For USGP F1 first Friday practice at Circuit of the Americas, the drivers got very little track time. Heavy fog and then a radio problem kept the Medical Helicopter from landing. After four ten-minute delays, the session started at 9:40am and was set to end at 10:30am, it's scheduled finish time. But, after nine green flag minutes, a Red Flag was displayed for further problems with the Medical Helicopter - it hadn't arrived. This required bringing in another medical helicopter, which landed and the Green Flag flew at 10:28am. The drivers ran until 11am, forty-one minutes instead of the scheduled 90 minutes.

Fernando Alonso/Ferrari was the fastest in the morning session - 1:38.343. He ran 16 laps. Second through fifth were Jenson Button/McLaren, Valtteri Bottas/Williams, Esteban Guitierrez/Sauber, and Nico Rosberg/Mercedes.

Button was penalised a drop of three grid positions for overtaking a car under the Red Flag. He said: "It wasn't a dangerous situation, and I didn't do it on purpose - the other car slowed down - but the rules are the rules, and it was the wrong thing to do."

Three Reserve Drivers were in the session: Rodolfo Gonzalez/Marussia; Daniil Kvyat/Toro Rosso; and Alexander Rossi/Caterham. Gonzalez didn't fare that well, coming in last after off/on course manoeuvres and a kill-switch problem. Kvyat, whose name is pronounced K-Fiat, comes on board full time with Toro Rosso in 2014. Rossi ran as high as third in the first nine minutes. After the prolonged delay, he continued to run for a total of 21 laps and finished nineteenth of 22 drivers.

Heikki Kovalainen/Lotus got his first run in the car, turned 18 laps and finished thirteenth, 0.249 seconds behind his team-mate, Romain Grosjean. He stayed late to work with his crew on fine-tuning the car.

Four-time F1 World Champion, Sebastian Vettel/Red Bull Racing was only eighteenth fastest. This caused NCSN TV commentator, David Hobbs, to opine that 'sly Sebastian was holding back trying out some new things'. Well, guess who was fastest in the second session, nearly the entire time, turning two fastest laps - yeah Vettel...

Vettel's top run in P2 was 1:37.305. He and the next eight drivers were faster than Alonso in the second session. They were Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton/Mercedes, Kovalainen, Esteban Gutierrez and Nico Hulkenberg/Sauber, Romain Grosjean and Button.

By the time the first practice ended, the sun was out in full bloom and the day warmed up quite nicely, with no threat of rain. And the forecast is for even more heat on Saturday and Sunday.

The second F1 practice at least ran its allotted 90 minutes, but it wasn't without its moments. There was a rash of off/on course moves by multiple drivers. The spin-off location of choice seemed to be between Turns 19 and 20. A marshal from T19 said the cars were coming into the corner 'scary fast.'

Kovalainen turned the most laps in that session, and ended his session with a practice pit stop. Jules Bianchi/Marussia ran the fewest laps and had the most moments. Marussia team-mate, Max Chilton, stopped in turn 20 and had to be craned out - a scenario which played out with prolonged, awkward attempts before the car was successfully moved out of harm's way. This caused the local TV commentator to joke about how long it was taking to 'take his car away'.

Webber was another driver who stayed after school to be with the team. He and his Dad were in the garage long after the Friday night Marshal's Pit Walk.

Davide Valsecchi, the Lotus Reserve driver, was in civilian gear Friday morning in the F1 paddock, after not being chosen to fill in for Kimi Raikkonen. Early rumours had Valsecchi getting the nod, but as we all know now, Heikki Kovalainen got the ride for the USGP and Brazil's season finale race.

The two support categories had their day in the sun. In the Ferrari Challenge, Mark McKenzie was fastest in Practice 1 at 2:13.619.

In the Formula Vintage group, for which no information was provided, T.DeSilva in No.98 was fastest at 2:12.809. Second fastest was Art Hebert/No.19 at 2:15.743. He felt that was pretty good, considering the circumstances. He literally heard about this weekend's race as he came off the FJr grid at the recent Cota Svra vintage race weekend. He spent Thursday and Friday morning tearing into the car to change just about everything - rebuilding the car - input shaft, clutch, gears and CV joints.

STOP PRESS: Friday's attendance was 58,276.

by Lynne Huntting



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