Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel has continued his dominant run so far at the all-new Circuit of the Americas by sealing his 36th career pole position for what will be his 100th grand prix tomorrow. Having gone fastest in all the free practice sessions, Vettel used Pirelli’s P Zero White medium tyre – nominated along with the P Zero Silver hard compound for the inaugural grand prix in Texas this weekend – to set pole position thanks to a time of 1m35.657s.
With tyre wear and degradation levels extremely low, most of the competitors are likely to stop only once during the race, although this could of course be affected by the weather and safety cars. The medium compound is so far around half a second per lap faster than the hard compound at Austin, but is capable of running long stints without any significant drop-off in performance.
Most of the drivers began Q1 on the hard compound Silver tyres, but with the track still evolving as more rubber was laid down, all the teams apart from Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull went on to the medium compound towards the end of the session. As was the case yesterday, conditions were dry but relatively cool with ambient temperatures in the region of 21 degrees centigrade. Intriguingly, the ambient temperature is expected to be similar tomorrow, but there is also a slight chance of rain.
All the drivers who went through chose to start Q2 on the medium tyres, some of them carrying out several laps in order to take advantage of the low levels of degradation and increase their familiarity with the brand new circuit. Such was the degree of track evolution that the lap times today were about two seconds quicker than those set yesterday.
The final top-10 shoot-out in Q3 was also run on just the medium tyre, with all the top 10 set to start on the softer compound tomorrow. Vettel, the current championship leader, sealed pole right at the end of the session from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber was third.
To underline his dominant form so far in America, Vettel was also fastest in the third and final free practice session this morning, using the medium tyre once more to set a time of 1m36.490s right at the end of the session.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “The low levels of degradation here, a slippery surface, and the teams’ better understanding of the tyres at the end of the season are the key factors leading us to what is likely to be a one-stop race tomorrow. However, with the championship so finely balanced, we did not want to do anything drastic on a brand new circuit that might have in any way interfered with the title battle, which could go down to the final race of the season. With more knowledge about this track next year, it’s likely to be a different story. Congratulations to Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel for a dominant performance so far with fastest time in every session of qualifying, but with a possibility of rain tomorrow – which could prompt the use of the Cinturato Green intermediates or Cinturato Blue full wets here for the first time – this weekend is a very long way from being a foregone conclusion.”
Tyres used by the top ten qualifiers: