America loves its sports, and autumn brings a cornucopia of action that stretches coast to coast, across purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain, all taking place under spacious skies.
As college football rivalries play out on Saturdays to whet fans’ appetites for NFL action on Sundays, amid the MLB playoffs and the start of the NBA and NHL seasons, motorsports remains very much in the mix.
Car culture has been, and continues to be, woven into the fabric of America. And when the most sophisticated and technologically advanced racing series in the world arrives on U.S. soil, people take notice.
Approximately 260,000 fans will descend upon Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas for the United States Grand Prix on 19-21 October. That’s more than three times the amount of people AT&T Stadium holds for patrons of America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys.
It’ll be the seventh time the track has hosted the FIA Formula One World Championship, but only the third time fans have been able to cheer for the home team.
Toughest corner Turn One. The key to this corner is the 40-metre elevation change on the approach. This incline increases the load on the car by 0.4g, giving the drivers more grip and allowing them to brake very late. More than 85 per cent of the load is then scrubbed off by the apex, making the cars very loose and difficult to control.
Most demanding section Sector One. As was the case at Suzuka last time out, the opening section of the Circuit of the Americas is fast and furious. Eight of the opening nine corners involve fast changes of direction, with a slowest apex speed of 185km/h (115mph). The drivers compare the challenge to Becketts and Maggotts at Silverstone.
Biggest challenge Car set-up. COTA has more fast corners than Spa-Francorchamps and more slow corners than the Hungaroring; as a result, car set-up is a delicate balance between slow-speed grip and straight-line speed.
Race Engineer’s lowdown
Braking COTA presents an average challenge for the brakes, similar to the Shanghai International Circuit in China. The drivers apply the brakes at 10 of the 20 corners, with an average deceleration of 3.8g.
Power The cars use 1.8kg of fuel per lap, with 63 per cent of the time spent on full throttle.
Aero High downforce. Seven of the 20 corners are taken at speeds of less than 150km/h (93mph), which places an emphasis on slow-speed grip, particularly traction at corner exit. Having DRS zones along the two longest straights help to eliminate the extra drag at high speed.
Statistics for Sunday’s U.S. Formula One Grand Prix in Austin, Texas:
- Lap distance: 5.513km. Total distance: 308.405km (56 laps)
- 2017 pole: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes one minute 33.108 seconds.
- 2017 winner: Hamilton
- Race lap record: Sebastian Vettel (Germany) 1:37.766, Ferrari 2017
- Start time: 1310 local (1810 GMT)
World Championship Title Race
Hamilton will take his fifth world championship in Austin, with three races to spare, if he scores eight points more than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
The Briton, 67 points clear of his rival, has done this in the last four races, and eight times this year. He failed to do so at the Circuit of the Americas last year, however, when Vettel finished second.
- Hamilton first, Vettel third.
- Hamilton second, Vettel fifth
- Hamilton third, Vettel seventh
- Hamilton fourth, Vettel eighth
- Hamilton fifth, Vettel ninth
- Hamilton sixth, Vettel out of the points
United States Grand Prix
- Austin is hosting a race for the seventh time and is the only U.S. round on the calendar.
- There are no American drivers in F1. Haas are the only U.S.-owned team.
- Hamilton and Vettel are the only current drivers to have won previously in the United States.
- Hamilton has won five of the six races in Austin, while starting twice on pole there, and five of the last six in the United States. Vettel won in Austin in 2013 with Red Bull.
- Hamilton clinched his third title at the track in 2015.
- Hamilton has nine wins this season to Vettel’s five. Daniel Ricciardo has two and Max Verstappen one.
- Hamilton has 71 victories from 225 races and is second in the all-time list behind seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher (91). Vettel, third on the all-time list, has 52.
- Hamilton has won the last four races. Only once before has he won five in a row — in 2014 when he triumphed in Italy, Singapore, Japan, Russia and the United States.
- Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen has now gone 111 races since his 20th and most recent win, in Australia in 2013.
- Ferrari have won 234 races since 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 85 and Red Bull 58. Former champions McLaren and Williams have not won since 2012.
- Hamilton has a record 80 career poles, Vettel 55.
- Verstappen, 21 at the end of September, can still become the youngest ever pole sitter. The current youngest is Vettel, who did it at 21 years and 72 days.
- Hamilton has 131 career podiums and is second on the all-time list behind Schumacher (155). Vettel has 109, Raikkonen 100.
- Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas has had seven second-place finishes this season.
- Championship Points
- Mercedes are 78 points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship and also on course to wrap up the title for the fifth year in a row.
- Every driver on the starting grid has scored this season.
- Hamilton’s win in Japan was his 50th for Mercedes.
The Circuit of the Americas, like Japan, features a track lay-out that tests all attributes of a Formula One car, and a competitive lap time is not possible without excelling across the board. Sector One concerns medium-high speed turns grouped close together, requiring quick change of direction; Sector Two rewards power unit efficiency with the long back straight; the final Sector examines low speed performance, with a series of tight turns.
Downforce vs Drag
- Without the presence of the main straight from Turn 11 to 12, a high downforce configuration would be the one of choice, so teams must then decide whether to gain lap time in the corners or on the straights, which informs wing level.
- Of note, there are only two straights of decent length, and they both feature DRS assistance, so in qualifying, it is possible to lose some of the drag from a more aggressive rear wing.
Car Strengths Needed
- As referred to above, all aspects of a car’s performance are put to the limit in Austin, with Sector One rewarding high Aerodynamic downforce, whereas by Sector Three, the balance has shifted towards Mechanical performance due to the lower speed nature of this part of the lap.
- It is also particularly desirable to arrive in Austin with a chassis featuring a wide operating window, since the vast range of cornering speeds and turn angles place the car in many different combinations of roll, pitch and yaw.
- Turn 1 – the uphill, blind entry hairpin rewards late braking and driver commitment, but it also easy to miss the apex, get on the dirty part of the track, and lose traction out of the corner.
- Turn 11 – good traction on the exit of this corner allows early power application, maximising top speed down the ensuing long straight.
- Turn 15 – difficult to perfect, particularly on entry, with the double apex resulting in braking and turning occurring simultaneously, therefore inducing tyre locking.
- Pirelli is bringing the same compound names to the US as it did in 2017, but with every tyre claimed to be a step softer than then, this is a slightly more aggressive combination than last year. However, as has been the case throughout 2018, improved tyre management techniques and deliberately slow race lap times have allowed teams to get similar tyre life out of what should, in theory, be less durable compounds.
- In 2017, the strategy of choice was a one-stop, starting on the US and moving to the S for the second stint. Some drivers did stop twice, given there is scope for overtaking in Austin, but there was not a clear benefit from this strategy.
- With this in mind, a similar tyre strategy should be expected, although the cooler temperatures may even allow an US/SS combination one-stop to become the favoured option (this was attempted only by Massa in 2017).
- Once again, McLaren have decided on a large number of the hardest compound available (the Soft); this decision was made around 4 months ago, at a time when the team believed its car did not work particularly well on the softest compounds in Pirelli’s range.
- Multiple overtaking opportunities appear around COTA, with Turns 1 and 12, both preceded by DRS zones, the most likely places for racing, with the wide entries allowing for more aggressive braking manoeuvres from the driver behind.
- Turn 15 is also a popular passing place, given that the wide track and double apex allow for different racing lines, while the preceding corners are slow speed, permitting cars to run in closer proximity without being affected by the turbulence ahead.
- The forecast looks uncertain for all three days, with the possibility of rain particularly high on Saturday.
- Temperatures are forecast to hover around 20 degrees Celsius; this will reduce the amount of thermal management the drivers are required to do during the race to avoid degradation and blistering.
- Mercedes will enter the weekend as favourites once again, with its strong form at recent races occurring under a variety of conditions and track layouts, suggesting overall dominance.
- Ferrari will look to bounce back from difficult recent races, with a key focus on tyre life over a race stint, while Red Bull will likely be well placed for the race, but not be a threat in qualifying.
- Elsewhere, other teams are scheduled to bring major upgrades, with a revised front wing and floor for Toro Rosso, and further updates for Haas, with the latter trying to move ahead of Renault for fourth place in the championship.
Last year’s Race Report:
Additional Sources: McLaren And Haas F1 Media Services