Smaller grid in Austin; Qualifying’s Vettel dilema

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The United States Grand Prix in Austin this weekend is set to have four fewer cars on the grid and now it seems that it might have another car missing during the qualifying session on Saturday.

While Formula 1 is attempting to gain purchase in the American market, there are a few names that do resonate with US F1 fans. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Unfortunately Vettel may be skipping qualifying due to a regulation stipulating grid penalties should a team use more than five components of the current engine specification during the season.

In order to save mileage on the new power unit to be fitted prior to Saturday, the team may elect to not run during qualifying, as the change will already mean a 10-place grid penalty.

The last place F1 really wanted to show up to with a less-than-full grid is the US. In 2005 it gave the middle finger to the American market with only six cars participating in the USGP at Indianapolis and that left a very bad taste in everyone’s mouth. With both Marussia and Caterham teams gone this weekend and Vettel not participating in qualifying, it’s beginning to feel as if F1 can’t get out of its own way as an equal opportunity offender in which the US is unfortunately the victim.

Vettel said:

“I think it’s to be confirmed, but, yes, we have to get an extra engine at some stage this year and very likely at this event here,” he said. “Obviously we had quite a bad first half of the season in terms of reliability, with a lot of things happening, and that put us in that position. Practice we will definitely run to try to maximise the track time, but more focus towards the race because qualifying fast is not that important if it comes down to Sunday when we start from the pit lane due to the regulations.

“Of course we would like to do more but as I said we will use practice and see where we are and go from there. The rules are pretty clear, once you decide to play the joker and take a sixth part, a sixth engine, sixth turbo etc. – all the pieces – you have to start from the pit lane. Even if you qualify on pole you have to start from the pit lane, so that’s why instead of burning mileage in qualifying which you may then regret later on in Brazil or Abu Dhabi, where we might not see the finish line, that would be a lot more costly than deciding here not to qualify. But I see your point and it would be a real shame.

“You can talk about obligations but in the end we have to manage the situation with the engines. The rules are the same for everyone, obviously it was our fault being very greedy at the beginning of the season; I had a lot of issues in terms of reliability, taking the engines to the end of their lives.”

This also may mean a change in qualifying format as Caterham and Marussia are missing. As Adam Cooper states in his nice piece, the FIA could eliminate four cars in Q1 and Q2 instead of six. As Adam rightfully says, if Vettel chooses not to participate in the session, only one car would be eliminated. We’ll have to wait and see what he FIA decide to do.

Hat Tip: ESPN and Adam Cooper

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