Ferrari 'considering' grid change for U.S. GP
Teams fear slow start from slippery side of the grid
By Pete Gill and Mike Wise in Austin. Last Updated: 18/11/12 5:57pm
Sky Sports F1 has learnt that Ferrari are "evaluating the option" of making a change to Felipe Massa's gearbox that would trigger a penalty and see World Championship contender Fernando Alonso move to the clean side of the U.S. GP grid.
The news comes amid concerns about a marked discrepancy in grip on the starting grid at the new Circuit of The Americas.
Massa and Alonso are currently scheduled to line up sixth and eighth respectively - with both drivers on the 'dirty' side.
However, if the gearbox on Massa's car was to be changed - according to rule Article 28.6e of the Sporting Regulations, a replacement gearbox will also be deemed to have been used if any of the FIA seals are broken on the original - when both would line up on the racing line of the start-finish straight where more rubber has been laid down.
It is not known whether there is a specific problem with the gearbox on Massa's car; the obvious conclusion to draw is that Ferrari are trying to give Alonso the best possible chance to make up ground in the race.
There is nothing in F1's rules that prevents a team from changing a car's gearbox for sporting reasons. However, if Ferrari were to make the change, the FIA might look at the situation and decide to retain the current grid.
Another option might be to start Massa from the pitlane, also leaving Alonso in his current position.
Speaking on Sunday morning, a Ferrari spokesperson said: "We are just evaluating this option."
Alonso currently stands ten points behind Sebastian Vettel in the Drivers' Championship. Vettel starts on pole position for the race - on the clean side of the grid - and assuming he can hold that position, then his rival will need to finish fourth or higher to keep the title battle alive.
Assuming Ferrari did change the gearbox, Massa would receive a five-place penalty dropping him to 11th. Alonso, meanwhile, would be promoted to seventh.
Somewhat ironically, Massa himself spoke of the fears of starting from the dirty side of the grid on Saturday night, telling reporters: "We did a practice start there at the end of qualifying and it showed that acceleration was worse even than from a wet track."
Alonso, meanwhile, stressed the need for a good start as he considers that overtaking might prove difficult on the 5.513km track.
"I'm sure that we will move up in the positions. But I think overtaking here will be tricky because the detection point and activation of DRS is just after the high-speed corners in the first sector," the Spaniard said.
"The first lap will be the majority of the places we can gain. We need to plan."
According to Sky Sports F1 commentary expert Mark Hughes, writing in the Sunday Times, such is the disadvantage of starting from the dirty side of the grid that 'Red Bull's analysis suggests that the blunted acceleration resulting from the extra wheelspin would cost the equivalent of three grid rows.'
However, were Massa to shift position, it may prompt a reactive strike in reponse, with Sky Sports News' Rachel Brookes tweeting 'other teams may find one of their driver needs a gearbox change & positions would change again!'
Coverage of the U.S. GP begins exclusively live on Sky Sports F1 from 5.30pm