Circuit of The Americas is one of the most demanding racetracks on the 2015 Formula 1 calendar. It has more fast corners than Spa-Francorchamps and more slow corners than the Hungaroring, the combination of which makes the 5.513km/3.426-mile circuit a very complex engineering challenge.
The track is the 10th grand prix venue in the United States, but it’s F1’s first purpose-built circuit. It runs in an anti-clockwise direction and has an elevation change of 41 metres (135 feet), making it a roller-coaster ride for the drivers. The highest point on the lap is the apex of Turn One, which has a steep uphill approach and a blind entry, requiring the drivers to be very precise.
Each of the circuit’s three sectors provides a different challenge. Sector One is characterised by five fast sweeping corners, through which the cars need good front-end grip as they flick from apex-to-apex at speeds in excess of 250km/h (155mph); Sector Two contains a 1km (0.62-mile) straight along which straight-line speed is at a premium, and Sector Three has a mix of slow corners and a multi-apex right-hander through which the drivers are exposed to forces of 4g for a period of 5s.
As was the case at Sochi two weeks ago, the asphalt is relatively new and very smooth at COTA. This allows Pirelli to take relatively soft tyres to the race; the nominated compounds are soft (Option) and Medium (Prime) – a combination that was used last year as well.
McLaren has a good record at the United States Grand Prix. It was here, at Sebring in 1959, that the team’s founder Bruce McLaren scored his first grand prix victory and the team has enjoyed many victories as well, the most recent coming at Circuit of The Americas in 2012.
Did you know? COTA is the 10th Formula One venue in the United States. The others: Sebring, Riverside, Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Caesars Palace, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and Indianapolis.
Technical words of wisdom from Tim Goss, technical director: “COTA is a really interesting engineering challenge. It has a mix of fast corners, a long straight and a slow-speed section, and getting the compromise right between these different challenges is the key to maximising your performance.
“The first section is very fast and flowing, through which the car needs a very good front end. You end up putting the aero balance some way forward to help the driver through here. That’s all good and well, but immediately after these fast corners you have a heavy braking area and it’s absolutely essential to get that right. You need to maintain the DRS time delta to the car in front because what comes next is a 1km (0.62-mile) straight and a really good overtaking opportunity; so, even though you may have set up the car for the high-speed section, you need to make sure that it has the rear stability to allow the driver to attack the low-speed corners. It’s a classic compromise that’s difficult to get right.”
Our most memorable United States Grand Prix: 1983 The Michelin-shod McLarens of John Watson and Niki Lauda struggled during qualifying at Long Beach. They lined up 22nd and 23rd on the grid, behind the Goodyear runners, after failing to find a good balance on the MP4-1C around the bumpy street track.
However, warmer conditions on race day brought the Michelins into their correct operating window and the pair proved unstoppable. They scythed their way through the field, initially with Niki ahead of team-mate Wattie, and by lap 28 they were lying third and fourth.
On lap 33 Wattie overtook Niki, who was suffering from cramp, and he set about closing down Riccardo Patrese and Jacques Laffite ahead. On lap 45 Wattie took the lead, which he was never to lose, and he was 28s ahead of Niki at the flag.
Fernando Alonso: “It was obviously disappointing to lose out on 10th place in Sochi, but considering it was a circuit that we knew wouldn’t suit our package, we can’t be too disappointed with the result and the positive reliability of the car all weekend.
“Now we move to Austin which is a very different proposition. We know it’ll be difficult for us in some of the areas we’ve already seen this year, but we will definitely be working flat out to achieve more progress and another positive result. The track is a hybrid of corners from great circuits all around the world, which makes setting up the car tricky, but a precise, well-balanced car will definitely help you there, so we need to build on those strengths straight away.
“I really enjoy going to Austin – a fantastic atmosphere and a city that absolutely loves its racing. The circuit is really fun to drive because it’s so varied, so you have to keep your focus 100% all the way around a lap. I had some great battles with Jenson there last year and I’m hoping for more of the same against our competitors this weekend.”
Jenson Button: “Since Sochi I’ve been back at MTC for a couple of days, working hard with my engineers and prepping for the back-to-backs of Austin and Mexico. Although we were lucky on the last lap in Russia, we haven’t had much luck go our way this season so it was encouraging to come away with two points and get both cars to the finish with no issues.
“I’m looking forward to a fun weekend in Austin. The welcome is always incredible and there’s something really special about the city on a race weekend; it really has its own unique charm. The track, too, has firmly become one of the favourites among the drivers because it has a little bit of everything which makes it pretty demanding for us, but very exciting too.
“Last year we really struggled with tyre degradation on the relatively new asphalt, so we need to crack that as soon as we get out on track on Friday and see what we can do to combat it. Circuit of The Americas has long straights, heavy braking, fast corners and some twisty sections, but its flowing nature could play to our package’s strengths. In Russia we saw that anything is possible, so we’ll be pushing hard as usual to make sure we’re in with a fighting chance come the end of the race.”
Eric Boullier, Racing director, McLaren-Honda “We can’t be too pleased with taking home two points at the last grand prix in Russia, but it does go some way to validating the relentless hard work being undertaken by every member of the McLaren-Honda team, and the constant strive for better reliability and trouble-free weekends. It also means we go to Austin on the back of an encouraging weekend and hungry for another more positive performance as we near the end of the season.
“Although this is only the fourth time that Formula 1 has visited Circuit of The Americas, it already feels like another friendly and familiar North American home alongside Montreal, and its popularity has quickly grown among drivers, fans and teams alike.
“Both Fernando and Jenson have made some great starts in the past few races, so it’ll be interesting to see how we fare there with the unique challenge of COTA’s uphill Turn One. Its power-hungry, fast straights and corners definitely won’t be easy on our package, but our car’s strengths lie in the twisty, precise infield sections, so we’ll focus on a set-up to make the most of what we have there. Combined with the warm ‘Austinite’ welcome from the fans and the excitement that always greets us there, we are hoping for more good luck and a solid performance where we can enjoy some battles with our nearest rivals.”
Yasuhisa Arai, Honda R&D senior managing officer – chief officer of motorsport: “We head to Circuit of The Americas with anticipation. It is a highly technical track that provides exciting racing, particularly the jostling for position around Turn One and the high speed esses that follow Turn Two.
Overall it provides us with a very atmospheric Grand Prix weekend with enthusiastic fans. COTA is also a challenging track for the power unit set-up as the 20 turns vary in character and are infused with undulation.
Our goal is to gather more data throughout the remaining races, especially from our new ICE introduced in Sochi two weeks ago. The team has confirmed that the development direction is good, so we will now work on fine tuning it for the remaining four races. It will be interesting to see how this will work together with the updated aero package this weekend.”