American return set for exciting first corner, says Button

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Jenson Button is predicting Formula 1 will bounce back with a bang in the United States tomorrow.

Button feels chaos could unfold within seconds of the start at the all-new Circuit of The Americas.

The £250m track on the outskirts of Texan capital Austin boasts a signature turn one as it rises 40 metres from the start line into a blind left-hander.

It could be the scene of a spectacular incident and give the American fans starved of F1 for the last five years on home soil a real treat.

After running the rule over COTA, Button said: “For a spectator it’s great. There are so many grandstands around the circuit, and you can see cars for a mile or so.

“The start is going to be interesting. There could be pandemonium, so you want to qualify well here because people are going to be trying unusual things into turn one.

“We’ll all get there and we won’t have a clue where the apex is. The only car that will know will be the car on the inside because he’ll be able to see it, whilst the rest of us will be in no man’s land.

“So a good start is important, and I think P2 (on the grid) is going to be better than P1 here.

“The driver there will have a little more of a flat run before the hill, whereas P1 will be straight into the hill.

“There’s going to be a lot of playing around with braking. Not many people are going to get their braking point right at turn one at the start.”

With a sell-out 120,000 crowd expected for the first race Stateside since 2007, when F1 graced the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the key to maintaining such an audience will be entertainment.

If the race proves a bore the novelty factor will be short-lived and the bulk of those fans are unlikely to return in year two.

As for the television audience, crucial for the team’s sponsors, the numbers are certain to struggle as F1 goes up against the final and title-deciding NASCAR race at Homestead in Miami.

“It’s a tough one this weekend because this is one of the biggest weekends for motorsport in the States because it’s the last race of the NASCAR season,” said Button.

“It’s probably not the best weekend for us to be racing here, but we are a very different sport to NASCAR, so we will have different fans who will enjoy F1.

“We’re not here thinking of NASCAR, we’re here to race and put on a great show for the Americans, and I’m sure there will be a crossover as well.

“Having it in Austin is also good because it’s a young, fun, vibrant city which will help us attract a younger audience in terms of fans.”

As the two forms of motorsport are diverse, Button is hoping F1 will be able to find its own way and start building a reputation again to attract not just the fans, but Americans into the sport on the whole.

“The only way the sport is going to grow in America is if we can get more people involved in terms of drivers, engineers, mechanics, in so many different areas,” added Button.

“That’s when the interest in the sport will come because most people in the States don’t know about Formula 1, but once they do really know about it, then they really get interested.

“I did a half-marathon in Malibu on Sunday and there were a couple of people who went ‘You’re Jenson Button!’.

“I was amazed they knew me, but it shows there are people into the sport here, so I think things will change and we will get people interested.”

On the track, Sebastian Vettel shrugged off a water leak to put a dampener on title rival Fernando Alonso’s hopes of a championship charge.

Vettel topped both practice sessions. The 25-year-old German finished an astonishing 1.4 seconds clear of the opposition after the opening 90 minutes around the undulating 5.513km track – the largest margin at the end of any practice outing this season.

Vettel proved it was no fluke, as, although the gap was halved in the second session, it was still a considerable cushion at a venue that should have offered more of a level playing field given this is its debut. That was despite looking on for 30 minutes as his team cured a water pump failure which resulted in his mechanics mopping the garage floor with paper towels at one stage.

When Vettel eventually emerged back on track with a set of the medium Pirelli tyres, which are slightly softer and faster than the hard compound also available here, he returned back to the top of the timesheet – a position from which he was never dislodged. Vettel, who needs to finish 15 points clear of Alonso tomorrow to become only the third man in F1 history to win three consecutive titles – Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher the others – finished with a lap time of one minute 37.718secs.

And in the land of the Texas longhorn, it was the Red Bulls who had the edge as team-mate Mark Webber was second quickest with a time of 1:38.475 - 0.757secs adrift.

As for Alonso, the Spaniard in his Ferrari had to settle for third, just eight thousandths of a second adrift of Webber, but like the Australian almost eight tenths of a second down on Vettel.

McLaren duo Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were fourth and fifth quickest, both a full 
second behind, followed by the second Ferrari car of Felipe Massa.

Mercedes pair Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were seventh and 10th, sandwiching Williams’ Bruno Senna and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi.