sport

Vettel tops timesheets in USGP

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 ahead of the United States Grand Prix as the Circuit of The Americas threw open its doors for business to herald the return of Formula One to America after a five-year absence.

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 on Sunday 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 of Felipe Massa.

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

To underline the considerable gulf between Vettel and departing seven-times champion Schumacher, there was a 2.3secs gap.

The Lotus' of Kimi Raikkonen, winner last time out in Abu Dhabi, and Romain Grosjean appear to be struggling as they were 11th and 13th, with the Force Indias worse off as Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta were down in 17th and 18th, the latter 3.7secs adrift.

Aside from all the slipping and sliding on a dusty, green track that also appeared to lack grip on either tyre, there were fun and games at times.

With just under half an hour remaining, the action heated up on track as Webber caught HRT's Narain Karthikeyan napping into the sharp left-hander hairpin of turn 11, only just avoiding being clipped.

But a few minutes later there was contact when Heikki Kovalainen hit the front wing of Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne.

The minor collision resulted in Vergne losing the right endplate, to which he gave Kovalainen a dismissive gesture, although it was the Finn who came off worse as he suffered a left-rear puncture.

It resulted in him limping back to the pits as the rubber delaminated and shredded, almost coming off the rim which he severely damaged en route.