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Chassis Change Heats Up Vettel’s Texas Weekend

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 21 2017

Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel takes his pursuit of the 2017 title to Circuit of the Americas this weekend. (File photo)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Sebastian Vettel’s bid to close the gap to Formula One point-leader Lewis Hamilton during the United States Grand Prix weekend has taken on another layer of drama.

Vettel, of Scuderia Ferrari, trails Hamilton and his Mercedes by 59 points (306-247) heading into Round 17 of the 20-race schedule Sunday at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas is third in the championship (234 points).

Ferrari has opted to change chassis after Vettel experienced problems during Free Practice 2 Friday afternoon. Vettel was late onto the 3.426-mile/5.513-kilometer/20-turn layout in FP2 as Ferrari made changes to the German’s car following the morning’s 90-minute session. Vettel then experienced a huge off-road slide at Turn 19 and spent time in the pits before re-emerging.

The four-time World Driving Champion was third-fastest after completing his run on Pirelli’s ultrasoft rubber, but soon returned to the pits complaining that something “felt weird with the front axle” and ultimately clocked just 11 laps.

“It was a complicated afternoon and not an easy session, but the car is quick so we don’t need to worry too much about it,” Vettel said. “The only lap I had was the one with the ultrasofts. Before that, I made a mistake taking too much risk and pushing too early.

“The track was quite slippery and I lost the rear under braking. So, we lost a set of tires, and then again, towards the end of the session, I felt that something was not right with the car. So we checked a couple of times and now we are looking at the car to see if we can find something. I need to find the rhythm (Saturday) and make sure everything’s in order.”

Hamilton topped the speed chart during both sessions, highlighted by a track-record lap of 1-minute, 34.668-seconds in FP2. The defending event champion, if Hamilton wins Sunday’s 56-lapper, Vettel would have to finish fifth or higher to prevent the Brit from joining him as a four-time world champion.

Vettel’s car will be re-scrutineered before the third and final practice, scheduled for one hour at 11 a.m.  (CDT) Saturday morning. Knockout qualifying is set for 3 p.m. and consists of three rounds, with the 15 fastest drivers from Q1 moving onto Q2. The 10 fastest drivers from Q2 will advance to Q3, where they’ll battle for the pole.

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American-owned Haas F1 Team drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean placed 14th and 20th, respectively, following the conclusion of Friday’s Free Practice 2. Magnussen logged 17 laps in the No. 20 car with a best time of 1:37.285-seconds, while Grosjean completed 26 laps in the No. 8 car with a quick time of 1:38.387-seconds.

FP1 was run under a cloudy sky with intermittent drizzle, forcing teams onto the Pirelli Cinturato Green intermediate tire for the first 35 minutes of the session before the track finally dried enough for slicks to be mounted. The wet track conditions resulted in limited running, with Haas F1 taking a conservative approach in FP1.

Grosjean and Magnussen combined for only 10 laps on the Green intermediate tires before switching to Pirelli P Zero Red supersofts. After six laps on intermediates, Magnussen ran 10 laps on Red supersofts, securing his fastest lap on his final tour _ a 1:38.408 that placed him 11th overall. After four laps on intermediates, Grosjean ran 13 laps on Red supersofts, earning a quick time of 1:39.336 on his 15th lap that put him 15th overall.

Hamilton led the session at 1:36.335 _ 0.593-seconds better than Vettel.

When FP2 began two-and-a-half hours later, the sun was out and the track was dry. As the weather improved, so did lap times. Magnussen wrapped FP2 as the 14th-quickest driver with a time of 1:37.285, which was 1.123-seconds better than his best lap in FP1. The Dane’s quick time came on the seventh of his 17 laps shod on a set of Purple ultrasoft tires.

It was a little bit inconclusive, but I wouldn’t say it’s been a bad day,” Magnussen said. “It’s always good to go out and have a feel for the conditions on the inters, which we did this morning, and to see where the puddles are on track. We had a few technical issues on the car that we needed to sort _ just little things _ but the car feels OK. The balance doesn’t feel bad, and that’s the main thing. We have some stuff to work on for tomorrow, so we’ll see how that goes.”

Grosjean shaved 0.949-seconds off his FP1 time with a 1:38.387 earned on his eighth lap utilizing the supersoft tire. The Frenchman ended the session 20th overall with 26 laps completed.

“We didn’t get the best of everything we could,” Grosjean said. “We had a problem with the ultrasoft in the afternoon, so on the time sheet we are very far away. Even so, we haven’t got the sweet spot of the car. We just need to work on that. I think it’s just related to how we use the tires. We know this is something where we’re not always ‘bang-on.’ We need to find out where to put that. After that, I’m not too worried that the car’s going to come back to its level. It’s just getting the grip better with the compounds.”

Magnussen began FP2 on Yellow soft tires and after three laps switched to ultrasofts. Grosjean started on supersofts and ran eight laps before changing to ultrasofts. Between the two sessions, Haas F1 Team ran a total of 76 laps _ 43 by Grosjean and 33 by Magnussen.

“It was an inconclusive FP1 and FP2,” said Guenther Steiner, team principal. “The conditions changed so much, in FP1 mainly. In the afternoon, as well, we were a little up and down. So I cannot really assess where we are. All in all, we’re not unhappy, but we still have got work to do. There’s margin to get better. We look forward to tomorrow. We’ll see what we can do for FP3 and get prepared for qualifying.”

Hamilton again set the pace in FP2 with a 1:34.668 that was 0.397-seconds faster than next-best Max Verstappen of Red Bull. In addition to setting quick time, Hamilton established the new track record by breaking his own mark of 1:34.999 earned during qualifying for last year’s United States Grand Prix.

Haas F1 Team debuted in the FIA Formula One World Championship in 2016, becoming the first American Formula One team since 1986. Founded by industrialist Gene Haas, Haas F1 Team is based in the United States on the same Kannapolis, N.C., campus as his championship-winning NASCAR team, Stewart-Haas Racing. Haas is the founder of Haas Automation, largest CNC machine tool builder in North America, and chairman of Haas F1 Team.

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SiriusXM and Formula 1 have entered into a multi-year agreement that makes SiriusXM the exclusive North American radio broadcaster of all F1 races, starting with this weekend’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas. 

SiriusXM‘s coverage of the sixth annual Formula 1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, will air live Sunday beginning at 2  p.m.  (CDT), exclusively on Sirius channel 132, XM channel 203 and channel 963 on the SiriusXM app.  The channels also will carry qualifying on Saturday, (3 p.m. CDT).  Listeners will hear the BBC 5 Live radio broadcast for each race.

NBC Sports Network’s television coverage will begin Sunday at 1 p.m. (CDT).

The remaining 2017 Formula 1 races all will air on SiriusXM, including the season-ending Etihad Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Nov. 26.  Starting with the 2018 Formula 1 season and beyond, SiriusXM will air every Grand Prix race on the calendar.

“Formula 1 races are sensational, world-class events, which showcase the most advanced automotive technology in the hands of exceptional drivers competing on very challenging circuits,” said Scott Greenstein, SiriusXM’s president and chief content officer.  “We are very excited to deliver the excitement of these races to SiriusXM listeners across the country.  As Formula 1 makes its way around the globe, we will bring its fans in North America to each international venue and enable them to follow the action live.”

Formula 1 complements an extensive auto racing lineup on SiriusXM that includes every NASCAR race and every Verizon Indy Car Series race. The deal also expands the amount of European sports programming available to SiriusXM listeners, which already features English Premier League and Champions League soccer.

“We are delighted to have Formula 1 back on SiriusXM,” said Sean Bratches, managing director, commercial operations at Formula 1. “Their ability to offer live coverage of all races throughout the championship to their numerous fans and listeners provides tremendous additional exposure for F1 in the North American market.”

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 21 2017
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