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.
David Coulthard is a household name. He’s known as a successful Formula One driver, a commentator and a Scotsman. In his career as a driver, he battled with (and sometimes beat) Michael Schumacher, Mike Hakkinen and Damon Hill, to name but a few. He won 13 Grands Prix, including races at some of motor racing’s great venues – Monaco, Silverstone and Spa, among others – and finished second to Schumacher in the 2001 World Championship.
In this video, David Coulthard talks about his road to Formula One, his career as a driver with Williams, McLaren and Red Bull, and his new role as a commentator and F1 pundit. He’s frank, honest, and unafraid of criticising himself. This is well worth watching for any follower of Formula One.
Red Bull surprised everyone by setting the fastest and second fastest times in the second Free Practice session for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix. If Red Bull’s cars have a weakness, it’s normally straight-line speed. At Monza, straight-line speed is normally everything. But somehow, Red Bull have managed to be quickest without featuring in the top six through the speed trap. Vettel led the way, six tenths faster than Webber in the second Red Bull, who was just a fraction ahead of the Lotus pair of Raikkonen and Grosjean who set identical lap times.
Friday practice times are almost always bad predictors of qualifying and race pace. But they are there, and some analysis is possible, however limited the usefulness of practice times may be. However, it is important to remember that fuel loads can and do vary across the field, which does skew the lap times. In addition, not all of the teams are always running as fast as possible. It is not necessarily in the interests of the top teams to show their pace early in the weekend. There is some incentive to keep a little bit of pace in reserve until qualifying.
The first feature of Friday’s practice worth examining is the massive gap between Vettel and Webber at the top of the times. It’s universally acknowledged that Vettel is the better driver, but no amount of extra talent will result in a lap time six tenths faster than an experienced driver in the same car. Vettel was 0.623 seconds faster than Webber on the option tyres at a similar time in the practice session. Red Bull must have been testing different setups on the two cars, even if the only difference was fuel load. Either that or Webber made a mistake on his first hot lap on the option tyres.
What is ominous, if it is representative of the relative performance of the cars, is the gap from Vettel to the other, non-Red Bull, drivers. Two thirds of a second is a lot of time. If the Red Bull really is that much faster than the rest of the field, then Sunday will be a walk in the park for Vettel, unless it rains of course (it very well might).
Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean performed a trick that doesn’t happen often in Formula One. They set identical lap times. Completely coincidentally of course. There’s no way they could have done that on purpose. Each did a lap in 1 minute 25.116 seconds. The fact that they did the same time driving for the same team might seem to make it more likely – you might assume that they each reached the limit of the car’s capabilities and therefore the same lap time was, more or less, inevitable.
The thing is, they didn’t actually do the time in the same machinery. To the casual observer, their cars look the same. They’re each driving a Lotus E21 with a Renault engine and Pirelli tyres. But Kimi Raikkonen’s E21 is a little bit longer than Romain Grosjean’s E21. That’s because Lotus brought a longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) version of their car to Monza and put Kimi Raikkonen in it for Friday practice.
A longer wheelbase car makes a few differences. Perhaps most importantly at Monza, where it’s all about high-speed and braking, a longer wheelbase car should provide improved braking stability. This is because there is weight transfer from the rear axle to the front axle under braking, but the amount of weight transferred is reduced in a longer wheelbase car. So, in theory, Raikkonen should be able to brake harder and later than Grosjean from the same speed for the same corner, and consequently should have some time in hand over his team-mate.
But that’s not the case. Perhaps there are some issues with the longer E21. Perhaps Raikkonen was running marginally more fuel than Grosjean. Perhaps there is some other reason why the two cars are delivering exactly the same level of performance.
Monza is known as the “Temple of Speed” for a reason. It’s the fastest track on the F1 calendar (and has been for quite some time). The fastest speed recorded so far this weekend is 339km/h by Daniel Ricciardo in a Toro Rosso. That’s also the top speed reached so far this season. So it would be expected that the cars with the most powerful engines should be very quick. The most powerful engine in Formula One, by reputation at least, is made by Mercedes. Next up is the Ferrari engine.
So Mercedes and Ferrari should be topping the times at Monza. They did just that in FP1, when Lewis Hamilton was quickest ahead of Fernando Alonso. But in FP2 the situation was the opposite of what was expected. Red Bull and Lotus filled the top four positions, all using Renault engines – reputedly the least powerful of those used by the top teams. Either Renault have found some extra power (which could only be down to the limited development allowed in fuels and oils, as engine development is forbidden), or the Mercedes and Ferrari-powered teams are hiding their pace. We shall find out tomorrow when the cars take to the track for qualifying.
Full results from FP2:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:24.453||39|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1:25.076||0.623||39|
|11||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:25.830||1.377||40|
|13||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||1:26.028||1.575||37|
|15||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:26.224||1.771||32|
|17||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:26.599||2.146||39|
|21||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||1:27.771||3.318||38|
What has been generally accepted for weeks is now official: Daniel Ricciardo will drive for Red Bull alongside Sebastian Vettel in 2014. The 24-year old Australian will take the place of Mark Webber, who leaves Formula One at the end of 2013 after a 12-year career including seven seasons at Red Bull.
Ricciardo is the recipient of what is truly the chance of a lifetime. He will race alongside arguably the top current F1 driver at the current top F1 team. He will have the opportunity to win races and compete for the world championship. On the other side of the coin, he will have no valid excuses should he fail to perform.
Ricciardo is the second product of the Toro Rosso team to be signed for Red Bull – Sebastian Vettel himself was the first. Toro Rosso exists partly as a training ground for Red Bull drivers, and so far the system has worked well, albeit briefly. Vettel won a race for Toro Rosso in 2008, to-date the only Toro Rosso victory, before replacing the retiring David Coulthard at Red Bull in 2009 and taking that team’s maiden victory at the 2009 Chinese Grand Prix.
Daniel Ricciardo has not had the same level of success as Vettel did at Toro Rosso, but that is understandable considering that the team is not as competitive as it was back in 2008. Nonetheless, Ricciardo is highly rated and expected to excel in his new team next season.
Red Bull’s new driver is understandably thrilled at being signed to drive for the world champion team. Ricciardo said after the announcement:
“I feel very, very good at the moment and obviously there’s a lot of excitement running through me. Since joining F1 in 2011, I hoped this would happen and over time the belief in me has grown; I had some good results and Red Bull has decided that this is it, so it’s a good time.”
Ricciardo made it clear that he knows what is expected of him as a Red Bull driver, saying, “Next year I’ll be with a Championship-winning team, arguably the best team, and will be expected to deliver. I’m ready for that. I’m not here to run around in tenth place, I want to get the best results for myself and the team.”
Despite his excitement, Ricciardo remains focused on the task of securing results for his current team, Toro Rosso, in 2013: “My aim is to finish this season as strong as possible, for myself and Scuderia Toro Rosso. Then, once the off-season is here, I’ll be fully focused on next year and the next stage of my career.”