Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘Track Profile Specialist’ Alistair Hunter
2013 Formula One United States Grand Prix
This weekend, arguably the most important racing series in the world finds itself in one of the most important countries in the world. The series is – obviously – F1, and its destination is the United States of America.
The race will be the 63rd Formula One race to be held in the United States, in addition to being the 35th edition of the United States Grand Prix and the second to be held at the Circuit of the Americas.
Formula 1 has had a long history with the United States, starting from the very first season in 1950. 42 years after the very first United States Grand Prix was hosted by the Savannah Automobile Club in 1908, the 1950 Indianapolis 500 counted as the third round of the World Championship, and continued to be on the calendar until after the 1960 season. Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio and Rodger Ward were the only drivers to compete in the Indy 500 as well as other championship events in the same season in 1952 and 1959 respectively (the latter most notably entering a midget car into the 1959 United States Grand Prix).
Speaking of the 1959 US Grand Prix in Sebring, that was when the first World Championship race took place to Formula One rules, and it was won by Bruce McLaren in a Cooper TF1. The following year F1 visited California, before attempting to make itself at home at Watkins Glen (fairly successfully), Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas, Pheonix, and the road course at Indianapolis.
Formula One was lured to Texas through Tavo Hellmund and Red McCombs’ negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone, and the satisfaction of officials in Travis County. At a track which has many corners loosely inspired by legendary circuits across the globe and designed by Hermann Tilke, the inaugural event was deemed to be a success, with the track providing good racing and overtaking opportunities.
Sebastian Vettel does appear to be the favourite due to his domination of the previous seven races, in addition to his motivation to beat the record of the most consecutive races won. Four drivers on the grid have won races this year – Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton – while Mark Webber replaces Fernando Alonso on that list when it comes to the people who have claimed pole position this year.
However, I would feel bad if I didn’t provide some form of hope that it might not go all Vettel’s way this weekend, and that comes in the form of Lewis Hamilton, and his status as the only previous winner (and multiple winner) of the United States Grand Prix lining up on the grid this year. His 100% record in the United States will probably have to end one day, but will that day be Sunday?
A lap with Mark Webber
Pirelli and the Circuit of the Americas
The penultimate race of the season is the United States Grand Prix, which was held for the first time in Texas last year. This season, the same tyre nomination has been made: P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium.
Austin is an extremely varied circuit, which puts plenty of energy through the tyres by alternating fast and flowing sections with some slower and more technical parts.
It’s a very good test of a tyre’s all-round ability, with traction demands out of slow corners just as important as lateral grip through the high-speed changes of direction that are another key characteristic of the 5.513-kilometre Circuit of the Americas.
Paul Hembery: “The hard and medium tyres are the best choice for the United States Grand Prix, because it’s a circuit that places several high-energy demands on the tyres, so you need the most durable compounds in the range. There are some fast corners and many rapid elevation changes as well: in that respect it’s a bit like Spa. When you have more energy going through the tyre, you have a bigger heat build-up – which is what increases wear and degradation. Now that we’re coming to the USA for the second time we have a better idea of what to expect, whereas last year – when we also nominated the hard and the medium – it was much more of a step into the unknown.
This year’s compounds are softer, so we would expect around two pit stops in the race, depending also on the rate of track evolution. Even though it’s November we’re still likely to have warm weather, which obviously affects thermal degradation too. Formula One received an absolutely fantastic welcome from the American public last year, which made it a truly memorable race, and we’re very much looking forward to going back to a country full of great F1 fans, which is also a key market for our Ultra High Performance tyres.”
Jean Alesi: “The United States Grand Prix in 1990 was actually my very first grand prix on Pirelli tyres, with the Tyrell, and it turned out to be a very good race for me. It was the first grand prix of my first full season, so always one that I’m going to remember. Back then, American Formula One circuits were mostly street circuits, and this one in Phoenix was no exception. Also, the rules on tyre development were completely open: the dimensions were fixed but apart from that the manufacturers could do what they wanted. With Pirelli, we could go the entire race without stopping, whereas the others had to stop.
And this was key to our strong performance that surprised so many people: I led the race for several laps and in the end finished second only to Ayrton Senna in the much more powerful McLaren-Honda! And that was the difference that the tyres made. Of course the United States Grand Prix now is very different. The first year of Austin in 2012 was a real show, with special guests ranging from actors to astronauts, and it was fantastic to see the American people take so enthusiastically to Formula One.
It really wasn’t like that in my day, when there was not so much interest in F1 in America. Austin looks like an exciting track to drive as well, which obviously helps. One of the details that I think everybody remembers is Pirelli’s cowboy hats on the podium: these were really a lot of fun…”
The circuit from a tyre point of view
Just like Abu Dhabi, Austin is one of the few circuits on the calendar to run in an anti-clockwise direction. Other anti-clockwise circuits are Korea, Singapore and Brazil.
The track surface at Austin, which was new last year, is generally quite smooth. However, with the passage of time, surfaces generally tend to become a bit more abrasive year by year. This happens as the bitumen at the very top is swept away, exposing the small stones out of which the asphalt is made.
Technical tyre notes
There are two key areas that particularly challenge the tyres at the Austin Circuit. The first is Turn 1, which is unusually a hairpin, where the tyres have to provide optimal traction – even when cold on an out-lap. Turn 11 is also particularly demanding as the driver starts braking heavily with the car already turning, creating an uneven distribution of forces across the tyres. Good grip from the compound is essential for an effective turn-in.
The cars will run with low gearing and medium downforce: a set-up that is not dissimilar to the one that was formerly used for the Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul – which has a few points in common with the Circuit of the Americas.
The top three finishers in America last year (Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso) used a one-stop strategy, starting on the medium tyre and ending on the hard. Last year there was around half a second of lap time difference between the two compounds; this year that should be slightly bigger.
A Lap with Pirelli
Brembo and the Circuit of the Americas
The Austin track can be considered to have a medium demand on the braking system with the drivers using the brakes for about 13% of the time on each lap, but it is characterised by two very sudden braking sections. The T12 turn is worth a mention (which is turn number 5 on the track). It is the most demanding of the season in terms of dissipated energy (about 2673 kW) and one of the most sudden for the driver with G forces just over -6 Gs.
* Turn 05 is considered the most demanding for the braking system.
1959 – Stirling Moss led away but retired after five laps, and Bruce McLaren took the lead on the final lap to become the youngest man at the time to win a Grand Prix; the previous leader Jack Brabham ran out of fuel and managed to push his car over the line for fourth place and a World Drivers Championship.
2002 – Notable for having the closest finish in a F1 race since timing to a thousandth of a second was introduced, with Ferrari drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello attempting to set up a dead heat, but only succeeding in lifting the Brazilian driver to the top step of the podium by 0.011 seconds (interestingly, I think that record for the closest finish at Indianapolis was beaten by the fantastic finish to the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 this year, go and check that out).
2005 – One of the wonderful races that comes into the category ‘notable for what happened away from the track’. Due to tyre failures, only six drivers started the race due to safety issues. Needless to say, the crowd were not pleased. Schumacher won, with Barrichello second, Tiago Monteiro in third to become the most successful Portuguese driver by points scored, Narain Karthikeyan finished fourth to achieve his only points finish and the only one for an Indian driver, while Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher scored their only career points finishes in fifth and sixth.
2012 – After qualifying on pole position, Sebastian Vettel looked on course to win, before having his progress interrupted by HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan, who was unable to move out of the way of the German driver for a short period, which allowed Lewis Hamilton to come up and complete a DRS-assisted overtake later in the lap, in what would be the race-winning overtake.
Mario Gabriele Andretti was the last American to win the World Drivers Championship back in 1978 in the Lotus 79. Having finished 3rd in the previous season, the Italian American took the World Championship with 6 wins, in the car which further exploited ground effect. Andretti is one of only two drivers to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship and NASCAR – the other is Dan Gurney.
There has not been another American to win a GP since Andretti’s win at the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix. With no Americans set to start on Sunday, this will not change in 2013, but there will at least be one American who takes to the circuit.
Alexander Rossi will drive for Caterham in FP1. Born in 1991 in Auburn, California, he would have been the youngest driver to take to the track this weekend were it not for Daniil Kvyat who will drive for Toro Rosso.
He made his GP3 debut in 2010, joining Esteban Gutierrez at ART Grand Prix, winning twice and finishing 4th in the series. After winning the Formula BMW World Final he earned the chance to test the BMW Sauber F1.09, which was when he gained his FIA Super License. At present he is the only American to hold one. He was announced as a test driver for Caterham on 9th March 2012. Since then he has had 3 outings in an F1 car, at Spain 2012, Canada 2013 and the Yound Drivers Test at Silverstone in 2013.
This weekend sees the return of the Ferrari Challenge North America (which was also a support race for the Canadian Grand Prix) in the final round of the season. With Onofrio Triarsi looking to seal the title, currently enjoying a 24 point lead over John Farano.
The inaugural United States Vintage Racing National Championship will be held this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas. Approximately 500 vintage race cars that will compete in 12 classes with a national champion crowned in each class. Each race will be run on the full 3.4-mile Grand Prix circuit. Qualifying sessions will take place on Friday and Saturday, with the races on both Saturday and Sunday.
Year Driver Constructor
2012 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes