• United States Grand Prix preview

A new horizon?

ESPN Staff
November 15, 2012
Turn one is the signature corner at the Circuit of the Americas © Sutton Images
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And then there were two. Two drivers, two races and two weeks to decide the fate of the 2012 Formula One World Championship. It all looked to be smooth sailing for Sebastian Vettel until Abu Dhabi, when a fuel problem ahead of qualifying forced him to stop at the end of Q3 and subsequently be excluded. A big chance for Fernando Alonso - which in one sense he took with second place - was negated by Vettel's remarkable recovery to third, but the gap is down to ten points and the events of two weeks ago show just how fragile that lead is.

On form

Having come so close on a number of occasions this year, Kimi Raikkonen finally got the victory his comeback year deserved in Abu Dhabi. Ironically, the victory also saw any lingering title aspirations finally ended as Alonso and Vettel joined him on the podium, but as the now-infamous line "Leave me alone, I know what to do" highlights, Raikkonen has lost none of his race-winning ability during two years away from Formula One. Raikkonen was adamant he had a car quick enough to challenge for victory in India but not the top speed to overtake and prove it, but he was able to display that at Yas Marina and will hope that further Lotus upgrades will give him the opportunity to add another win in Austin.

Out of form

Having been remarkably quick in Abu Dhabi, it was a familiar story for McLaren as another car failure cost it dearly. In Italy, a one-two was lost when Jenson Button retired. That was followed by Lewis Hamilton's gearbox failure costing him a likely victory in Singapore, then a suspension problem hampered Hamilton's weekend in Japan before he was also hit with a rear anti-roll bar failure in Korea. A steering wheel problem was a small issue for Hamilton in India, but a loss of fuel pressure saw him again lose out on an almost certain win at Yas Marina. Solely giving Hamilton the 50 points for two wins would leave him still in the title race with two to go, but instead he's left with two grands prix in which he'll hope his car lasts the distance to give him a chance of a final win with McLaren before leaving for Mercedes.

Pastor Maldonado was running a competitive second in Abu Dhabi before a KERS failure © Sutton Images
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One to watch

It was somewhat surprising that Pastor Maldonado appeared so downbeat following the last race at Yas Marina having finished a strong fifth. However, it soon became clear that a KERS failure had cost him dearly, with Maldonado going as far as to claim that he could have won the race. Maldonado's drive was a good one and he took heart from the fact that Williams appears to have turned a corner following some difficult races, with Bruno Senna's eighth place ensuring the team took 14 points away from Abu Dhabi. Williams now has its sights set on Force India - 22 points ahead in the constructors' championship - and Maldonado is showing signs of adding consistency to his one lap speed...

Taking points

HRT ownership
It was announced on Monday that HRT is looking for new owners as Thesan Capital put the team up for sale. With its location in Spain - far from Formula One's UK heartland - and recent struggles it is hardly the hottest property on the market, which makes a deadline of December 2 to find a buy rather imposing. While the long-term future of the team is uncertain, its short-term is far from secure either, with reports that the team is arriving in Austin with minimal spare parts and components solely to avoid any financial penalty for not taking part. It will be interesting to see how the team approaches the race weekend with such a cloud hanging over its head.

Ferrari's upgrades
New parts were a talking point for the last grand prix and remain so this weekend as Ferrari desperately tries to take the championship down to the final race of the season. Alonso was critical of the upgrades brought to Abu Dhabi saying that, while they did improve the car "we are talking about a few hundredths for each and for sure we still have a gap to close that is a matter of tenths". Alonso may have closed the gap to Vettel at the last race but there's no doubt he'd be facing an even bigger task at present if Red Bull had put the right amount of fuel in for qualifying. Significant progress needs to be made, or Vettel could be leaving America as champion.

Circuit of the Americas
Formula One got a bit of a surprise when the Yas Marina circuit delivered an exciting Abu Dhabi Grand Prix full of incident and overtaking. On that basis, the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) should be a belter, with the elevated turn one and heavy braking in to turn 12 offering overtaking opportunities, while drivers will be tested through the high speed opening sector. Pirelli expects the track surface to be a bit more challenging for the teams than at recent circuits too, so all the ingredients are there. COTA is a facility that's been specifically built for Formula One, unlike previous locations in the States, and might just help the sport cement its place in America.

Title permutations
Yes, it's that time of the year again where we have to get the notebook out and jot down the possible results that could see the title decided. Sebastian Vettel needs to score 15 more points than Fernando Alonso to become world champion, currently having five victories to Alonso's three. As a result, Vettel needs to finish at least third to win it this weekend, with third place requiring Alonso not to score. Second place for Vettel will be enough if Alonso is no higher than ninth, and if Vettel wins the race then Alonso must finish fourth or higher to take it down to a decider. Four points will also be enough for Red Bull to take the constructors' championship regardless of what any other teams score.

The circuit undulates throughout the 5.516km lap © Sutton Images
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Trivia

  • The Circuit of the Americas will be 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 will be 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 visited this year
  • The track is a real mix of high and low speed, with six corners below 100 km/h and six corners above 250 km/h
  • Drivers are expected to make 58 gear changes on every lap and pull 4.1G through turn four

Circuit

The Circuit of the Americas is a circuit 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 is likely to give the best overtaking opportunity, while the final sector features many low to medium speed corners which will require good traction. The track surface is also expected to be more abrasive than the recent smooth asphalt in Korea, India and Abu Dhabi, so a one-stop strategy may not be possible. A qualifying lap time is estimated at 1:37.000 and race lap time estimated at 1:42.000.

FIA driver steward

1972 and 1974 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi will act as the FIA driver steward for a fourth time. The former Lotus, McLaren and Copersucar driver previously fulfilled the role at the 2010 Italian Grand Prix and the Canadian Grand Prix in both 2010 and 2011.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

Though a slight threat of rain remains, the weekend looks set to be dry and sunny. Temperatures will be somewhat cooler than experienced in Abu Dhabi, but much more comfortable than the heat the teams would have faced if the race retained a June calendar slot. The biggest threat of rain comes on Saturday but appears unlikely with a dry week forecast, while temperatures may climb on Sunday. The biggest challenge for the teams will be to generate heat in the medium and hard compound tyres, though they will be helped by the track surface.

Betting

Once again it's Sebastian Vettel who is the favourite for victory with odds of 11/8, though it's now Lewis Hamilton who is his main rival at 5/2. Fernando Alonso is 5/1 while Kimi Raikkonen is a tempting bet at 18/1 despite being the winner of the last race. Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa are the best each-way bets, available at 20/1 to finish on the podium, while for something a little different the best value comes in the form of Raikkonen at 25/1 to set the fastest lap in the race.

ESPN prediction

While Sebastian Vettel's drive in Abu Dhabi was outstanding, Lewis Hamilton appeared to have the pace in his McLaren to ensure victory regardless of Vettel's qualifying exclusion. With a new circuit to get to grips with and a medium to low speed final sector similar in characteristics to the final sector at Yas Marina where Hamilton was dominant, he's ESPN's tip to secure the victory that has eluded him since Monza. Car permitting.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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