The first man to experience The Circuit of the Americas in Austin was Kimi Raikkonen, a possible necessary move due to his chosen lack of preparation in terms of walking or riding the circuit! In comparison with other races this season, all drivers seemed to be out on track much earlier in the session. Whether due to the buzz and excitement in driving a new track, or spurred on by a need to use every second to the maximum in order to glean the most information about the track, tyres and necessary car set up, lots of early action will have wetted the appetites of the American fans.
Caution was apparent in all drivers as the story of Friday Practice 1 was dominated by the level of grip on the track. Being a new track surface, together with a low track temperature and hard tyres, the level of grip was low at the start of the session resulting in cars slithering all over the place. Vitaly Petrov and Nico Hulkenberg both had spins and Turn 19 saw lots of drivers using the run off area to steady themselves round the corner.
Kamui Kobayashi clocked up the first timed lap, achieving a 1.48. From there, the lap times began to plummet as the track evolved and rubber got laid down. Unsurprisingly, the quickest times were posted by Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren. Sebastian Vettel ended the session 1.4 seconds faster than Fernando Alonso, a precedent hopefully not set to run the length of the weekend.
From a fan’s perspective it is interesting to see the drivers struggling to get to grips with a new circuit. In yesterday’s press conference Lewis Hamilton explained that it had been harder to learn than other tracks. The challenging nature of Hermann Tilke’s latest track coupled with the ‘slippy’ issue, should add an extra dimension to the racing on Sunday. At the beginning of the session, the grandstands looked scant in population, however they appeared to fill up as the session progressed. General admission at turn 1 looked understandably popular and anyone viewing the race from there will be treated to a veritable racing feast. One unnecessary addition to the pit lane is the warning siren that sounds when a car enters. In the interests of safety of personnel in the pit lane this introduction is understandable, but doesn’t the beautiful sound of a V8 engine give a loud enough warning?
If the first Friday practice session was anything to go by, this race could be won by the driver who has the deepest understanding of the tyres, and the way they work on this very underdeveloped track surface.