounced back from a KERS failure at the beginning of the session to record a fastest time of 1:25.722 which was good enough to see him finish P1 ahead of teammate Mark Webber by just under three-tenths of a second.
Once again, the challenge was left with Lotus and Mercedes to try and stop the defending world champions from heading the field, but Romain Grosjean’s best effort was only good enough to give him third place ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Fernando Alonso returned to proceedings after a gearbox problem in FP1, finishing fifth ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, current teammate Felipe Massa and future teammate Kimi Raikkonen. However, the Finn struggled for pace throughout the session, spinning his car early on before complaining about the state of his tires towards the end of FP2. McLaren got both cars into the top ten once again with Sergio Perez finishing ninth ahead of Jenson Button.
The session proved to be a difficult one for Williams as Pastor Maldonado lost a wheel nut heading into the final sector, forcing him to pull over at pit entry and abandon his car. After the team was fined at Suzuka for failing to secure its tires properly, this will certainly be a cause of concern for the FIA who will look into the matter.
At the front though, it seems increasingly likely that Red Bull will be celebrating a third consecutive victory at the Buddh International Circuit this weekend, but Mark Webber’s pace suggests that he could pose a serious challenge to his teammate on Sunday.
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.