Formula 1 begins a three-race journey through the Americas as the 2015 season draws to a close, kicking off this weekend with the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
|2015 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix|
|Date||23-25 October 2015||Lap Length||5.513km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 10:00-11:00||Qualifying||Sat 13:00-14:00|
|Race (56 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00||2014 Winner||Lewis Hamilton|
Session times quoted in Central Daylight Time (GMT – 05:00)
As it the case with all of the newer circuits to have graced the calendar, the Circuit of the Americas is another Hermann Tilke design: five-point-something kilometres long, twenty-odd corners, fifty-ish laps.
You could be thinking that this is simply a carbon copy of other ‘Tilkedrome’ designs, and in many instances you’d be right. There are a mix of high- and low-speed corners, a mega long straight, and the pit and spectator facilities are second-to-none.
But to leave your description at these basic points would probably do the venue a great disservice.
It’s quickly become a fan and driver favourite – and aside from its hallmark of some wicked elevation changes – the circuit has three distinct parts. The opening sector features some high-speed, flowing corners that are Tilke’s interpretation of the Maggotts/Becketts sweeps at Silverstone, and the Esses at Suzuka. This combination of corners will severely test a car’s high-speed handling, and the cars which showed well at either circuit earlier this year should be the strongest through here.
The second sector is very much a ‘Tilkedrome’: a wide expanse featuring a long straight, which funnels into a sequence of slow corners to make it the most pronounced overtaking point on the lap.
The final sector quickens again, with the highlight being the long multi-apex Turns 16-18 sweep, which has been likened to the daunting Turn 8 combination at the disused Istanbul circuit.
Rewind to 2014
Lewis Hamilton became the most successful British driver in Formula 1 history with victory at Austin in 2014 – his fifth race win in a row – and moved one step closer to his dream of a second World Championship title.
The Mercedes driver overcame teammate and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg in an action-packed race at the Circuit of the Americas; Daniel Ricciardo recovered from a poor start to complete the podium for Red Bull Racing.
Rosberg managed to convert pole position into an early lead and for the first ten laps he looked to be coasting to an assured victory having retained his lead in the first round of pit stops.
Hamilton had other ideas in his second stint, increasing his pace while Rosberg’s front tyres began to fade. The Englishman pulled off a decisive overtaking move midway through the race, neatly slicing by the German under braking at the end of the back straight on Lap 24.
From that point Hamilton was never headed, and only briefly came under threat in the final laps as he and Rosberg came up to lap a huge six-car squabble for the last points positions. Victory over Rosberg was his.
The result put him 24 points clear of Rosberg with two races to go, and with the season finale in Abu Dhabi offering an unpopular ‘double points’ gimmick, the Drivers’ Championship battle was set to go down to the wire.
Facts & Stats
- Lewis Hamilton needs to outscore Sebastian Vettel by 9 points and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 2 in order to secure back-to-back Drivers’ Championship titles. Should Hamilton achieve the feat, he will become the second British driver (and the first Englishman) to achieve the feat alongside Sir Jackie Stewart, who won the 1969, 1971 and 1973 titles.
- The Sauber F1 Team is marking its 400th Grand Prix appearance at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix. Having run as both Sauber and BMW Sauber since making its debut in 1993, the two constructors have achieved one race win, 27 podiums, 1 pole position, 5 fastest laps and 808 championship points.
- Red Bull Racing is marking its 200th Grand Prix at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix. The third iteration of what was previously the Stewart and Jaguar teams, Red Bull Racing made its debut as a constructor at the 2005 Australian Grand Prix and has gone on to achieve four Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship titles, 50 wins, 119 podiums, 57 pole positions, 47 fastest laps and 3,014.50 championship points.
- Fernando Alonso should make his 250th Grand Prix start at this weekend’s race, becoming only the sixth driver in Formula 1 history achieve the feat behind Rubens Barrichello (323), Michael Schumacher (307), Jenson Button (280*), Riccardo Patrese (256) and Jarno Trulli (252).
- Pole position for either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg would give the Mercedes team its 50th Formula 1 pole position, which would make it the seventh team ever to achieve the feat behind Ferrari (208 poles), McLaren (155), Williams (128), Lotus (107), Red Bull Racing (57) and Renault (51). Mercedes has the highest pole position strike rate of any team in Formula 1 history, having achieved the fastest qualifying time in 39.84% of all Grands Prix is has contested.
- Alexander Rossi will become the first American driver to race on home soil since Scott Speed contested the 2007 Grand Prix at Indianapolis for Scuderia Toro Rosso.
The Form Guide
It’s been seven races since Nico Rosberg last stood on the top step of the podium, while in that time his teammate Lewis Hamilton has achieved the feat no less than five times. That’s been one of several key differentiators between the two Mercedes pilots this year, with Hamilton pulling comfortably clear to be on the cusp of clinching his third Drivers’ Championship title.
Such has been the differences in form between the two – not to mention some dreadful luck for Rosberg – that it is now Sebastian Vettel who occupies second place in the Drivers’ Championship standings, albeit some 66 points adrift of Hamilton.
In truth, it will be something of a miracle for Hamilton not to wrap it all up this weekend. He simply has to outscore Rosberg by 2 points this weekend, and should he win the race with Vettel not finishing in second place – and that’s rather likely given the Ferrari driver has a grid penalty for an engine change – then it will all be done and dusted.
That leaves Rosberg and Vettel to duke it out for the runner-up spot in the standings, but behind them there is a trio of drivers squabbling for fourth place in the final reckoning. Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen and the Williams duo of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa are covered by just 14 points in what has been a see-sawing battle between the three of them all season. It’s not the most glamorous championship fight, but pride will be on the line.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding Red Bull Racing’s engine situation and – if you’re silly enough to believe the team’s management – its very future in Formula 1 remains on ongoing topic of discussion as the 2015 season draws to a close.
The team is still on the hunt for an engine supplier after terminating its contract with Renault earlier this year without having lined up a replacement. Mercedes has flatly refused a supply deal with its greatest competitor, while Ferrari won’t buckle to Red Bull’s demands that it get a supply of 2016-spec engines.
That has prompted rather unbelievable threats from the team’s top brass to exit F1 entirely, but unless the team’s owner Dietrich Mateschitz is willing to cough up half a billion dollars as a penalty for breaking the team’s agreement to remain in the sport until at least 2020, they are stuck and now face the prospect of having to go groveling back to Renault and negotiate a new deal. It will be a painful swallowing of humble pay to say the least…
Last but not least, Formula 1 faces some good publicity in the form of the amiable and intelligent Alexander Rossi, who will become the first American driver to race at his home Grand Prix since the mercurial Scott Speed in 2007.
Granted, his best hopes in his third Grand Prix outing will be to once again beat teammate Will Stevens across the finish line, but his being on the grid could be another important step to really get Formula 1 on the map in the USA.
The country has had a very stop-start relationship with Formula 1 over a number of decades, but Rossi could be the man who can really hook his country’s interest in the sport once and for all. Added to that is next year’s arrival of an all-American team in the form of Haas F1 and an extremely well-produced telecast by NBC Sports, it’s beginning to look very bright indeed.
Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Motor Authority and XPB Images