United States Grand Prix Preview

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This weekend, Formula 1 returns to North America with the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. The 18th round of the 2016 season will be held at this circuit partly designed by Hermann Tilke. The race track is by far the most interesting track among all the new venues on the F1 calendar. This is the fifth running of the race at COTA after Formula 1 returned to the USA in 2012 after a prolonged gap. The last US Grand Prix before that was held at Indianapolis in 2007.

United States Grand Prix Preview

The History

Austin is the tenth venue for an F1 race in the USA after Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Phoenix, Riverside, Sebring and Watkins Glen. The US Grand Prix races have been mostly held at oval tracks or street circuits. Watkins Glen in New York was the most popular home of the Unites States GP. It was a purpose-built track that hosted a round of the world championship for almost twenty years.

Despite the long history of the sport in the US, F1 races could not penetrate the American market and stand up to the competition of the indigenous high profile racing series like NASCAR and IndyCar. The New Jersey GP was originally on the 2013 calendar, but had to be dropped as the street circuit was not ready. The race now seems a distant mirage that will not happen. The lucrative American market has proved difficult for F1 to capture. The races at COTA in Austin, a University city and capital of Texas, have attracted large crowds. This brand new attempt by F1 to set roots in the United States appears to have finally succeeded.

The Austin GP was first promoted by the Austin native Carl Tavo Hellmund. He is a former American racing driver who drove in the lower formulas in Britain. After financial problems and many disputes, Hellmund exited the project. The initial track design was conceived by him and was later developed under the supervision of Tilke.

The Drivers and Teams

The Ferrari team sits atop the leader board with 9 wins at this Grand Prix. Arch-rivals McLaren has 8 wins, along with the great Lotus team of yesteryear. Michael Schumacher has the most wins at the US GP with five victories.  Lewis Hamilton is the next most successful driver with four victories (2007, 2012, 2014, 2015). The inaugural race at COTA was won by Lewis Hamilton, who incidentally won the last Grand Prix before that at Indianapolis in 2007. Jim Clark and Graham Hill have three wins each. Sebastian Vettel is the only other driver on the current grid to have won this GP (2013).

The Circuit

The race will be held over 56 laps with a total distance of 308.405 kilometers. The track features elements similar to the Becketts complex of Silverstone, Istanbul Park in Turkey and the Yeongam circuit in Korea. The anti-clockwise 5.513 kilometer COTA track has 20 turns (11 left-handers, 9 right-handers) and an elevation change of 41 meters. The circuit is a highly technical one and has an average speed of 197 km/h. The circuit has tight high to slow speed corners which demands a medium to high downforce setup. The cars are on full throttle 58% of the time and the fuel consumption is medium. The brake-wear is low, with medium loads placed on engines.

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 from Turn 1 to Turn 6 has a series of high speed corners like the Maggots-Becketts sequence at Silverstone. Turn 1 is being talked about as a potentially iconic corner like the Eau Rouge corner at Spa. The track rises sharply, climbing nearly 41 meters between the start/finish line and Turn 1 before a blind apex. The Esses that follow between Turn 3 to Turn 5 offer overtaking opportunities at Turn 6.

Sector 2 from Turn 7 to Turn 12 features a long straight between Turn 11 and Turn 12 with hairpins at either end.

Sector 3 from Turn 13 to Turn 20 has a triple apex stretch between turns 16-18, which is similar to Istanbul Park’s famous turn 8.

There are two DRS zones this year.  The first DRS detection point will be 150 m after Turn 10, with the first DRS activation point 320 m after Turn 11. The second DRS detection point will be 65 m after Turn 18, with the second DRS activation point 80 m after Turn 20, just before the start/finish line. This track offers many overtaking opportunities for adventurous drivers.

Tyre Strategies

Pirelli tyre choices are the white-striped medium tyres, yellow-striped soft tyres and the red-striped supersoft tyres. The supersoft tyre is the tyre of choice of the drivers with most drivers having chosen 6 or more sets of the allocated 13 sets for each driver. A two pitstop race is predicted. After the biblical rains at this venue last year, the weather forecast is for temperatures in the high twenty degree centigrade and low chances of rain.

Pirelli Tyre Allocation: http://www.fia.com/news/f1-tyre-choices-usa-grand-prix

Current Form

Nico Rosberg (313 points) with a dominant performance in the last race is Japan has opened a decisive 33-point lead over his teammate Lewis Hamilton (280 pts), with four races to go. Hamilton is on the backfoot and will need to win all four races. But Rosberg with this big lead at this stage of the season has his destiny in his hands to clinch his first drivers’ title. Daniel Ricciardo (212 points) is in third place in the drivers’ title race.

Mercedes clinched the constructors’ championship comfortably in Japan. The Silver Arrows team have clinched the constructors’ title for a third consecutive year. Red Bull Racing has consolidated their second place position ahead of Ferrari. Force India have opened a ten-point lead over Williams for P4. McLaren has a comfortable lead over Toro Rosso for P6.

The battle between Rosberg and Hamilton will be fierce, but Red Bull has clearly closed the gap and will pose a challenge to the Mercedes drivers. All the other drivers are mathematically out of the race for the drivers’ title except the Mercedes drivers. Many of them will be driving for pride or to clinch a drive for next season.
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