Formula 1 US Grand Prix Preview: Tyres, DRS, Weather, Lap Guide, Session Times
The Formula 1 United States Grand Prix sees the sport return to Texas for only the second time in recent years.
After successfully hosting the race last year, the Circuit of the Americas near Austin is again the venue.
There have been 52 Grands Prix held in the USA, but the sport has never quite got a foothold in the world's most lucrative market. After the loss of Watkins Glen, F1 spent the '80s, '90s and '00s dragging itself around a variety of uninspiring, characterless venues.
Fans with sufficient age and memory will recall the likes of Detroit, Phoenix, Indianapolis Road Course and the appalling circuit around the car park of Caesar's Palace.
But COTA is different. Designed and constructed purely for F1, it's the best new circuit for a long time. The buzz around F1 in the States is really starting to build, with 100,000 fans expected for Sunday's race.
Said buzz isn't helped by the fact this year's race is essentially meaningless—both titles were decided long ago. But there are at least a couple of points of interest to look forward to.
And on the Friday practice front, a bit of local interest will be provided by Alexander Rossi in the Caterham.
Also present will be 2014 Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat, having his first go in an F1 car since beaching it in the gravel after 16 laps during the Silverstone Young Driver Test back in July.
Let's hope we can have a great weekend.
The current standings are (thanks to Formula1.com for the lovely table):
|1||Sebastian Vettel||German||Red Bull Racing-Renault||347|
|5||Mark Webber||Australian||Red Bull Racing-Renault||166|
|10||Paul di Resta||British||Force India-Mercedes||48|
|13||Adrian Sutil||German||Force India-Mercedes||29|
|21||Giedo van der Garde||Dutch||Caterham-Renault||0|
In the constructors' championship, Mercedes and Ferrari should have a decent scrap over second during the final two races. With Raikkonen gone, Lotus are probably too far back.
The current standings are:
Circuit of the Americas
The Circuit of the Americas is probably the best new track to appear on the F1 calendar since Sepang arrived in 1999.
It features several stunning corner sequences, magnificent elevation changes and more than one tribute to the classic European circuits. The first sector in particular has proved popular with the drivers.
On the downside, it looks extremely Tilke-y—which isn't surprising, as he had a hand in the design.
Let's take a moment to consider the name, "Circuit of the Americas."
The Americas stretch from the vicinity of Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of Argentina all the way to Ellesmere Island in the far north of Canada.
The 14,000 kilometre long pair of continents contain 35 countries (and a tiny bit of France), over 900 million people and more than a quarter of the world's landmass.
It's a nice track and everything, but isn't calling it the circuit of the Americas just a little bit grand?
By the way, I'm writing this article from my newly christened home, the House of Eurasia.
Turns 1 and 2
The lap begins on the pit straight, with the drivers heading towards a very steep hill—the circuit rises a staggering 134 feet between the start line and the first corner. As elevation changes go, this one is bettered only by Eau Rouge at Spa.
Turn 1 is a left-hand hairpin perched right on top of the hill, and—because the slope is so steep—as the drivers approach they won't be able to see it. They have to brake knowing the corner is there without being able to see it.
The entry is extremely wide, but there's only one optimal line. There was concern the blind nature and tightness might cause problems on the opening lap last year, but everything went relatively smoothly.
This year? Let's see.
This is the second-best overtaking spot on the circuit, but passing drivers must be wary of a counter-attack on the exit.
As soon as Turn 1 is out of the way, the track drops sharply down the other side of the hill. This can unbalance the rear end so watch out for drivers having to fight the car a little.
The track shoots downhill in perhaps the most roller coaster-like section of track on the calendar, and then sweeps through the flat-out right of Turn 2.
Turns 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9
Fans will recognise the next section, as it's very similar to the Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex at Silverstone. A fast, undulating series of corners in alternating directions, it's one of the highlights of the year.
Turn 3 (left) is taken flat, with a brief lift for Turn 4 (right). A tiny touch of the brakes is required for Turn 5 (left) and another at the start of the longer Turn 6 (right).
The rest of the sequence is slightly slower, starting with Turn 7 (left). Turn 8 (right) is the slowest of the lot with the drivers dropping down into third gear and hugging the inside line for a good exit through Turn 9 (left).
Turns 10 and 11
The track again drops quite steeply downhill. Turn 10 is taken flat out and a short straight follows.
As the circuit levels out, the drivers brake hard for the hairpin left of Turn 11, one of the circuit's slowest corners.
Next up is the usual long, long, long, long straight. It curves slightly to the right all the way along and has some quite aesthetically pleasing undulations.
This is the best overtaking opportunity COTA has to offer, but the rev-limiter is quite easy to hit. On Sebastian Vettel's qualifying lap last year, he reached the limiter (doing 308 kilometres per hour) a little over halfway down—if you want to overtake, a longer seventh gear may be needed.
At the end of the long straight is the usual tight hairpin, this one a left-hander. The braking zone is slightly downhill, so the drivers have to brake a little bit earlier than they otherwise would.
It's extremely wide with plenty of room for drivers to get alongside each other under braking.
Turns 13, 14 and 15
Next up is a section that draws more than a little inspiration from the stadium section at Hockenheim.
In F1, "stadium" means a set of slow, fiddly corners in close proximity, normally inserted on quicker circuits for the sole purpose of increasing lap time and to allow the promoters to say "Hey look, we have some slow corners."
First up is a tight right-hander (Turn 13), followed by a more open right (Turn 14). The exit of this corner has to be compromised slightly to allow a better entry to the next corner, Turn 15.
This is a long, theoretically double-apex left which starts out wide and tightens significantly into the circuit's slowest corner. The drivers ignore the first of the apexes in order to get a better run through the second.
Turns 16, 17 and 18
Out of here is a short run down to a very nice looking corner, which has been modelled on the wonderful Turn 8 at Istanbul Park. Accounting for Turns 16, 17 and 18, this is a multi-apex right, which looks fast and interesting to drive.
It's a little bit squeezed in and not quite in the same league as its older brother, but still a really nice-looking corner.
Drivers enter in fifth gear and keep their feet to the floor throughout (or at least, those driving last year's Red Bull did), exiting with an up-shift into seventh six seconds later.
Turns 19 and 20
Turn 19 is a slightly downhill medium-speed left, and the final corner (Turn 20) is a tighter, quite slow left.
The exit out of here is very important, as it sends the cars back onto the pit straight to end the lap.
The pit lane entrance is on the inside of Turn 20, and the exit is on the pit straight before Turn 1.
Tyres and DRS
Last year Pirelli aimed for the Moon and hit Mars, going far too conservative on the tyres. They brought medium and hard, but later admitted super-soft and soft would have been more suitable.
That's because it was a new track—the fast corners and big stops at COTA definitely suggest harder compounds, but the grip level was so low the tyres were stressed far less than expected.
They're bringing the same compounds this year—white-marked medium and orange-marked hard. But there's a reason for this apparent madness.
Racing surfaces are much like (many) cheeses in that they get better with age. While a cheese gains flavour and texture, racetracks offer up more grip. More grip means more wear, and more wear means a harder compound is needed.
Do they need to be that hard? Maybe not, but after a year of being harangued at every turn, Pirelli are covering themselves and taking the safe route. Can't really blame them.
The Italian rubber maestros expect one or two stops—one if the track hasn't evolved a great deal, two if it has.
There will be two DRS zones at the US Grand Prix.
The first will have a detection point midway between Turns 10 and 11. The activation point is around a third of the way down the long back straight, and the zone ends with braking for Turn 12.
The second zone's detection point is on the exit of Turn 19, and the activation point is just after Turn 20. The zone runs the full length of the pit straight.
Austin has a humid subtropical climate. It's generally warm during the day, but temperatures can drop off quickly at night.
It was freezing on Tuesday night (and it will be next week too, according to Accuweather), so let's be thankful this one is held during the day.
Some forecasts currently suggest a small chance of rain for Saturday, but the rest of the weekend looks dry.
As always, the United States Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
The session times are as follows:
All times are given in local time (CST). Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.
Enjoy the weekend!