Formula One returns to America for the first time in five years this weekend as the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas plays host to Round 19 of the championship.
With the driver championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso still in the balance we should be in for an exciting weekend.
The track is practically an unknown for the teams as the only modern F1 car to drive the circuit thus far was a 2 year old Lotus Renault driven by Jerome d’Ambrosio. The track is another Hermann Tilke design (yes the man that brought you some of the uninspiring tracks in the far-east that litters the championship these days).
Don’t cry just yet; we may actually have proof that practice makes perfect in the lay out of the circuit. Take a look at d’Ambrosio’s on-board lap and you’ll see that this track has some interesting corners and plenty of camber which should mean plenty of different lines will be in use as drivers try to find the best way to find those vital few tenths.
With Lotus having finally claimed that elusive first victory of the season in Abu Dhabi, it will be interesting to see if Kimi Raikkonen and co. will follow that up with another challenge this weekend. The team has definitely picked up their game in the second half of the season and Kimi will be looking to add another victory at a track that has some of the features that he loves.
There are a few similarities to Spa Francorchamps with the peaks and valleys at the circuit as well as demanding high loaded corners. Expect Kimi probably to be one of the quickest through the uphill/downhill section of turns 1 and 2. Expect to see the team decked out in their special presents after the comical radio exchanges during the last race as Kimi reminded them why he’s a former world champion.
The championship battle could be decided this weekend as Vettel holds a ten point lead over Fernando Alonso. Vettel will have fond memories of America as he made his Grand Prix debut as a replacement for Robert Kubica at Indianapolis back in 2007. On that day he also became Formula One’s then youngest point scorer in history (taking the record from one Jenson Button esquire) by finishing 8th. It’s a weekend of many possible milestones for Vettel.
If he takes the start it will be his 100th Grand Prix. He has an opportunity to claim his 3rd successive world title also (he must outscore Alonso by 15 points to do so). The Red Bull driver has a staggering strike rate in his career at this point having won 26 of his 99 Grand Prix thus far.
Take into account that he spent 26 races in uncompetitive machinery and still won a race (Scuderia Toro Rosso’s 1st and only win at Monza in 2008) and you get the idea of how much of a force he has been to reckon with since that 1st Red Bull win back in the 2009 Chinese Grand Prix.
One thing that may be in Alonso and Ferrari’s favour this weekend is the design of the track, with plenty long straights and big breaking area’s the Ferrari car could be well suited to the circuit. Alonso will be on a mission to bring the championship down to the wire and expect him to be on the offensive this weekend as he cannot afford to play it safe if he wants a chance to win the championship at the final round in Sao Paulo.
It’s been a difficult time for Alonso who’s been the victim of two first lap incidents and seen a massive championship lead disappear, since the end of the summer break. The Spaniard is still the most complete driver in the championship and has maintained a startling belief that he can still be champion.
The team-mates of both men could play a pivotal role this weekend. Ferrari and Red Bull will be hoping that Massa and Webber respectively will be able to play spoiler and aid the championship ambitions of their sister cars.
Webber has maintained that he’s out to win races, so with a contract in his pocket it’s yet to be seen if he’ll pull over so to speak. Massa is the other side of the spectrum; he’s in the knowledge that he is firmly number two and expected to get out of the way at the sight of the yellow and blue helmet of Alonso.
The McLaren team will go into the weekend expecting to be favourites given their pace in Abu Dhabi and the speed they’ve shown at similar styled tracks this season. With Lewis Hamilton just two races from the end of his McLaren career it will be interesting to see if he can keep Jenson Button behind him in the championship and claim a victory that would see him leave the team on as high a note as possible given his erratic season.
Make no mistake about it, this is the best Lewis Hamilton has looked since 2008 and after losing out to a team-mate for the first time in his career last year he’ll want to set the record straight before heading to Mercedes to replace Michael Schumacher.
Button on the other hand will be looking to make a final impact on Hamilton in their final season as team-mates. He will become the de-facto number one at McLaren next season when partnering Sergio Perez.
Button’s performance at Spa may point to the possibility of a strong race this weekend but it will largely depend on his ability to get the tyres to work. His struggles with the tyres earlier in the season have been well documented. The team will also be looking to recover from some of the failures on their cars this season; as they’ve struggled for reliability at times and lost a potential 25 points in Abu Dhabi when Hamilton retired.
The midfield battle should be interesting as well. Sauber will be chasing down Mercedes as they try to pick themselves up another place in the constructor’s championship. Mercedes have been struggling massively and their points haul in recent races must have Lewis Hamilton wondering if he made the right decision to jump to that particular ship.
With Michael Schumacher winding down on his career it will be interesting to see if the team can recover some of their early season form to give Schumacher a well-deserved swansong in his final two races. Nico Rosberg will be looking to put his massive accident in Abu Dhabi behind him and remind the team that they might have a potential world champion on their hands in him.
At Sauber, the news that Nico Hulkenberg will replace Perez has left current driver Kobayashi battling for his F1 career as it is expected that the team may replace him with a paying driver next season if Kobayashi cannot find sponsorship.
Speaking of Hulkenberg, he’ll look to continue his fight with Paul di Resta for supremacy at Force India. The Briton is expected to remain with Force India next season but would like to really beat a driver that spent a season on the side-lines if he is to maintain his reputation as a potential superstar.
The Williams duo of Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna should not be forgotten in the midfield battle either. Both have shown excellent race pace when avoiding collisions in the last few races. Unfortunately for both; their cars appear to be magnets for accidents generally.
With a drivers championship that is so close even after 18 rounds; we can only hope that the battle continues to be as exciting as it has been over the last 8 months. Can Alonso finally claim that 3rd title or is it going to be Seb claiming championship number three? Who knows but this Sunday will have a huge bearing on it.
Tips for the weekend:
Kimi Raikkonen at 14/1 is a nice each-way punt given the nature of the track.
Jenson Button being as high at 9/1 another worth looking at.
Romain Grosjean for a top three finish at 9/1 is also a nice price.