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NOVEMBER 18, 2012

Massa gearbox issue puts Alonso on clean side of grid

By Tony Dodgins (@Tony Dodgins)

With just under two hours to go before the start of the US Grand Prix in Austin, Ferrari is believed to have broken the gearbox seal on Felipe Massa's car, which will mean a five place grid penalty that, crucially, will promote team mate Fernando Alonso one place onto the clean side of the grid.

With contaminants still in the newly-laid asphalt at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, the surface off the racing line is particularly slippery with some launch simulations done from the dirty side of the grid producing data suggesting that there is actually less grip than afforded by some circuits in the wet!

The expectation, therefore, is that those drivers unfortunate enough to have qualified on the even-numbered grid slots (Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, Maldonado, Button, etc) are going to go significantly backwards at the start.

Paddock gossip all morning has centred around whether Massa, sixth, might suddenly have a gearbox issue (all the team needs to do is break the seal, not actually change the 'box) which would move him back to 11th (the clean side) and also take Alonso forward to seventh. Fernando needs to finish in the top four to take the championship down to Brazil should pole man Sebastian Vettel win the race.

Even more speculation surrounds whether or not Red Bull may respond in kind with a phantom problem for Webber, which would be a rum deal for the Australian, relegating him from third to the clean side in eighth place, but which would also put Alonso back on the dirty side even after Ferrari had taken the hit! That would have an element of humorous justice so long as you're name isn't Webber!

There is believed to be no truth to the suggestion that Mercedes, with Micheal Schumacher fifth on the grid, are open to bids from both sides by 12.15 Austin time to then decide whether they have a gearbox issue as well...