11 Formula One teams head to Austin, Texas, this weekend for the United States Grand Prix. It’s the second running of the event at the Circuit of the Americas, which was purpose-built for Formula One.
The track is one of just five anti-clockwise circuits on the F1 calendar, the others being Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi and Brazil. The Circuit of the Americas consists of 20 corners, including some that are reminiscent of well known curves on other tracks – notably part of the first sector strong resembles the Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex at Silverstone, and turns 16 to 18 are a mirror of the long, flat-out triple-apex turn 8 at Istanbul Park in Turkey.
Of the drivers racing this weekend, only Lewis Hamilton has ever won the United States Grand Prix. He won the last event held at Indianapolis in his rookie season of 2007 and won again last year when F1 returned to the US at the Circuit of the Americas. If Hamilton is to maintain his perfect record in the US (he has only raced there twice, and won both times), he will have to beat Sebastian Vettel, who is certainly the form man in Formula One after winning his fourth World Championship just a few weeks ago.
This weekend, for the first time since he returned to Formula One in 2012, Kimi Raikkonen will be absent from a Grand Prix. The Finn has elected to miss the final two races of 2013 in order to have surgery to alleviate pain in his back that has apparently troubled him since a heavy testing crash back in 2001.
Lotus have yet to announce the identity of Raikkonen’s replacement for these final two races. Nico Hulkenberg’s manager confirmed this week that Lotus had asked Hulkenberg to race for them, but Hulkenberg turned down the request as he is still committed to Sauber for the rest of the season.
Although Lotus have a full-time reserve in Davide Valsecchi, it looks increasingly unlikely that he will be asked to step in for Raikkonen. The strongest rumours at present are that Heikki Kovalainen will drive for Lotus in the USA and Brazil. The popular and highly-rated Finn has not raced in F1 this season, but has taken part in some Friday practice sessions for Caterham. Kovalainen previously raced for Lotus (when they were called Renault) in 2007, before moving on to McLaren, where he spent two seasons and scored his only F1 victory to date.
Pirelli are bringing their two hardest compounds – the hard and medium tyres – to this weekend’s race. Pirelli’s motorsport boss Paul Hembery explains the choice of tyres and what we can expect in terms of pit stops on Sunday:
“The hard and medium tyres are the best choice for the United States Grand Prix, because it’s a circuit that places several high-energy demands on the tyres, so you need the most durable compounds in the range. There are some fast corners and many rapid elevation changes as well: in that respect it’s a bit like Spa. When you have more energy going through the tyre, you have a bigger heat build-up – which is what increases wear and degradation.
“Now that we’re coming to the USA for the second time we have a better idea of what to expect, whereas last year – when we also nominated the hard and the medium – it was much more of a step into the unknown. This year’s compounds are softer, so we would expect around two pit stops in the race, depending also on the rate of track evolution. Even though it’s November we’re still likely to have warm weather, which obviously affects thermal degradation too.”
Circuit Length: 5.513 km
Race laps: 56
Race length: 308.405 km
Lap Record: 1:39.347 – Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull Racing (2012)
Race winner: Lewis Hamilton / McLaren
Pole position: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull Racing – 1:35.657
Fastest lap: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull Racing – 1:39.347
Accuweather.com is predicting a chance of rain on Saturday, which could result in a mixed-up qualifying session if the weather does intervene. Formula1.com, the official Formula 1 website, is showing a forecast of thunderstorms for Saturday. Friday and Sunday are expected to be dry.
The weekend should generally be warm, which will be good for racing and for race fans who will hopefully turn out in great numbers as they did last year.
If anyone other than Sebastian Vettel wins on Sunday, it will be an unlikely result. Vettel has won the last seven races in a row in commanding fashion, showing that he is in arguably the form of his career. At this point of the season, the Red Bull RB9 is easily the fastest car in the field, which makes it certain that Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber will be competitive this weekend. Vettel is the firm favourite to win in Texas on Sunday.
Qualifying could provide an interesting battle of the team-mates. In recent races, Mark Webber has found a bit of extra pace and has had two pole positions, including last time out in Abu Dhabi where he produced a stunning lap in qualfiying to relegate Vettel to second on the grid. With just two races left in his F1 career, Webber will be keen to end on a high note, and starting from pole position this weekend would certainly help his cause in that regard.