Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sebastian Vettel tops Austin practice

AUSTIN, November 17, 2012

Sebastian Vettel was undeterred by a water leak on Friday when he topped the time sheets in practice for the United States Grand Prix where he could clinch a third-straight world title in a duel with Fernando Alonso.

The Red Bull driver clocked 1 minute 37.718 seconds in the afternoon on the 5.516-kilometres Circuit of the Americas as F1 made its debut in Texas in a return to the US after five years.

The day's fastest time for Vettel came after mechanics had to repair a water leak for approximately half an hour during the 90-minute session in which he got in only 17 laps, while all rivals had more than 30.

The German also dominated the morning session in 1:38.125 as he mounted pressure on Alonso in the title showdown in the Wild West.

Teammate Mark Webber was second in 1:38.475 after being fifth in the morning, while Ferrari's Alonso came third in both sessions (1:40.337 in the morning but narrowing the gap later with 1:38.483). Lewis Hamilton of McLaren was second in the morning in 1:39.543 and fourth in the afternoon in 1:38.748.

Vettel holds a 10-point lead over Alonso going into Sunday's penultimate season race. He will clinch a third straight world title in what is his 100th career race if he earns 15 points more than the Spaniard, who lifted the trophy in 2005 and 2006 while at Renault.

Vettel has won four of the last five races and came third behind Alonso two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi after starting from last place on the grid.

The Circuit of the Americas is the 10th US location in the sport as F1 makes another attempt to conquer the American market which is lucrative for teams and manufacturers.

The last US race was held in Indianapolis 2007. Won by Hamilton, it was Vettel's first career race.

While the afternoon session went smoothly, drivers struggled with grip in cool morning temperatures on the hilly track in the Texan scrublands designed by German F1 architect Hermann Tilke.

Although all drivers were given an extra set of tyres, the penultimate left hand turn 19 proved tricky for many drivers, even more than turn one after an uphill part following the start and finish line.

Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi posted the first time of 1:54.846 minutes some 15 minutes into the first session.

But the times began to improve rapidly and Hamilton seemed untouchable before Vettel eventually got the hammer out late in the first session. He was then the only one to go even faster in the afternoon.

But practice times are no real indication of what can happen in a race because teams are preparing setups and running on different fuel loads and tyre sets.

Qualifying is scheduled for Saturday and the race is at 1900 GMT Sunday.
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