Cold tires, 15 points, a title and a gearbox change

It all comes down to 15 points. That’s all that exists between Sebastian Vettel and a third consecutive championship—something that has only been accomplished by Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.

Today’s race at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) represents the denouement of the Formula One championship and no one is more aware of this fact than Ferrari and their star driver, Fernando Alonso.

Fernando looked focused, serious and in a zone on Saturday morning as he walked the paddock. The task before him clearly on his mind and the lack of performance from his Ferrari F2012 car was adding a serious complication to the thought of winning a third championship.

The overwhelming concern to both Red Bull and Ferrari is heat—more to the point, temperatures of the track, ambient air and tires. A new circuit always presents teams and drivers with a slippery track but the cool Texas autumn temperatures have created an element that the world’s top racing teams and drivers are finding very difficult to master.

Pirelli have brought a medium and hard compound this weekend for the first United States Grand Prix in five years. The decision was based upon the track characteristics and Pirelli have been involved in the development of COTA since it was a pasture of dust and dirt. The challenging layout—which borrows some of its key characteristics from other great circuits around the world—has been well received by the drivers.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber says that the layout of the track is fine but the real challenge is getting heat in the tires. His frustration is squarely with the cool temperatures and the choice of tire compounds brought to the race.

A slippery track, cold tires and 15 points are the challenges for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix and while Vettel sits squarely on pole position, Fernando Alonso will start from 8th on the “dirty” side of the grid.

The rumors started swirling Sunday morning that Ferrari would change the gearbox of their driver, Felipe Massa, which would give him a 5-place grid penalty but place him on the clean side of the track. Equally, the grid penalty would move the struggling Alonso up a spot and onto the clean side of the track.

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