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Vettel Shakes ‘N Bakes His Way To Pole At COTA

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 16 2013

Sebastian Vettel went Ricky Bobby on the F1 field during qualifying at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas – Sebastian Vettel’s domination of Formula One long ago exhausted the vocabulary of his critics, and apparently that’s also becoming the case for his comrades.

“Crickey!” said Adrian Newey, designer of the Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault RB9 chassis Vettel qualified on-pole Saturday for the second annual United States Grand Prix. Vettel’s 12th pole in 17 races this season was just another reminder that the four-time/reigning World Driving Champion will be the man in command Sunday afternoon at Circuit of The Americas.

Newey designed the RB9 to the driving strengths of the 26-year-old German. Asked to unlock the secret to Seb’s success, Newey said, “I think he – like all the greats – has the ability to drive the car and at the same time have enough mental reserve to understand how he’s driving the car and to play that back and understand when to push and when not to, how the race is unfolding. I think he has very good recall, which means that when he gets out of the car he’s able to play back in his own mind what he’s experienced, digest that.

“He works hard in the evenings with the race engineers, and the result of all that is when he steps in the car again the next day he’s learned that little bit more.”

After pacing Saturday morning’s third and final practice, Vettel was in top form during knockout qualifying. Vettel toured COTA’s 3.4-mile/20-turn layout in 1 minute, 36.338-seconds. That hot lap knocked lame duck RBR teammate Mark Webber off pole before a crowd of 78,886. In the process, Vettel also presented team principal Christian Horner a present on his 40th birthday.

“Shake n’ bake!” Vettel bellowed over his radio, borrowing a line from the Ricky Bobby character in the “Talladega Nights” NASCAR movie spoof. “I think it was more of a piss-take than an actual movie,” said Vettel, who pipped Webber for P1 on his last flying lap. “It was a nice quote. I think it suits. Obviously, we’re in America.

“And a good result to have both cars in the front row. It was a tricky session because the wind, I think, picked up quite a lot from this morning and yeah, it does influence the behavior of the cars. So, not that easy, especially around the high-speed corners.

“I wasn’t that happy with my first run in Q3 but I think I had a solid run at the end, which was close enough to put the car on-pole. I think it was very close with Mark, he seemed to get closer and closer the longer the weekend went on. I think he might have had a mistake in his final shot. I really like this place. I like the circuit and am looking forward to (Sunday). I think it’s important as well to start on the clean side, so we’ll see what we can do.”

Vettel is working on a record-tying seven-race winning streak and looking to add to his season total of 11 during the 56-lapper.

Webber, who was clocked in 1:36.441-seconds, appeared headed to his first pole of the season. Instead, he got ambushed by his superstar teammate.

“We’re up there (in Row 1) and well-done to Seb, obviously,” said Webber, the Australian who is headed to Porsche’s revived Prototype sports car program for 2014. “That’s why it was so frustrating to not get pole. Would have been good to get another one off Seb at the end with a few gray hairs, but didn’t happen. He did the lap.

“We both had two sets of options (Pirelli’s soft compound tires). The first part of the lap was very good, I was happy with that. Didn’t quite get (Turns) 19 and 20 as I wanted. If I just repeated what I did initially in Q3 probably it was going to be enough but tried to squeeze a bit more out. Sometimes you’re happy that you’ve given your best and you’re on the front row but today one slipped through the fingers.”

Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus/Renault will start third after a lap in 1:37.155, alongside Nico Hulkenberg after the German’s lap in 1:37.296 in his Sauber/Ferrari.

“Yeah, I think we are doing a good job,” said Grosjean, Lotus’ lead driver this weekend alongside Heikki Kovalainen in place of injured lame duck Kimi Raikkonen. “We struggled a little bit yesterday and this morning. I think conditions are not so easy starting in the morning _ and I don’t like to wake up early, so it doesn’t make it easy.”

Former world champion Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain, who won the inaugural race here last November, will start fifth after lapping at 1:37.345-seconds in his Mercedes AMG Petronas.

Meanwhile, all eyes figure to be fixed on Vettel, who wrapped-up his fourth consecutive championship in the Indian Grand Prix two races ago. Vettel’s seventh consecutive win in the following round at Abu Dhabi tied fellow-German Michael Schumacher’s record in 2004 with Scuderia Ferrari. Vettel’s 11th win of the season in 17 races was his 37th in 118 career starts. Saturday’s pole was his 12th of 2013 and career 44th.

Vettel punctuated his most recent F1 wins in the Indian and Abu Dhabi rounds with a series of tire-smoking, rubber-burning donuts. But after qualifying on-pole here, Vettel remained non-commital should he end the day atop the podium.

“Well, to worry about that is a nice problem to have but first of all we have to focus on tomorrow’s race,” said Vettel, F1’s youngest four-time world champion. “I’m sure Mark will try everything to get past as well as the people behind _ Romain and so on. So it will be a long race. I think we always push the car to the limit, so you never know what might happen. Therefore, I don’t think it’s the highest priority, to be honest, to worry about that right now. I think it has to happen very spontaneously.”

Asked to speculate on the significance of a record eighth win, Vettel said, “Well, I think maybe I’m not that clever, so I’m not trying to think that much about these things. I think we’ve done pretty well with that kind of approach the last couple of years, so I don’t see a reason to change.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@raicintoday.com

FIA Formula 1 United States Grand Prix qualifying results Saturday around the 3.4-mile/20-turn Circuit of The Americas with car number in parentheses, driver, country, chassis/engine and time:

1. (1) Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1 minute, 36.338-seconds

2. (2) Mark Webber, Australia, Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1:36.441

3. (8) Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus F1 Team/Renault, 1:37.155

4. (11) Niko Hulkenberg, Germany, Sauber F1 Team/Ferrari, 1:37.296

5. (10) Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, 1:37.345

6. (3) Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari, 1:37.376

7. (6) Sergio Perez, Mexico, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 1:37.452

8. (7) Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, Lotus F1 Team/Renault, 1:37.715

9. (17) Valtteri Bottas, Finland, Williams F1 Team/Renault, 1:37.836

10. (12) Esteban Gutierrez, Mexico, Sauber F1 Team/Ferrari, 1:38.034

11. (19) Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:38.131

12. (14) Paul di Resta, Great Britain, Sahara Force India/Mercedes, 1:38.139

13. (5) Jenson Button, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 1:38.217

14. (9) Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, 1:38.364

15. (4) Felipe Massa, Brazil, Scuderia/Ferrari, 1:38.592

16. (18) Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:38.696

17. (15) Adrian Sutil, Germany, Sahara Force India/Mercedes, 1:39.250

18. (16) Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Williams F1 Team/Renault, 1:39.351

19. (21) Giedo van der Garde, The Netherlands, Catherham F1 Team/Renault, 1:40.491

20. (22) Jules Bianchi, France, Marussia F1 Team/Cosworth, 1:40.528

21. (20) Charles Pic, France, Caterham F1 Team/Renault, 1:40.596

22. (23) Max Chilton, Great Britain, Marussia F1 Team/Cosworth, 1:41.401

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 16 2013
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