This week we travel from Vladimir’s Russia to Barack’s America. Bernie Ecclestone did his level best to try to cause a stir in the media this week by stating that he is Putin’s “biggest supporter”, that Sepp Blatter should remain in charge of FIFA and his alleged corruption is “a tax football had to pay” and to top it all that he is actually “not very enthusiastic about America”. Trouble for him is that the rest of the Formula One World is dreadfully keen on travelling across the Atlantic to the excellent Circuit of the Americas and embrace the almost forgotten fanbase that resides there.
Lewis Hamilton leads the World Championship by 66 points from Sebastian Vettel, with only 100 points up for grabs. With recent reliability issues, Nico Rosberg trails Vettel by seven points and will be desperate to claw back some ground. Who will wear the Pirelli black Stetson this weekend?
The United States of America has a very deep and rich history of motor racing and was part of the inaugural Formula One World Championship in 1950 at Indianapolis. Since then the race has been held at ten separate locations.
1950 – 1960 – Indianapolis 500
The Indianapolis speedway circuit was the second oldest dedicated racing circuit built in the world (behind Brooklands in the UK). It officially held the third race of the 1950 Formula One World Championship, although no European entries were received for that race and very few of the F1 drivers ever made the effort to cross the pond. The first European team and driver to enter was Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari in 1952, who retired from the race with a wheel issue.
1959 – Sebring
The one and only outing for the circuit, famous for endurance racing, came at the end of the 1959 season. Stirling Moss took pole position but only lasted five laps before his transmission failed. The race was won by Bruce Mclaren driving for the Cooper team, who started in tenth position. Jack Brabham took the World Championship by finishing in fourth position, but he had to push his car over the line after running out of fuel on the last lap.
1960 – Riverside
Another one-off host of the race was the Riverside International Raceway in California. The circuit was set in the mountains east of Los Angeles and featured some challenging corners with dramatic elevation changes. Stirling Moss once again took pole position in his Lotus and this time was able to take the victory ahead of Innes Ireland and Bruce Mclaren.
1961 – 1980 – Watkins Glen
Formula One racing finally found a secure home in the United States at Watkins Glen at a permanent circuit. Over the time that Formula One was there the circuit underwent significant renovation and extension from the small upgraded street circuit to the fully internationally recognised long course including “the boot” section.
Notable winners from this era include Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Francois Cevert (who unfortunately lost his life at the circuit in 1973) and James Hunt amongst other world class drivers.
1976 – 1983 – Long Beach
The F1 circus returned to the West Coast in 1976 for seven seasons. It was the first time a street circuit was used in the for Formula One in the USA. After F1 left Long Beach the association with motor racing did not stop, hosting the CART championhsip and more recently the IndyCar series and modern endurance racing championships.
1981 – 1982 – Las Vegas
The draw of Vegas was too much to ignore for the F1 World and for two years the car park of the famous Caesar’s Palace Casino. The circuit was fairly monotonous and the marketing goals for the Casino were achieved in those two years and F1 moved on.
1982 – 1988 – Detroit
Detroit held the third race in the USA in 1982 alongside Long Beach and Las Vegas (the only time this has happened in the history of F1). The track was tight, twisty and bumpy and provided a real challenge to the drivers. The circuit now holds exciting rounds of the Indycar championship.
1984 – Dallas
The Grand Prix at COTA is not the first to be held in Texas, as a one off event around the Fair Park was held in 1984. The track surface started to crack with exceedingly high track temperatures (66 centigrade) and was threatened with cancellation, but the race eventually did go ahead and was won by Keke Rosberg. Nigel Mansell hit the wall on the final lap and attempted to try to push his car over the line, only to collapse with exhaustion, no doubt partially down to the searing heat.
1989 – 1991 – Phoenix
Mclaren dominated all three years of the rather unpopular Phoenix Grand Prix. It’s very simple layout around the grid patterned streets and poor attendance from the locals meant that F1 soon looked elsewhere to host the race. The slot went to South Africa and the affair between the USA and F1 looked to be over.
2000 – 2007 – Indianapolis
A full nine years later F1 tried again to woo the American public at the behest of the sport’s biggest manufacturers by returning to the circuit where it all began. This time the full oval was not used but a new infield course was built to provide more of a traditional F1 challenge. It was a huge success and more than 200,000 people flocked to the race, which was won by Michael Schumacher. The race in 2001 was held only three weeks after the New York Twin Towers terrorist attack. Many of the cars featured tributes to the victims of the atrocity and happily people found some welcome distraction from the turmoil.
Unfortunately the 2002 event, where Schumacher gifted the victory to team-mate Barrichello at the finish line, and in 2005 when only six cars competed due to safety concerns from Michelin about the banked section of the circuit, caused America to once again fall out of love with F1.
2012 – present – Austin
Tavo Hellmund and Red McCombs negotiated with Bernie Ecclestone to bring the race back to the USA to a brand new circuit in Texas designed by none other than Hermann Tilke. The event has once again been a massive success and drawn many fans from both the USA and from Mexico and seems to have become a firm fixture on the F1 calendar.
The circuit itself was loosley inspired by legendary circuits from across the world with some corners resembling the Becketts complex at Silverstone, Hockenheim’s stadium section and Turn 8 in Turkey. It is one of the few anti-clockwise circuits on the calendar which will provide an extra challenge to the drivers physicality.
The first corner is a tight hairpin with a steep uphill braking zone, with over thirty meters in elevation change. This steep gradient does shorten the braking zone, but the entry to the corner is wide and allows plenty of opportunity to attack. The rest of the circuit relies on good top speed down the long back straight, but also on good aerodynamic grip through the fast twisting outfield section.
The best overtaking spots lie at the end of the DRS zones into the first corner and down the back straight, but the wide variety of racing lines around the turn 13-14-15 complex also provide opportunities for a lunge.
BRAKING WITH BREMBO
The Austin track can be considered to have a medium demand on the braking system with the drivers using the brakes for about 18% of the time on each lap, but it is characterised by two very sudden braking sections. The T12 turn is worth a mention. It is one of the most demanding of the season in terms of dissipated energy and one of the most sudden for the driver with a G force of -5.7 Gs.
Turn 12 is considered to be the most demanding for the braking system.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI – MEDIUM AND SOFT COMPOUNDS
Inaugurated in 2012, the Circuit of the Americas is the 10th venue to have hosted a Formula One grand prix in the United States, and it has proved to be extremely popular since its inception. The track is well known for its spectacular elevation changes of up to 40 metres, with an uphill run to the distinctive Turn 1, which is a hairpin bend and the signature corner. The track contains an ample variety of corners, which incorporate some of the best elements from other circuits, making it a wide-ranging challenge that tests every aspect of tyre performance. The weather is equally variable, with warm conditions common during the afternoon but frequently cool temperatures in the mornings, making it reasonably hard to get an accurate read on track conditions. This year, as was the case in 2014, the versatile medium and soft P Zero tyres have been nominated.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “The United States always offers us a very warm welcome and a fantastic race weekend. Like all the other stakeholders in Formula One, America is a crucial market for us so it’s very important for us to have a race there. It’s a track that contains a bit of everything in terms of what it asks from the tyres, so we’ve brought the soft and medium compounds, which are versatile enough to cope with a wide range of demands and weather conditions. With the driver’s championship entering a decisive phase there’s obviously going to be a lot of attention on the race, and we can think of no better place to showcase Formula One. The track configuration and tyre choice offer plenty of opportunities for overtaking and strategy, with a reasonably short pit lane time loss too, so we could be on for quite an unpredictable race, which is what people want to see. It’s rarely an open and shut competition, as we saw from the wide variety of strategies used last year.”
The biggest challenges for the tyres: In total there are 20 quite varied corners, including a tricky uphill braking area for the unusual turn one (the highest point of the track), giving the anticlockwise circuit a distinctly different feel for the drivers. The track limits are deliberately wide at the corners, in order to encourage different lines and provide opportunities for overtaking.
There are three long straights that tend to cool down the tyres, making the braking areas critical, as tyre temperature will have dropped slightly. This also then affects the turn-in into fast corners, as the compound has to get back up to temperature very quickly. In the past, track temperatures have varied from 18 to 37 degrees centigrade within one day, making tyre temperature management a vital skill.
The set-up tends to be medium downforce with an emphasis on mechanical grip from the tyres; especially at the front to aid a rapid turn-in during the fast direction changes that characterise the first half of the lap. There is roughly 60% full throttle and 10 braking events: about average for the season.
Last year’s strategy and how the race was won: Lewis Hamilton won for Mercedes from second on the grid with a two-stop strategy (in previous years, the winning strategy in Austin was a one-stopper). He started the 56-lap race on the soft tyre and then pitted for mediums on laps 16 and 33, although an early safety car affected his strategy.
Expected performance gap between the two compounds: 0.8 seconds per lap.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM COTA
2012 – The first race was full of drama and excitement, as Vettel led away from the start from team-mate Mark Webber. Lewis Hamilton was keen to keep his run in the USA going from his victory in 2007 and passed Mark through the DRS zone into turn 12. Vettel looked to be dominating once again but Hamilton chased him down after the pitstops and passed him into the same corner. He went on to take the win, much to the delight of the American crowd.
2013 – Sebastian Vettel continued his dominant form in the latter half of 2013 and strolled to his eighth win in a row. Kimi Raikkonen skipped the final races of the season. The official reason was to have an operation on his back, but many suspect he was partially motivated by his Lotus team struggling to pay his salary. He was replaced by Heikki Kovalainen who could not match team regular Grosjean who finished second, ahead of Mark Webber.
2014 – Nico Rosberg took pole position, but Lewis Hamilton continued his excellent form in the USA by passing him on circuit, going on to take a comfortable victory. It was his fifth in a row and his 32nd win in total, passing the British record previously set by Nigel Mansell. The race was also notable by the absence of the Caterham and Marussia teams who had gone into administration. The field of 18 cars was the smallest since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton is very much at home in the USA, both in terms of his social life and his racing record. He won his first ever races in 2007 in the double header events of Canada and USA and took victory on it’s return to the calendar in 2012 and again in 2014. He may have won last time out in Russia, but the form was with Nico who had the measure of Lewis through the weekend and was only beaten by a freak mechanical issue. It will be intriguing to see how Rosberg reacts to this disappointment and whether he can take the fight back to Lewis.
The Williams team will be encouraged by their strong form in Russia. They were strong at COTA in 2014 with their good top speed and will be desperate for that podium that went begging last time round for Valterri, who coincidentally scored his first championship points here in 2013.
SUPPORT RACES AND ENTERTAINMENT
Masters historic racing is a fantastic series that showcases three litre engined Formula One cars from 1966 through to 1985. Bringing together a dream list of iconic cars from Ferrari, Williams, Mclaren, Lotus and Tyrrell on track at the same time, all running in their period liveries. The drivers don’t hold back either and you can expect tense wheel to wheel action in these priceless machines.
The Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup is hotting up, with Sven Muller winning four of the last five races including the last two rounds at Monza. COTA holds the final round of the season with two races and 40 points available. Phillip Eng (137), Christian Engelhart (120), Sven Muller (110) and Michael Ammermuller (106) are in with a shout of taking the title. Current form is with Muller, but the points advantage is with Eng. It will be intriguing to see how this one turns out.
The guys and girls in the USA know how to party and the COTA will be putting on a blockbuster show away from the track, with international star Elton John headlining the post race festivities. The organisers have arranged for a “fan fest” from Thursday night through to Sunday in Downtown Austin with local bands playing, a lively theatre district, not to mention the great food on offer. This year also sees a collaboration with Pop Austin, putting on an art exhibition showcasing the talents of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Richard Orlinski amongst many others.
There will also be an aerial display from the Navy Seal Parachute team that will be landing at turn 1, as well as a fly past from a US Navy C-130 transport plane that will show it’s impressive agility despite it’s size.
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|