Vettel to be lone star in Austin
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel can take pole position for the US Grand Prix in Texas according to our expert Tom Millard.
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"He was so fast through that middle section it was unbelievable."
The words are those of Lewis Hamilton after being left choking on Mark Webber's dust in the high-speed turns of the Buddh circuit towards the end of the Indian Grand Prix last month.
Hamilton was able to close right onto Webber's tail in sector one, taking advantage of the Red Bull's malfunctioning KERS unit and his own prodigious top speed, but Webber was able to simply drive away from the McLaren in the 'aero' parts of the track comprising sector two.
Since the introduction of Red Bull's 'double DRS' drag reduction device in Singapore the RB8 has been in a league of its own around medium- and long-duration corners, seemingly regardless of the rate at which they are negotiated.
The trick concept works in conjunction with exhaust-blowing technology to provide a virtuous circle of aerodynamic grip on both high-speed Suzuka-style sweeps and the slower, twisty turns of Korea and India.
The good news for the Milton Keynes-based team, and for its lead driver Sebastian Vettel, is that the shiny new Circuit of the Americas track in Austin, Texas, boasts upwards of a dozen such corners.
Vettel dominated the races at the three aforementioned circuits and heads to the States in buoyant mood after a pit-lane-to-podium fightback in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago which could have been far more cruel to the German.
Hamilton was set to dominate that race but was frustratingly forced out by another mechanical issue, this time a fuel pump failure, and has little to lose with his championship bid having long since disappeared.
McLaren have been cautiously optimistic that they can retain their pace advantage from the Gulf but the Texas track's layout does not appear to play to the advantages of the silver cars.
There is a one-kilometre long back straight which should allow the Mercedes-powered cars to stretch their legs but this pales in comparison to Yas Marina, where the two high-speed straights make up almost half the circuit's total length.
The last couple of hundred metres of a straight are what really tests the Renault engine, which is ultra-driveable but which lacks the top end grunt of the Mercedes- and Ferrari-powered cars.
In addition the final sector at Abu Dhabi, a series of sharp, short-duration corners through which Hamilton was able to take the bulk of his time advantage over the field, is almost unique on the calendar - he is unlikely to find an avenue for those kind of acrobatics in the Lone Star State this weekend.
Hamilton's continued excellence in the face of adversity means it would be foolish to write off his chances here, but even though we won't know for sure until the cars hit the track on Friday, the circuit's configuration certainly appears to favour Red Bull.
With that in mind it makes sense to support Vettel for pole position again at Betfred's and BetVictor's even money quotes.
The German really hasn't been on his devastating Saturday form for a while but there have been solid reasons for his underperformance - the lack of running in FP3 in Abu Dhabi, for example, and getting caught up behind a slower car on his warm-up lap in Korea.
In between those two races he took a fairly comfortable pole in India to go with his Suzuka domination in October, and this track looks likely to bring the best once again out of the world champion.
He's odds-against to take the race win but once again we'd rather side with the Red Bull over one hot 'double DRS'-enabled lap than over a full race distance.
Vettel's sole remaining championship challenger, Fernando Alonso, is a distant third favourite in the Ferrari and it's not easy to get excited about his title chances given the machinery propelling him.
The Spaniard seems likely to qualify on the third row once again, from where it will be an uphill struggle to pass the Red Bulls and McLarens and reduce his deficit in the standings.
Alonso has turned damage limitation into an art form in the latter part of this season but it's hard to see the double champion arriving at the season finale in Brazil with anything other than a points chasm to overcome.
He always manages to wrestle his F2012 into a podium position - only his Japanese retirement has prevented a clean sweep of podium placings in the last half-dozen outings - and it's with that in mind that we're prepared to tip Lewis Hamilton to finish between fourth and sixth at 13/2 in Coral's finishing positions market.
The Englishman is deservedly given plenty of respect by the market-makers but the bare facts state that he has not finished on the podium since winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.
In two of the subsequent five races he's retired from the lead but in the other three he's limped home fourth, fifth and 10th with various complaints and ailments.
If all goes to plan Hamilton will at the very least be chasing down Vettel while holding off the likes of Webber and Alonso, but if McLaren struggle once again with balance issues or tyre temperatures, there's no shortage of quality drivers who will be in a position to take advantage.
Another price which is too long is a Red Bull double podium finish at bwin's 15/4.
The Vettel/Webber dual forecast looks tasty enough at 9s (William Hill, Coral) but this bet allows you to side with two more outcomes for just under half the returns.
It would have paid out in two of the last three races.
Finally, entrust inconsistent Williams driver Pastor Maldonado to deliver another top six finish at 11/4 with Blue Square.
It's never a good idea to place too much expectancy on the Venezuelan given his chequered season to date but he drove superly on his way to fifth place last time out and clearly has confidence in what is a tidy car.
His raw pace was a match for all but the McLarens, Red Bulls, Alonso and eventual winner Kimi Raikkonen at Yas Marina so he should once again be on the fringes of the podium battle if he keeps his nose clean.
Another good grid slot would give the bet a boost and, having started from the front four rows in 10 of the 18 races so far, his current form bodes well.