Alonso quickest at COTA in stop-start FP1

First US Grand Prix practice delayed by fog and helicopter issues

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso showed no signs of his much-discussed back problem in FP1, ending the session fastest, with a narrow gap to McLaren’s Jenson Button. Valtteri Bottas was third-quickest for Williams, ahead of Sauber’s Esteban Gutiérrez. Fifth and sixth were Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, while Felipe Massa was seventh in the second Ferrari and Mark Webber eighth for Red Bull. Sauber’s Nico Hülkenberg was ninth-fastest and Pastor Maldonado rounded out the top ten in the second Williams.

The session was scheduled for a green light at 9am local time but thick fog over the Circuit of the Americas delayed that by 40 minutes – the poor visibility making it impossible for the medical helicopter to fly. When running finally commenced the session lasted only 12 minutes before red flags appeared. Visibility had improved but the helicopter wasn’t available. When that issue was rectified, the track finally went green at 10.28am. With a minimum two-hour gap between the sessions, teams were able to continue for 32 minutes, with the season ending at 11.00.

Before the enforced break, only five drivers set times, Button led with a lap of 1:39.493 ahead of team-mate Sergio Pérez, Hülkenberg, Caterham test driver Alexander Rossi and and the other Caterham of Charles Pic. At the restart the whole field took to the track almost instantly. Alonso immediately went to the top of the order, first with a time of 1:38.767, them improving with his fastest lap of 1:38.343. In the normal course of events Sebastian Vettel would be expected to challenge that but Vettel, the final man on track, opted instead for a long run to the flag, finishing off 2.319s off Alonso’s ultimate pace.

Elsewhere, the drivers most likely to rue the missed time were Daniil Kvyat, making his F1 race weekend debut for Toro Rosso, and Heikki Kovalainen, driving an unfamiliar Lotus as a late-season replacement for Kimi Räikkönen. Both faired well in the limited time available. Kovalainen finishing the session just two-tenths behind fellow Lotus driver Romain Grosjean while Kvyat, confirmed to drive for Toro Rosso next season, was even closer to team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

On track there was little drama to be had – certainly none of the extreme low-grip seen in 2012 when COTA made its F1 debut – but in the final minutes regular test driver Rodolfo González pulled to the side of the road with a smoking Marussia, causing the session to end with yellow flags flying.

2013 United States Grand Prix First Free Practice times

1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.343
2 Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.371 +0.028
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:38.388 +0.045
4 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:38.532 +0.189
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.657 +0.314
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.979 +0.636
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:39.005 +0.662
8 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:39.083 +0.740
9 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 1:39.158 +0.815
10 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:39.200 +0.857
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:39.238 +0.895
12 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:39.256 +0.913
13 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:39.487 +1.144
14 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:39.699 +1.356
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:39.836 +1.493
16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:39.863 +1.520
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:40.065 +1.722
18 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:40.662 +2.319
19 Alexander Rossi Caterham 1:41.399 +3.056
20 Max Chilton Marussia 1:41.605 +3.262
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1:42.054 +3.711
22 Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia 1:43.716 +5.373