Lewis Hamilton can secure a fourth F1 driver’s title at the United States Grand Prix this weekend. After Sebastian Vettel’s retirement last time out, Lewis now enjoys a 59 point lead with only 4 races remaining. Ferrari will look to secure a strong result and hope for an unlikely Mercedes meltdown to get Sebastian back in the title race to become Ferrari’s first world champion since Kimi Raikkonen overhauled a seemingly impossible deficit to Lewis Hamilton with two races to go in 2007 – so it’s not over yet folks! Should Ferrari hit trouble however, the championship fight for the remainder of the season could boil down to the battle between Valtteri Bottas and Vettel for best of the rest behind Hamilton, who has looked like he simply found another gear over the second half of the season. Vettel holds just a 13 point lead over Bottas, so yet another Mercedes 1-2 in the championship is still a real possibility in spite of the progress Ferrari made this year.
Red Bull will of course continue to spice things up on Sunday, while there will be plenty of interest down the field as well, with Carlos Sainz moving across to Renault to try to provide a level of competition for Nico Hulkenberg that the team felt was lacking, while Le Mans winner Brendon Hartley, who’s chance of F1 looked to have long passed, gets a dream chance to maybe stake a claim for an F1 drive next season with Toro Rosso. Hartley’s performance being thrown in at the deep end will be certainly compared with that of Daniil Kvyat, with Sainz move to Renault giving Kvyat possibly one final ‘last’ chance to impress and keep his F1 career alive, so the performance of the Toro Rosso’s will certainly be worth keeping an eye on.
Last year Lewis Hamilton grabbed his fifth victory in the US, bringing him level with Michael Schumacher as the most successful driver at the United States Grand Prix. Lewis has now won 4 times at the Circuit of the America’s to add to his victory in Indianapolis in his rookie season in 2007, while Schumacher’s five wins all coming at Indianapolis. Ayrton Senna also won five Grand Prix staged in America, with 2 wins at Phoenix designated the United States Grand Prix to add to his three victories in the Detroit Grand Prix. Of the active drivers, Sebastian Vettel is the only other driver to have won here, taking the chequered flag in his dominant 2013 campaign with Red Bull.
Last year’s race saw Lewis Hamilton take a comfortable win from pole, but behind him his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, who told us “pushing hard is not the long game”, did just enough to come second and keep on course for his first F1 championship.
While Lewis was never troubled, Rosberg was made to sweat over second place after he lost out to the fast starting Red Bull of Daniel Riccardo in the run down to Turn 1, with Riccardo looking like he would be able to take second place until his chances were undone by the retirement of the sister Red Bull, which brought out the VSC and allowed Mercedes to get the longer running Rosberg a ‘free’ stop over Ricciardo.
Max Verstappen endured a disappointing day, he passed Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari on track after losing out to the Ferrari at the start, but his day unravelled as a miscommunication saw him pit when his Red Bull team were not ready, and he ultimately retired with an mechanical problem, ruining Ricciardo‘s chances of second place in the process.
Sebastian Vettel came home a lonely fourth place for Ferrari after Kimi Raikkonen’s efforts went unrewarded, the Ferrari having to pull off exiting the pits after one of the wheels was not secured at the pit stop, while a fighting Fernando Alonso equalled McLarens best result of the season in fifth after a late charge saw him barge past Felipe Massa’s Williams and use all the track and more to get by Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso, sixth still an excellent performance for Sainz using year old Ferrari engines.
Formula One and the United States have had a strange relationship over the years, with neither one every seeming to fully embrace the other, for a variety of reasons. The Indianapolis 500 was a part of the F1 World Championship from its inaugural season in 1950 (a race won incidentally by America’s Johnnie Parsons – who would never enter a ‘proper’ Grand Prix but who by virtue of this victory would tie for the lead of the F1 World Championship with Juan Manuel Fangio and Giuseppe Farina after 3 rounds in 1950, after winning an F1 World Championship race at his first attempt!). Indy stayed part of the calendar until 1960, although the race was by and large ignored by the F1 community and as such had no impact on the F1 championship, with the 40 laps managed by Alberto Ascari in a rare attempt by Ferrari in 1952 being the most significant attempt by one of the ‘real’ F1 teams. Ascari entered the race in a modified Ferrari 375 (the car having been raced in the 1950 and 1951 F1 championships). Despite a host of problems for Ferrari in adapting to the unfamiliar conditions of oval racing, Ascari, who qualified 19th, had even managed to get as high as 8th position on the track before spinning off into retirement after 40 laps.
The first United States Grand Prix was held at Sebring in Florida in 1959, and with the Indy 500 still counting towards championship points this meant 2 out of 9 races on the calendar that year were in the US – statistically significant even though the main players ignoring Indy. The US Grand Prix marked the final round of the F1 World Championship, and saw Bruce McLaren win his first Grand Prix for Cooper while Jack Brabham secured the world drivers crown, pushing his Cooper across the line to take fourth after it ran out of fuel while leading on the last lap. Despite the title being on the line the Grand Prix wasn’t a commercial success, and so for 1960 Sebring was ditched in favour of a race at Riverside in California, which would again hold the season finale. This time around the championship was already decided in Jack Brabham’s favour, and the race (won by Stirling Moss for Cooper) again struggled to attract local attention. The Indy 500 was dropped as a points scoring race from 1961 on, but for F1 in the United States things were actually looking up, as the US Grand Prix would be staged for the first time in Watkins Glen, a wonderful track in New York that would become the home of the United States Grand Prix from 1961 through to 1980, before losing it’s place on the calendar, money being the motivating factor for abandoning this wonderful Grand Prix venue. The initial race in 1961 would be won by Innes Ireland in a Lotus Climax, the first win for Lotus and Ireland’s only career Grand Prix victory.
In addition to the US Grand Prix at ‘The Glen’, a second Grand Prix, called the US Grand Prix West, would be staged around the streets of Long Beach, California from 1976. The first US Grand Prix West was won by Clay Regazzoni for Ferrari, and the track would continue to host the Grand Prix until 1983 (a wonderful victory for John Watson from 22nd on the grid, leading home his McLaren team-mate Niki Lauda, who started 23rd!).This was a wonderful street circuit which sadly passed from Formula One to CART in 1984 (as CART offered better financial terms)– a great loss for F1 (although we could still cast a sneaky glance at the fortunes of ex and future F1 drivers over the years – the pick of the bunch for me being the wonderful Alex Zanardi’s amazing drive to snatch victory here in 1998 after falling a lap behind early on after a traffic jam at the hairpin reduced it to an expensive car park).
While there was now a US Grand Prix West, the race at Watkins Glen was referred to as the US Grand Prix East. This would host it’s last Grand Prix in 1980 (a race won by already crowned world champion Alan Jones for Williams). For 1981, ‘The Glen’ would be (and I use the word very loosely) replaced on the F1 calendar by the Las Vegas Grand Prix. A Grand Prix in the car park of Caesars Palace Casino…you just can’t make this stuff up! Alan Jones won the first Las Vegas Grand Prix with Nelson Piquet securing his first world championship title with a fifth place finish for Brabham, as his rivals faltered. Las Vegas would return to the calendar again in 1982 (won by Michele Alboreto for Tyrrell, with Keke Rosberg clinching the driver’s title by coming home in fifth) before the race was thankfully taken over by CART (going someway to make up for the theft of Long Beach the following year!).
If driving Formula One cars around a car park wasn’t enough to put American’s off Formula One they were given an added incentive in 1982, when the Detroit Grand Prix was added to the calendar. In 1982 then the United States had 3 Grand Prix (Detroit, Las Vegas and Long Beach) all actively contested by the Formula One Grid in a championship of only 16 races. Detroit was a slow, bumpy street circuit that was very unpopular with the drivers and fans alike. John Watson took the first victory in 1982 for McLaren (another storming drive from Watson on US streets, this time starting from 17th on the grid!), with Ayrton Senna taking the final three Detroit Grand Prix from 1986-1988, before Detroit went the way of Las Vegas and Long Beach, and swapped over to CART, with lack of funding to upgrade the facilities to a level demanded by Formula One being ultimately responsible for the demise of the event.
With Las Vegas demise the next port of call in America was the Dallas Grand Prix of 1984. The race had plenty of drama, a breaking up track surface, plenty of crashes (Ayrton Senna retired his Toleman after crashing into a wall – a wall which Senna claimed had to have moved during the race – something Toleman chief engineer Pat Symonds would later be forced to concede was true after having walked to the wall after the race to placate Senna!) and searing temperatures (the race made famous for Nigel Mansell passing out as he attempted to push his car across the finish line in the searing heat). Keke Rosberg kept his cool (courtesy of a water-cooled skull cap) that day to win the race for Williams – his only win of the season, but the Dallas Grand Prix was to be one and done, consigned to the history books after this one eventful race.
The next track to try its luck with the American public was another street race, this time in Phoenix, Arizona. This would stage the US Grand Prix from 1989 to 1991, with Alain Prost winning in 1989 for McLaren and Ayrton Senna taking the other two editions for McLaren. This was the scene of a great tussle between a young Jean Alesi for Tyrrell and Senna in 1990, with Senna emerging victories but a stirring second place for Alesi cementing his status as a rising star. The race was very poorly attended however, and was cancelled after 1991, leaving no Grand Prix in America until 2000, when the Unite States Grand Prix would be held at Indianapolis, a new road course built in the infield of the famous track, and using part of the famous speedway. The first race at Indianapolis was won by Michael Schumacher for Ferrari, and he would go on to dominate at the track, winning five times in total, including a farcical ‘race’ in 2005 when the Michelin runners were unable to compete due to their tyres failing on the track, the tyres unable to cope with the banking, leaving a six car field of Bridgestone runners to fight each other, Schumacher leading Ferrari team mate Rubens Barichello home for a 1-2 with Tiago Monteiro recording his only career podium for Jordan! Indianapolis would continue to stage a US Grand Prix until 2007 (a race won by rookie Lewis Hamilton for McLaren), but the race dropped from the calendar amid a commercial dispute (yet again, the asking price for the honour of holding an F1Grand Prix was too much). So the United States was left without a Grand Prix again. While there was some talk of getting a Grand Prix to be staged in New York, the Circuit of Americas came to the rescue, the site of a brand new Hermann Tilke designed track in Austin Texas winning the rights to stage the US Grand Prix from 2012 onwards. The track itself has been a huge success, even if the venue has struggled to attract the crowds it will require to remain viable (the return of the Mexican Grand Prix to the calendar not helping matters), but after financial worries following the rain soaked race in 2015, the organizers reported an increase in attendance last year, so hopefully the race can continue to develop. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) won the first Grand Prix a COTA after a wonderful race long duel with Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull).
The track runs anti-clockwise, with 30.8 m elevation change and 20 turns.
Off the grid the cars are climbing immediately steeply into Turn 1, a blind left hander at the highest point of the track. The wide run in to the corner should see a lively opening lap, with contact almost inevitable here at the start. The pit exit feeds into the corner on the inside, and with the start/finish straight being the site if the second DRS activation zone, we should see plenty of late braking action at Turn 1 during the race. If the cars get through Turn 1 they then start downhill, a short burst into the right hander Turn 2, winding around at full throttle leading into a jinky little section, the track lifting slightly before dipping into a quick left right left through Turns 3,4 and 5 that is sure to test the balance of the cars as well as their tolerance of the kerbs. Exiting Turn 5 leads straight into a longer right hander Turn 6, the cars hugging the inside to set up a line for the next Turn 7, a 90 degree left hander with a sudden drop. These leads into a long winding right hander Turn 8, which exits into another 90 degree left hander Turn 9. Cresting the hill the cars now have a run downhill through a gentle right hand bend (Turn 10), flat out all the way past the first DRS detection point and into the tight left hand hairpin Turn 11.Running out wide on the kerbs the cars launch down a long straight the track rising up and winding gently to the right with the first DRS activation zone, setting them up for an attempt to overtake under braking into Turn 12, with the track dipping gain on entry into the left hand corner. Running wide over the kerbs the cars cut across the track to prepare for the rapidly approaching Turns 13 and 14, a double right hander that leads into a slow looping left hander Turn 15. The cars can now get on the throttle and keep the foot down as they wind through Turns 16,17 and 18, a series of right hand curves that lead them into a 90 degree left hander Turn 19, with the 2nd DRS detection point coming on the entry to Turn 19. Out of Turn 19 there is a short burst past the put entry to a final 90 degree left hander Turn 20, which winds back onto the start finish straight, with the hope of DRS and a move into Turn 1.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
Formula 1 heads to Austin for the first race of an American double-header, with Mexico following just one week later. The three softest tyres in the range have been selected for both: P Zero Yellow soft, P Zero Red supersoft and P Zero Purple ultrasoft. However, to support the Susan G.Komen® foundation – which will be a key feature of the United States Grand Prix – the ultrasofts will be coloured pink for this weekend only. As has been the case for many races this year, this nomination is one step softer than 2016, which – in combination with the new 2017 regulations and wider tyres – is likely to lead to another lap record being broken, as has also been the case on recent tracks. The Circuit of the Americas borrows elements of other famous venues in its layout, making it universally popular among the drivers. Contrary to most circuits, it also runs anti-clockwise.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS
1/ Pink ULTRASOFT
2/ Red SUPERSOFT
3/ Yellow SOFT
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW
Turn 1 forms a unique challenge: an uphill then downhill hairpin, where braking is hard to judge.
- There are several overtaking opportunities, which means that race strategy options to gain track position are quite open.
- There are three long straights, which have the effect of cooling the tyres on each lap.
- Weather can be quite variable in Texas, ranging from bright sunshine to heavy rain.
- Last year, Lewis Hamilton’s winning strategy was a two-stopper, while Sebastian Vettel was on the podium with a three-stopper.
MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING
“For America, we’re once again taking a softer range of compounds that we have done for previous races there, with the ultrasoft available in Austin for the first time: but in pink as a one-off, to highlight the brilliant work of the Susan G.Komen® foundation. This should bring lap times down, continuing the trend we have seen over the course of the season. Austin though is one of the hardest tracks to predict, also due to variable weather, and we’ve seen quite a variety of pit strategies there in the past. These could involve all three compounds this time, with the soft being a good potential option for the race as well”.
- The ultrasoft tyre appears at the Circuit of the Americas for the very first time: only this time coloured pink!
- Carlos Sainz makes his debut for Renault, and will use Jolyon Palmer’s tyre nomination. Daniil Kvyat, replacing Sainz at Toro Rosso, will use Sainz’s choices. This year’s Le Mans winner Brendon Hartley, driving the ex-Kvyat Toro Rosso, will use the tyre choices originally made by Kvyat.
- The championship frontrunners have made slightly different tyre choices for America, with Lewis Hamilton selecting three sets of soft (the only driver to do so, along with Pascal Wehrlein).
- Pirelli won all the classes in the FIA European Rally Championship standings, with Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz taking a record third consecutive overall European title.
CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS MINIMUM STARTING PRESSURES (SLICKS)
22.0 psi (front) – 19.0 psi (rear)
EOS CAMBER LIMIT
-3.50° (front) | -2.00° (rear)
Lewis Hamilton doesn’t need to win from here on in to regain his championship, but he might not be able to help himself at the Circuit of America’s, a circuit where he has always excelled. Ferrari still believe they have a car to win races, but will have to get on top of their reliability issues, or face the nightmare scenario of Hamilton sealing the title in COTA should Vettel suffer more trouble. Red Bull will likely look impressive through the tight twisty section of COTA, but the long straight will hinder their chances, and with the Renault deficit in qualifying a good start like Riccardo had last year will be essential for the Bull’s to get into the mix. McLaren scored a surprise fifth here last year, and will hope to be challenging for points again, while Force India look solid and should be best of the rest, with Renault likely to be pushing to be in the top ten with both their drivers.
1983– US Grand Prix West – All about tyres in back to front race for McLaren as Watson and Lauda take 1-2 finish (read more)
2012– Hamilton wins duel with Vettel in COTA opener (read more)
1990– Alesi makes his mark (read more)
This year sees the drivers of the F4 US championship (where Kyle Kirkwood had already been crowned champion) get their opportunity to race in front of the F1 paddock, and further entertainment will be provided by Masters Historic Racing, with F1 cars from the 70s and early 80s on display to whet the appetite for the main event.
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||COTA|