• US Grand Prix preview

High-speed musical chairs

ESPN Staff
November 14, 2013

After seven Sebastian Vettel victories in the last seven races, interest has turned away from the track and towards the paddock for the final two rounds. The driver market has been blown wide open for 2014 with McLaren announcing Kevin Magnussen alongside Jenson Button for next season and Lotus keeping the whole paddock guessing over Romain Grosjean's next team-mate. In the meantime, Heikki Kovalainen will make an impromptu return to replace Kimi Raikkonen for the final two races ahead of a possible full return with Caterham next year. Who said Formula One was becoming dull this year?

In form

Aside from Sebastian Vettel, who has firmly established a league of his own over the last seven races, Nico Rosberg has impressed of late. At the last two races he's established himself as the best of the rest, finishing second in India when Mark Webber retired and securing another podium in Abu Dhabi behind the two Red Bulls. Most impressively, he has started to deliver at races where his highly-rated team-mate Lewis Hamilton has struggled.

Out of form

In the other Mercedes' garage Lewis Hamilton has made no secrets of his struggles and accepted the brunt of the blame. He's scored just 14 points from the last three races, which is even more disappointing when you consider that he's started all of those races from row two on the grid. Mercedes is not yet home and dry in the battle for second in the constructors' title, so Hamilton needs to up his game at the final two races.

© Lotus F1 Team
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One to watch

After the best part of a season away from the sport, Heikki Kovalainen returns at Lotus with a point to prove. The E21 will be the most competitive car he has driven since getting the boot from McLaren at the end of 2009, but history has shown us how difficult it is to step into a modern F1 car and be get straight on the pace. Last year Jerome d'Ambrosio struggled when he was subbed in for Romain Grosjean at Monza, while the less said about Luca Badoer's efforts at Ferrari in 2009 the better. However, if any ex-F1 driver is prepared for the Lotus challenge it's Kovalainen, who is race fit and has taken part in six FP1 sessions with Caterham this year.

Talking points

A Finn for a Finn
When the news broke over the weekend that Kimi Raikkonen would not race at the final two grands prix of the year, Davide Valsecchi appeared to be the most obvious replacement. But with second place in the constructors' championship at stake, Lotus was not willing to risk running a rookie and called on several experienced drivers, including Nico Hulkenberg and Michael Schumacher, before deciding on Kovalianen. The decision calls into question the value of reserve drivers in modern F1, especially as Valsecchi is a GP2 champion, but from a points perspective Kovalainen simply made more sense.

What a difference a year makes
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh on signing Sergio Perez in September 2012: "While Sergio is still developing his palette of skills, we're convinced that he's not only talented and quick, but also that he's willing and eager to learn. He's perfectly poised to develop into a world championship challenger." Thirteen months later and Perez's McLaren career is over. It shows just how fickle F1 can be and also that results are the only currency that counts among the top teams. But for Perez what makes the decision hardest to swallow is that McLaren has underperformed more than him this year. His results might not have matched Button, but when Fridays are devoted to unsuccessful car developments in the first half of the season and 2014 concepts in the second half, it's hard to develop your "palette of skills". Kevin Magnussen may well be a quicker and more talented prospect for the future, but McLaren has left Perez with very few options for 2014.

Jean Todt set to stay
After a flurry of an election campaign, FIA presidential candidate David Ward has failed to secure the necessary support to launch his nomination. It leaves the path clear for current president Jean Todt to retain his office uncontested. For F1 it's no bad thing as he gets to see through the changes he has negotiated in the Concorde Agreement and make use of the extra revenue the governing body is set to enjoy. For the most part Todt has been a hands-off president when it comes to F1, but the FIA's involvement in the Pirelli tyre fiasco earlier this season shows that he is willing to step in before a crisis kicks off. Meanwhile, Ward stressed that his candidacy was as much about promoting change within the governing body as winning the election, and in that respect he argues he has succeeded.

Austin knows how to put on a show © Circuit of the Americas
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Trivia

  • The Circuit of the Americas is the tenth different Formula One venue used in the US
  • The first race in America was held at Sebring in 1959, and the last at Indianapolis in 2007
  • The most used venue for Formula One in the United States is Watkins Glen, which hosted 20 grands prix
  • There have been 27 different winners of grands prix in America, with the race held at Long Beach never having a repeat winner in eight runnings between 1976 and 1983

Fast facts

  • Drivers are at full throttle for 13 seconds on the long straight between turns 11 and 12
  • The circuit is 5.516 km and is the seventh longest F1 has visits
  • Last year 23 overtaking manoeuvres were made with the DRS and 32 without
  • Drivers make 54 gear changes on every lap and pull 4.1G through turn four

Circuit

The Circuit of the Americas is purpose-built for Formula One, and as such designed to deliver an all-round test for the cars. Its centrepiece is turn one, which features a steep incline under braking and has a blind apex before falling away downhill again on exit in to the fast, sweeping corners of sector one. The long straight followed by heavy braking for turn 12 gives the best overtaking opportunity, while the final sector features many low to medium speed corners which will require good traction. Last year's pole position time was a 1:35.657.

FIA driver steward

1992 world champion Nigel Mansell returns to the stewards' office for the US Grand Prix. From 187 grand prix starts Mansell took 32 pole positions, 31 victories and 28 other podium finishes. He raced for Team Lotus, Williams, Ferrari and McLaren before leaving the sport to win the CART series in the USA. He returned briefly with Williams and McLaren before retiring from F1 for good in 1995.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

The weather should stay dry throughout the weekend but cold mornings will be tricky for set-up work in FP1 and FP3. More typical Texan temperatures should come through in the afternoon, meaning race day will be close to 29C. Managing the tyres over the weekend and in different temperatures will be the key to success, although the high loads in the fast corners should allow drivers to keep their rubber fairly toasty even when the sun disappears behind clouds.

Betting

It'll be no suprise that Sebastian Vettel is the bookies' favourite this weekend with odds of 2/7. However, if you're willing to bet on a problem for the newly-crowned four-time champion there are some very tempting odds on offer. Mark Webber is 5/1 for the win, Lewis Hamilton 16/1, Fernando Alonso 18/1, Romain Grosjean 18/1 and the on-form Nico Rosberg 22/1. Kovalainen's chances of taking his second F1 victory on his return to the sport are listed as 33/1.

ESPN prediction

On his current form, it will take something rather weird for Sebastian Vettel not to win Sunday's US Grand Prix. But the locals claim to have been "Keeping Austin Weird" for the past few decades so you never know...
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