McLaren previews the United States Grand Prix in Austin

Jenson Button and Sergio Perez

Jenson Button and Sergio Perez

Located 15 miles south east of Austin, the Circuit of the Americas is Formula 1’s first purpose-built racetrack in the United States. It was completed last summer to become the 10th different venue in the USA to host the F1 World Championship, and the second in the state of Texas – following the one-off Dallas Grand Prix of 1984.

The circuit was widely acclaimed after its inaugural grand prix last season because its layout was deemed technically challenging for drivers and engineers alike. Sector One is dominated by fast changes of direction, much like the Becketts complex at Silverstone; Sector Two has a long straight, as is the norm at most Hermann Tilke-designed tracks, and Sector Three features a fast multi-apex right-hander, not dissimilar to Turn 10 in India.

Car set-up is the usual trade-off between straight-line speed and cornering grip, particularly through the high-speed sweeps at the beginning of the lap. Engineers have the added challenge of large temperature swings between the cool early morning practice sessions and the warmth of the 13:00 (local) race start time. The track temperature can increase by 20 ° C , which drastically alters the balance of a car.

As was the case last year, Pirelli are taking their Medium and Hard compounds to the race. This combination of rubber was last used at the Japanese Grand Prix, in which most drivers completed the race distance with two pitstops. The engineers at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes expect similar strategic calls during the 56-lap United States Grand Prix.

The Mexican border is located just 250 miles from the Circuit of the Americas, which makes this race close to a home grand prix for Sergio Perez. He’ll be hoping to build on his consecutive points finishes in India and Abu Dhabi, while Jenson Button will be looking to score points for the 13th time this year.

Jenson Button: “I had one of my most enjoyable races of the season at the Circuit of the Americas last year – I’d struggled in qualifying, starting 12th, but just got my head down on [the] Sunday afternoon, had a great fight, and eventually finished fifth, which was extremely satisfying. The first sector of this circuit ranks as one of the best parts of [any] racetrack anywhere in the world. The first corner is really tricky, because it’s steep and blind, after that, the circuit just winds through an incredibly fast switchback until the heavy braking for the back straight. After such an intense start to the lap, the straight offers a bit of a breather until you commit once again to the final sector, which is a series of slow-speed, quite technical corners. Again, there’s a real variety of corner here, and it’s fun to nail the sequence. It’s definitely a place where accumulated knowledge of the layout can add to your speed. I’m optimistic that the track will suit the high-speed characteristics of our car, which showed improved pace in both India and Abu Dhabi. After a couple of difficult races, it’d be great to get a strong finish for all the Formula 1 fans in the US.”

Sergio Perez: “I’m happy to call the United States Grand Prix my ‘home’ race! Texas is on the border with Mexico, so the venue provides the perfect opportunity for many Mexicans to make the trip to Austin for a taste of Formula 1. Last year, I was really overwhelmed by the level of Mexican support – you could see the grandstands full of Mexican flags, and the fans that I met were all really passionate, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. For a first race, Austin put on a fantastic show. For me, this will be the most important weekend of my year, and I’ll be especially keen for a strong result to send my fans back home with a smile on their faces. I think we’ve shown some solid improvement and greater understanding of our car over the past few races, yet, frustratingly, both Jenson and I have had few opportunities to really demonstrate what the car is capable of. I’d love another chance of a race like India, where I was able to push throughout the entire race and get some strong points for the team.”

Martin Whitmarsh, team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: “After such a successful inaugural event last season, the whole Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team is looking forward to returning to Austin. I was so impressed by what we witnessed last year – it was one of the best-organised and most enjoyable races of the season, and with none of the teething problems you usually associate with a new venue. The city of Austin, too, really rose to the occasion – and I know that the entire F1 community was hugely pleased and proud [of] the way Austinites everywhere made us feel so welcome. For Checo, the weekend will be a busy and important one – it’s the closest he gets to his home in Mexico, and he’s naturally excited and looking forward to the amount of local support and expectation that will be focused on him across the weekend. He will respond to it very well, I’m sure.”

A #mclaren50 moment: United States Grand Prix, 18 November 2012

Lewis Hamilton is the man to beat as Formula 1 makes its return to the United States for the first time in five years. The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver takes his second successive US GP victory (the first was back in 2007!), and comes home just ahead of Sebastian Vettel after a frenetic weekend-long duel with the Red Bull Racing driver.

Vettel strikes first by setting the fastest time in all three practice sessions and then beating Lewis to pole position by 0.109s. The German’s chances of victory improve further when Mark Webber beats Lewis into Turn One at the start of the race. But the order doesn’t stay that way for long because Lewis passes Webber on lap four and begins to hunt down the race leader.

Lewis knows that any move for the lead will have to take place on the racetrack, rather than in the pitlane, due to Pirelli’s conservative tyre choice. The leaders all pit only once and it’s during the second half of the race, on the Hard tyre, that Lewis eats into Vettel’s lead. With 20 laps to go he’s right on the gearbox of the race leader.

Hamilton’s chance comes on lap 42, when Vettel is held up by the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan through the fast twists of Sector One. He makes his move along the straight towards Turn 12 and despite some vigorous defending by Vettel, Lewis takes the lead and is never headed. On the podium, it’s unique Pirelli cowboy hats all round.

Further back, Jenson Button puts in a tenacious drive from 12th on the grid. He scythes his way through the field to finish fifth and further close the gap between Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship.

Subbed by AJN.