A yellow school bus meandering down a racetrack never is a good sign, but that was the last motorized activity Saturday at a rain-soaked Circuit of The Americas.
Relentless rain and the resulting ponding prompted FIA officials to postpone qualifying for the fourth annual Formula One United States Grand Prix until 9 a.m. Sunday … weather permitting. The last time qualifying was run on a Sunday was at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.
The 56-lap, 191.912-mile race is scheduled for 2 p.m. (KXAS/5), with defending race winner Lewis Hamilton poised to clinch his second consecutive world championship and third overall.
I’m definitely excited to race here, if we’re not floating down the river.
Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo
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Hamilton has a 66-point lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, winner of this race in 2013. Hamilton also is 73 points ahead of his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. Hamilton can clinch Sunday and celebrate over the final three events if he can exit Texas with a 75-point advantage. While a number of permutations can make that happen, the most basic is a Hamilton win coupled with a finish of third or worse by Vettel, a four-time world champion from Germany.
“I always enjoy myself out here in the States,” said Hamilton, who won in Austin in 2012 driving for McLaren and last year for the Silver Arrows. “Just excited for another weekend. I missed driving the car for the last two weeks.”
The teams squeezed in a third practice Saturday morning under dicey conditions. Hamilton emerged as the reinmeister, covering COTA’s 3.427-mile, 20-turn layout in 1 minute, 59.517-seconds in nine laps. Vettel trailed by 0.863-seconds (2:00.380) after the same number of laps, with Nico Hulkenberg of Force India third at 2:00.496 after 12 laps.
Knockout qualifying was scheduled for 1 p.m., but that was followed by five 30-minute delays capped at 4 p.m., shortly after the safety car rooster-tailed around the circuit. That was followed by the yellow school buses, sent out to retrieve water-logged track marshals.
In between, fans who braved the rain and wind were treated to Rosberg showing off his skills with a soccer ball; Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat waltzing in the rain; an impromptu bobsled-style run down the paddock by four Force India crewmen; a bowling demonstration by rookies Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso and Hamilton saluting a group of British fans defiantly displaying a “Hammer Time Hamilton” version of the Union Jack.
“I’m definitely excited to race here,” Ricciardo said, “if we’re not floating down the river.”
I’m not really racing anyone at the moment other than one other car.
American Alexander Rossi of Marussia teammate Will Stevens
Rossi waves flag
Alexander Rossi will become the first American to compete in F1 in Austin on Sunday, where his mission is clear-cut.
“I’m not really racing anyone at the moment other than one other car,” said Rossi, referring to Marussia teammate Will Stevens of Great Britain. A 24-year-old native of Auburn, Calif., Rossi is the first American to compete in F1 since fellow Californian Scott Speed’s 28-race adventure with Toro Rosso ended in 2007.
Rossi is in the midst of a five-race audition in the Ferrari-powered No. 53 Marussia. Rossi finished 14th at Singapore in his F1 debut and18th in Japan — one spot ahead of Stevens, also 24, on both occasions. Each ran 10 laps Saturday, with the Brit edging Rossi by 0.229-seconds for 17th.
John Sturbin is a Senior Writer at RacinToday.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
United States Grand Prix
2 p.m. Sunday, NBCSN