Motorsport: Blistering Vettel shows he's in mood for great American adventure
Amid fanfare and hoopla that would have done credit to the recent US election, Formula One came back to the United States, at the grandly named Circuit of the Americas.
After years of wandering in a wilderness, from which it made its exit at Indianapolis back in 2007, it has found the right home.
The track was greener than Al Gore when the F1 cars took to it in anger for the first time yesterday morning, when the air was still crisper than one might have expected down Texas way and the road was still dusty and dirty.
Force India's Nico Hulkenberg was the first man to christen it with a spin, as the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso explored the limits and run-off areas.
Hamilton, sporting the US flag atop his crash helmet, set the pace for most of the session, using all his ability to find the grip in a McLaren bearing Verizon sponsorship decals in place of its more familiar Vodafone livery as a reminder of the importance of the US market.
But at the end it was the familiar story of Vettel, wearing what looked like a Texan corral fence painted on his helmet, who pushed ahead by 1.4 seconds.
"The track's quite difficult to learn initially but it's fantastic to drive," Hamilton said. "I really started to enjoy it once I got used to it. It's going to be very interesting."
Vettel's pace will have been a hammer blow to Ferrari's Alonso, who chased Hamilton energetically throughout.
The Spaniard bore his usual stoical expression all morning, as Ferrari continue to await the major upgrade that he hopes will be the magic bullet next weekend in Brazil to enable him to snatch back a title that increasingly seems destined for Vettel.
There are some changes to the red car here, but the Spaniard made it clear that he does not expect them to push him right to the front.
"Nothing has really changed in terms of preparation and approach for the weekend," he said. "We try to do a very good job and maybe it's more important than some other circuits, to do a lot of laps, to learn the racing lines and, maybe, some tricks that the circuit can have."
Interestingly, he said that he feels much more relaxed than he did when he fought for the championship late in the day in 2005 and '06.
"I'm much more focused. In 2006, I arrived at the last race fighting with Michael (Schumacher) in Brazil. It was a very emotional weekend. In these last two races, I feel completely normal." (© Independent News Service)
United States Grand Prix, tomorrow,
Live, Sky Sports F1/Setanta Ire, 7.0