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GP Week : Issue 176
F1 >>> UNITED STATES 24 GPWEEK.com // 24 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: I t should have been a Red Bull walkover. Sebastian Vettel started off the US Grand Prix weekend on a high – the German racer topped not only all three practice sessions, but also the three qualifying sessions. Vettel had pole, and the support of team-mate Mark Webber on the row behind. Both Red Bull drivers had the advantage of starting on the clean side of the grid, with engineers predicting that those in even-numbered grid slots would lose at least one place off the start. Making life easier for Vettel in the championship stakes was Fernando Alonso’s relatively poor qualifying result, which Ferrari did their best to ameliorate by getting Felipe Massa to take five for the team, sacrificing his strong qualifying performance for a gearbox penalty that would move Alonso up one grid slot and over to the clean side. As the lights went out, it looked as though Ferrari had made the right tactical decision. Notorious poor starter Webber leapt ahead of P2 man Lewis Hamilton as the 24 cars roared their way up the hill to Turn 1, and Alonso was up to P4 by the end of the first lap. Hamilton gave chase, and managed to pass Webber on lap 4 before turning up the wick and beginning the slow process of hunting down Vettel, who was pulling away into the distance. Behind the leading pair, Alonso was busy chasing down Webber – with Vettel in the lead, the Spanish driver needed a podium finish if he was to keep the championship battle alive until the Interlagos season finale. What looked like it was shaping up to be a decent fight between the leading Ferrari and the second Red Bull descended into a farce for the Australian driver, when it became increasingly clear that – yet again – Webber’s car was beset with mechanical difficulties. The Australian driver lost KERS, and was told how to fix it over the radio, just as the TV feed showed the Monaco Grand Prix winner slowly pulling off the circuit and stepping out of his car. In Saturday’s post-qualifying press conference, I asked Webber if the new-spec alternators – which made their in-race debut in Austin, having been tested in practice at other grands prix – made him wary of their reliability. “I trust the guys,” he replied. “They