First of the last three races on American soil in which we will have either a ferocious fight for the championship between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg or a tight battle for the second place between the German of Mercedes and his compatriot at Ferrari.
Four more races this season and 100 points left. The advantage that Lewis Hamilton has now over Sebastian Vettel is 66 points, 302 vs. Vettel’s 236. Third is Nico Rosberg just 7 points behind the German of the Scuderia. Kimi Räikkonen runs fourth and without any mathematical chance to win the championship with 123 points. Valtteri Bottas is fifth with 111 points; two ahead of his teammate Felipe Massa. Red Bull drivers are far behind, with 76 and 73 points respectively for the Russian and the Aussie. Top ten is completed by Sergio Pérez with 54 points and Romain Grosjean with 44.
A little bit of history
The track, located in Austin, Texas, has hosted the American Grand Prix since 2012. It was the first grand prix in North America since the United Stated Grand Prix held in Indianapolis in 2007.
History of F1 in North America is long: the first grand prix was held in 1959, in Florida. Next year the location changed to California. These two circuits were never used again in F1 as Watkins Glen became the headquarters for the next 15 seasons, hosting its last grand prix in 1975.
There was no race in the States until 1984, when Dallas joined the fray. In 1985, the race was moved to Detroit until 1988. Then, it was Phoenix the city which welcomed F1 for 3 more years. There was a 9 years break again before the F1 arrived to Indianapolis.
As all the other modern racing circuits, it was designed by Hermann Tilke and the layout mixes other circuit’s sections, like Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel sequence of Silverstone, Hockenheim’s arena bends, and also a replica of Istanbul’s Turn Eight. COTA is one of the few circuits on the calendar which is raced counter-clockwise, so it will be more challenging for the drivers who are not so used to these lateral G-forces. They will have to do 56 laps to the circuit, during 308.405 km.
The starting straight, uphill, ends in a very closed hairpin to the left, in which drivers will decrease speed from 300 to 75 km/h. Turn 1 preludes to a more soft and open turn number 2 to the right where 250 km/h will be reached and where a short straight begins. At the end of the straight, a curve sequence sometimes compared to the Suzuka “S” or Maggotts-Becketts part in Silverstone starts; three corners, 3, 4 and 5, flat out, followed by a very long corner to the right with two different radius, which will make cars understeer. This section is done almost at full power.
Sector two starts before drivers get to turn number 7 and brake until 120 km/h since it is a 90 degree corner to the left. This is the fastest part of the track. They find a fast corner to the right, followed by a straight divided in 3 parts: one short part ending in a high speed open corner to the left, short second part which ends in yet another very open corner to the left taken at 240 km/h, and the last straight part, a long one, in where it is situated the first DRS detection point, before getting to the hairpin number 11, a good overtaking point.
Drivers have to brake from 260 to 100 km/h before taking the longest straight of the circuit, where they will reach the maximum speed, 310 km/h. There is a very closed corner to the left at the end of the straight, passed through at 110 km/h and, right after it, sector number 3 starts. For this corner brakes need to be set-up so they are not so cool at the end of the straight and they can support the demands of the turn.
This is the most difficult part of the circuit. It starts with a tight corner to the right followed by an “S” soft turn to right and then left respectively and then a heavy braking point before getting to the corner number 15, which is a more than 90 degrees one to the left. From corner 12 to 15, the section is similar to the stadium in Hockenheim. Drivers will accelerate again in a short straight and a fast 3 radius parabolic corner similar to the Turn 8 in Istanbul which ends in another short straight that contains the second DRS detection point. Then, a 90 degrees corner to the left and a few seconds to accelerate again just before ending the lap in a very closed corner passed through at 90 km/h and getting again to the first straight, with the second DRS activation point.
Tires and technical requirements
Pirelli brings to Austin the soft and medium compounds. They believe that the best strategy is two pit stops. In 2012 and 2013, the winners did just one tyre change. The most used strategy in 2014 was two pit stops.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli's motorsport head commented on Austin: “The United States always offers us a very warm welcome and a fantastic race weekend. Like all the other stakeholders in Formula One, America is a crucial market for us so it’s very important for us to have a race there. It’s a track that contains a bit of everything in terms of what it asks from the tyres, so we’ve brought the soft and medium compounds, which are versatile enough to cope with a wide range of demands and weather conditions."
With the driver’s championship entering a decisive phase there’s obviously going to be a lot of attention on the race, and we can think of no better place to showcase Formula One. The track configuration and tyre choice offer plenty of opportunities for overtaking and strategy, with a reasonably short pit lane time loss too, so we could be on for quite an unpredictable race, which is what people want to see. It’s rarely an open and shut competition, as we saw from the wide variety of strategies used last year.”
The needed downforce is medium-high, as well as the brakes requirement. Balancing the temperatures in the brakes will be very important. Drivers will do the 55% of the lap at full power.
Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position in Austin in 2012 and 2013, before Nico Robserg took top qualifying honours in 2014. He also holds the lap record, with a 1:39.347. Lewis Hamilton was the winner in 2012 and in 2014, having started from second position at both occasions, The British driver has a great opportunity to notch another victory at Austin this weekend, and even clinch a third drivers title.
FP1 Friday 23 10.00h
FP2 Friday 23 14.00h
FP3 Saturday 24 10.00h
Qualifying Saturday 24 13.00h
Race Sunday 25 14.00h
by Cristina DeLarge